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The Ole Miss named finalist for nation's top yearbook award

Addison Dent/The Daily Mississippian

Amid one of the most controversial time periods in University of Mississippi history, the 2010-11 staff of the Ole Miss yearbook, The Ole Miss, came together and produced a yearbook that has since been recognized as one of the best in the country.
Each year, the Columbia Scholastic Press Association chooses finalists for its gold medal and The Ole Miss is making its first appearance on that list since the 2006-07 edition.
Alex McDaniel, editor-in-chief of The Ole Miss from 2010-11, was on her way home from New York when she heard the news.
“I got a little teary-eyed,” the Arkansas native said.
“I instantly emailed the leadership staff. I was lucky to have the best, most hard-working staff in the world, and I wanted them to have something from that yearbook they could take with them, and if this is it, I’m really excited.”
Nick Toce, the yearbook’s photography editor, remembers receiving McDaniel’s email.
“I was thrilled and humbled,” he said. “It’s a bit surreal. Being a finalist, being considered for this award, chosen from hundreds of yearbooks in the nation, is truly an honor.”
Toce said he and the other editors owe a lot of gratitude to their staff.
“(The staff) were terrific,” he said. “I’m so thankful for the photographers I had.”
Design editor Callie Blackwell said she was relieved when she heard the news.
“We knew we had created something different than most yearbooks,” she said. “We actually stopped calling it that after a while. Being named finalist for this prestigious award really verified that we had something great there. It’s good that a third party could look at our book and think it was as kick-ass as we did.”
The campus was undergoing changes the entire time the staff was working on the yearbook, including the vote to decide the university’s new mascot. McDaniel remembered it as a time of great controversy.
“We wanted to make something that wasn’t a traditional yearbook,” McDaniel said. “The year before, I would argue, was the most divisive year in Ole Miss history. We wanted to make a book that reflected where we are now.”
Blackwell said she and McDaniel developed the creative concept for that year’s theme, “Face Forward.”
“We really thought out of the box and let the sky be the limit with what we could do with a yearbook,” Blackwell said. “I believe we made it much more than just that.”
McDaniel, who was named the 2011 Southeast Journalist of the year by the Southeast Journalism Conference, also worked as the editor-in-chief of The Daily Mississippian and worked on Rebel Radio and NewsWatch during her tenure at Ole Miss.
McDaniel said being the editor-in-chief of The DM was the hardest job on the face of the earth, but being editor of The Ole Miss provided its own set of challenges.
“We took on the challenge of combining every story going on with the university and turning it into a publication,” she said.
“There is a difference in being an editor of a paper that is going to be thrown away at the end of the day. People hold on to yearbooks forever.”
McDaniel, now an editorial assistant with Parade Magazine in New York City, said she learned how to package stories and make them engaging during her time with the yearbook.
Toce, now a graphic designer and copy editor for Media General, noted that there is a great deal of adaptation in the world of journalism.
“It’s a combination of time management and proper adaptation that’s required when problems arise,” he said.
“I’m grateful to have experienced some of those moments while at The Ole Miss because it prepared me for similar, large-scale problems I face as a designer.”
Blackwell is now the social media director for an all-natural e-commerce dog treat company. She said she learned a lot technically and about working with deadlines and large staffs.
“I learned that I love collaborating with intelligent, hard-working and creative people like Alex McDaniel,” she said. “She and I were both in graduate school together while we were doing this book as well. I really don’t know how we did it when I look back; it was such a crazy but fun and memorable time.”
When looking back on his time with the staff, Toce said he remembers a lot of late nights and stressful deadlines.
“But you become a small family, you and your staff,” he said. “The late nights really don’t matter. Neither do the stressful deadlines because you’re surrounded by your friends.”
Elaborating, Toce said that when you work closely with people creating something, it becomes more than work. Fun, even.
“It’s a binding experience,” he said. “And seeing your product, your work in front of you after it’s printed, that’s the memory that sticks.”
The staff has a little bit more waiting to go before they find out if they have won a gold or silver crown, as the results will not be announced until March.
For more information on the Columbia Scholastic Press Association, visit http://cspa.columbia.edu/index.html.