Reporter. Photographer. Editor. Communicator. Marketer. Designer. Idea Generator. Teacher. Encourager.
LaReeca Rucker is a writer, reporter and journalism instructor at the University of Mississippi. She has been a journalist for more than 20 years, and she spent a decade of her career as a reporter at The Clarion-Ledger - part of the USA Today Network, Gannett News Service (where stories are published in Gannett newspapers across the nation) and Mississippi's largest daily newspaper (100,000 circulation at the time.)
She worked in various roles as a religion reporter, trends reporter, features reporter, and in her last role as a social media/digital content producer, but was mostly a general assignment reporter covering whatever was thrown at her. Stories included crime, city government, civil rights, social justice, religion, personality profiles, art, culture, lifestyles and entertainment for the print and web editions. While there, she was also a USA TODAY contributor.
As a reporter during the newspaper's digital transition, Rucker was the first reporter at The Clarion-Ledger to create a blog (it became the most popular blog at the newspaper) and promote her work using social media. She was also a member of the newspaper's Technology Committee that met to discuss tech and social media innovation.
Always a student of evolving technology, digital media trends and educational creativity, Rucker has taught multimedia journalism, features writing, and introduction to mass communication classes that all incorporate technology and social media since 2014.
She created the Oxford Stories classes at UM and the website OxfordStories.net that has served as a student news wire service, sending student stories to cooperative local news organizations for publication. Some were even selected for publication by the Associated Press.
Rucker was nominated in 2021 for the Paragon Award for Excellence in Distance Teaching. The purpose of the Paragon Award is to recognize and reward superior online teaching, encourage online faculty to continually grow professionally, and to serve as role models in academic excellence. The award is based on successful practices in online course design that enhance student learning and engagement; innovative and creative use of technology and instructional methods; and dedication to providing an excellent student learning experience.
Rucker was selected as one of the recipients of an Eric B. Sager Scholarship to attend the 2020 Virtual Investigative Reporters & Editors Conference. This award came with a one-year membership to the IRE organization and paid conference registration. It was established through an estate gift by the late Eric B. Sager, an IRE member from West Virginia, who worked mainly in trade publications. The scholarship is for U.S.-based journalists and independent journalists, and those who are from trade publications and small outlets.
In 2020, she was selected as one of the Great Ideas in Teaching presenters for the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Southeastern Colloquium, but was unable to attend because of emerging developments with COVID-19. The selected submission titled “Using Black Mirror in the Classroom” is about using a popular Netflix series about near future technology to discuss the ethics of social media and technology.
Her case study about an experiential learning experiment with her Oxford Stories classes was selected for a presentation at the Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education EdMedia + Innovate Learning 2020 online conference. Developments with COVID-19 prevented her from attending.
Rucker was named as one of 10 National Challenge Fund For Innovation in Journalism Education winners in 2017 by the Online News Association. The goal of the fund is to hack or disrupt the journalism curriculum using a customized version of the teaching hospital model. Stories were published to the Oxford Stories website and social media, and data analytics were used to evaluate the performance of the site and content. The fund supports universities that partner with news organizations exploring new ways of providing information locally.
The award provided training at Columbia University and other opportunities. Rucker spoke about the Oxford Stories project at The Poynter Institute, sat in on budget meetings at The Associated Press, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal in New York City, and visited City University New York.
In the summer of 2018, she learned more about creating audio stories for journalism and marketing at Columbia University in New York City. On-campus course time was devoted to working with equipment, learning to write for radio, editing in Adobe Audition, and developing an audio package. Collin Campbell, whose audio and radio work has appeared on NPR News programs, taught. He’s now an executive producer at Audible.
She also spent part of the summer attending Maine Media Workshops and College in Rockport, Maine sharpening her video editing skills. Through discussions and analysis of film/video, students learned how pacing, shot selection and rhythm can be used to create emotional impact and advance a story. The class examined how editors approach their footage and develop a process.
Using Adobe Premiere, students learned the techniques and decision-making behind making effective cuts to create and edit video for journalism, documentary work and marketing. The class was taught by Christopher Nelson, who has had a lengthy Hollywood career as a video editor, producer and director on television shows including "Bates Motel," "Mad Men," "Lost," "Six Feet Under," "China Beach," "Hill Street Blues" and "The Incredible Hulk."
Rucker's work using a popular television series in a mass communication class was mentioned by "Harvard Political Review" in the article "Primetime Paranoia."
Rucker also helped launch and organize the first Mississippi Capitol Press Corps class at the University of Mississippi School of Journalism and New Media that introduced students to hands-on state government reporting in Jackson, the state capitol. She helped lead the class with Fred Anklam, a former USA TODAY reporter and editor of Mississippi Today.
Rucker completed the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas online course Building Bots for Journalism: Software You Talk With. The class was led by John Keefe from the news site Quartz, who discussed bot technology used in SMS text, Amazon Alexa, Google Home and Facebook Messenger. The course taught the basics of writing code for a bot that responds to readers like a human through text or speech using RiveScript, an AI scripting language. She coded and deployed her own bot.
She serves as the campus leader of the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors organizations, and as regional SPJ Judge for the Excellence in Journalism competition.
Her work with Oxford Stories was recognized in 2018 in a report called Ideas for Teaching Diversity by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication as a notable submission for the Standing Committee on Teaching annual competition. The submission discussed an OxfordStories.net project related to the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Students were asked to interview and write stories about senior citizens who lived through the Civil Rights Era, giving them hands-on experience as social justice reporters.
Rucker has written travel and food stories for WONDERLUST, a national travel website created by the founder of SPIN magazine. She has also written for the national website Elephant Journal that has a mental health focus. And she designed a project website called MISS. UNDERSTOOD about Mississippi perceptions, featuring the work of her students.
She has continued to freelance and contribute to USA TODAY, The Clarion-Ledger, Memphis Medical News, The ‘Sip – a statewide lifestyles magazine, and other publications.
Rucker defended her thesis and earned her master's of arts degree in journalism in August of 2016 from the University of Mississippi School of Journalism and New Media, where she completed both the academic and professional tracks. As a graduate student, she was the winner of the Graduate Achievement Award in Journalism.
The Graduate School awards up to a total of 18 Graduate Achievement Awards each year for recognition on Honors Day. They were awarded during the Honors Convocation at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts on the UM campus.
The Graduate Achievement Awards include a maximum of two each from accountancy, applied sciences, business, education, engineering and pharmacy, and six from the College of Liberal Arts. In liberal arts, the two awards are given in each of the following three areas:
*Area A, which includes biology, chemistry, mathematics, philosophy and religions, and physics and astronomy. *Area B, which includes art, classics, English, journalism, modern languages, music, and theatre arts. *Area C, which includes history, political science, psychology, and sociology and anthropology.
As a graduate student, Rucker was also nominated by University of Mississippi School of Journalism faculty members for the Graduate Instructor Excellence in Teaching Award given annually since 2008. This award is intended to demonstrate the university’s appreciation of the efforts of all graduate instructors and teaching assistants whose work contributes to quality teaching and learning on campus. A nomination is evidence of the positive impact one has had in the lives of students at the University of Mississippi.
She completed a program through The Poynter Institute and Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, earning certification for adjunct faculty and others who teach journalism and mass communication classes at universities and colleges across the country.
While studying and teaching at UM, she worked as a part-time reporter for The Oxford Eagle, a daily newspaper in Mississippi's best small town, and wrote for The 'Sip magazine.
Throughout her career, Rucker's responsibilities have included editing, photography, page design, web design, graphic design, blogging, social media, videography, digital editing and web writing and producing.
She has organized photo shoots, served as a community representative at public events, led seminars about new media, taught classes, and created a features blog called “Mississippi Style” that became the most read blog on The Clarion-Ledger's website.
That year, Rucker was also recognized with an honorable mention in the Mississippi Press Association's "Freedom of Information Award" category that includes all newspapers in the state for her work covering corruption issues in the Canton Police Department.
While taking three graduate-level English courses in semantics, Southern literature and contemporary literature at the University of Mississippi, Rucker worked for The New Albany Gazette as a general assignment reporter, photographer, page designer and features editor from 1998-2003. She edited a features section called “Local Color” that was named "Best Weekly Lifestyles Page or Section" in the state by the Mississippi Press Association in 2001 and 2002.
She also wrote an in-depth story, reconstructing a historic lynching that occurred in the county in 1925. The Lynching of L.Q. Ivy won first place out of all Landmark Community Newspapers Inc. in The Gazette's division.
Rucker interned at WCBI Television's Tupelo bureau during the summer of 1996, and joined the staff of The Lee County Courier as a reporter, photographer and page designer in 1997. She wrote about native son Elvis Presley's annual birthday celebration that attracts visitors worldwide, interviewed a former Ku Klux Klan leader, and covered a gang-related murder trial, to name a few assignments.
Earlier that year, she graduated from the University of Mississippi with a triple major in print journalism, broadcast journalism and English, creating her own “new media” track with foresight that the mediums would eventually merge.
In college, Rucker was a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Radio and Television News Directors Association. She worked as a reporter for The Daily Mississippian and wrote for the Ole Miss yearbook. She was a radio reporter and anchor for WUMS 92.1, the campus radio station. And she worked as a videographer, alternate anchor, weather person and reporter for Channel 12 Newswatch, the campus television station.
She was also afforded trips to New Orleans and Los Angeles with RTNDA, where she met notable journalists Peter Jennings, Carol Simpson, Sam Donaldson, Dee Dee Meyers and Bernard Shaw.
Rucker has interviewed celebrities, such as Oscar winners Whoopi Goldberg and writer/director Alan Ball of “American Beauty” and “True Blood,” comedian Ray Romano, actress Sela Ward, world famous makeup artist Billy Brasfield; Christian artists “Selah,” “Switchfoot” and Brandon Heath; country artists “The Band Perry” and Ty Herndon; singer Charlie Mars; religious leader Joel Osteen; FOX News anchor Shepard Smith; former-teen-heartthrob-turned-evangelist Kirk Cameron; and even Mississippi native Kermit the Frog.
In 1999, Rucker spent a month photographing sites in Europe. To date, she has won more than 40 journalism awards, primarily from the Mississippi Press Association, for writing, photography and design.
Her work has been distributed by The Associated Press and Gannett News Service to papers across the country, including USA TODAY.
Other publications include New Jersey’s Daily Record, The Daily Journal and The Courier-Post; South Dakota’s Argus Leader; New York’s Poughkeepsie Journal; The Delaware News Journal; Louisiana’s The Town Talk and The News-Star; Tennessee's The Commercial Appeal and The Tennessean; North Carolina's The News & Observer; California's The Fresno Bee, The Tribune and the Merced Sun-Star; South Carolina's The State and The Island Packet; Georgia's The Ledger Inquirer; Florida's The Miami Herald and Bradenton Herald; Washington's Tri-City Herald and The Bellingham Herald; Kentucky's The Lexington Herald Leader; Missouri's The Kansas City Star; The UK's The Telegraph; Mississippi's The Sun Herald, The Mobile Press-Register, The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, The Hattiesburg American, Mississippi Magazine, and numerous blogs and industry publications.