The Institute for Public Service Reporting

The Otis L. Sanford Journalist Incubator

The Institute for Public Service Reporting is a teaching institute in the Department of Journalism and Strategic Media at the University of Memphis. Our professionally-staffed newsroom also serves as Memphis’s leading nonprofit news organization specializing in in-depth investigative, public service and explanatory journalism.

We have a dual mission: As journalists, we explore and explain vital issues facing Greater Memphis and the Mid-South. As teachers, we help mentor the next generation of journalists.

The Institute’s Otis L. Sanford Journalist Incubator educates students from middle school to graduate school and inspires working journalists looking to hone their skills. Participants study under some of the country's most experienced journalists.

Who is Otis L. Sanford

in the field


The Journalist Incubator offers paid internships for undergraduate and graduate students in print, broadcast, multimedia and photojournalism disciplines. Our immersive, year-long program offers a healthy salary ($15 an hour for 20 hours a week or about $8,200 over the course of an academic year) and prepares University of Memphis students for success:

Caleb Suggs, former intern and William Randolph Hearst winner.

  • In 2021, our intern Caleb Suggs won a William Randolph Hearst award – the so-called “Pulitzer Prize of college journalism’’ – the first U of M student to do so. Caleb now works as an independent filmmaker and hopes to one day produce feature-length movies.
  • Intern Christopher Fulton helped write stories that led Congress to remove the name of a Klansman from Memphis’s federal building. Today, Christopher runs his own digital newspaper in Mountain Home, Arkansas.

Meet all of our current and former interns.


Educating students

The Institute’s professional journalists are Distinguished Journalists in Residence at the University of Memphis. They are also faculty members and have provided the next generation of journalists with unique opportunities:

  • David Waters has taught many graduate and undergraduate classes over the years – most recently feature writing. He is developing a religion journalism class for the fall semester.
  • Marc Perrusquia has taught public issues writing and is developing a class on investigative reporting and open-source research.
  • Laura Faith Kebede teaches our Civil Wrongs course exploring racial injustices of the past and how they affect our present reality.

The Institute’s journalists also make presentations to high school and college students considering careers in journalism.

David Waters, The Institute’s assistant director, presenting to students.

special projects

Civil Wrongs

Another component of our Journalist Incubator is Civil Wrongs, a journalistic and academic initiative exploring racial injustice and unsolved and unresolved murders of the civil rights era. This program includes an academic course and a seasonal podcast produced in partnership with WKNO-FM public radio, the local NPR affiliate. Our first season in fall 2022 focused on the 1917 police torture and lynching of Ell Persons and how the case still reverberates today in the form of false confessions, police brutality and racial injustice.

The Civil Wrongs academic course rolled out in the spring semester of 2023. Laura Faith Kebede’s 13 students studied the 1866 Memphis Massacre and helped produce the spring season’s multipart podcast. A separate event-planning class partnered to organize a community event to raise awareness about this overlooked piece of history.

Civil Wrongs Project

OLSJI Programs

University of Memphis Middle and High School Program

Beginning in Fall 2023, the Institute will be working with middle and high school students who attend University Middle School and University High School, both on the U of M campus. Our professional journalists will be advising, mentoring and teaching students who take a Journalism & Media elective course, or who choose the Media, Arts and Culture dual enrollment program at the high school. The students also produce The Tiger Times, a student newspaper.

Our partnership with UMS and UHS helped both schools secure a $700,000 Innovative Schools Model grant from the Tennessee Department of Education.

future forward

Graduate program in Open Source Investigative Reporting

A much-needed addition to the Journalist Incubator will be a program in Open Source Investigative Reporting. We are seeking funding for the program to begin in Fall 2024.

Open source research uses publicly available information to uncover data and get to the truth. Through the graduate program in Open Source Investigative Reporting, journalists with all levels of experience will learn how to find, explore and report on information on the Internet, social media, public databases, books and periodicals – from the U.S. and other countries. Our program will also teach participants how to conduct open records requests and what to do if a request is denied or delayed.


Why Memphis?

Mentoring young journalists is job one at the University of Memphis’s Department of Journalism and Strategic Media and its Institute for Public Service Reporting. Critically, we create opportunities for diversity and for young journalists of color:

  • More than 43 percent of the 405 students in the journalism department identify as Black.
  • Nearly half our students are awarded need-based Pell grants.
  • Nearly a third of our students are first-generation students.
  • psr
Our Inspiration

Meet Otis L. Sanford

Otis Sanford chairs the board of the Institute for Public Service Reporting and is professor emeritus in journalism at the University of Memphis. He held the Hardin Chair of Excellence in Economic and Managerial Journalism at the U of M for 12 years before retiring in May 2023. With a long-time career in print and broadcast journalism, he is also one of the most respected and recognized journalists in Memphis history.

He began his professional journalism career in 1975 in Jackson, Mississippi, at The Clarion-Ledger as an entertainment and feature writer. He later covered police and local government at The Clarion-Ledger.

In 1977, he joined The Commercial Appeal as a general assignment reporter. In August 1977 he covered the death of Elvis Presley. Later at The Commercial Appeal he covered the federal court, state courts, county government and politics before being promoted to assistant metro editor in 1986.

In 1987, Sanford joined The Pittsburgh Press as an assistant city editor where he directed that newspaper's local, state and national political coverage. In 1992 he joined the Detroit Free Press as deputy city editor in charge of coordinating the paper's daily local news coverage.

In 1994, Sanford returned to The Commercial Appeal as deputy managing editor. In 1997, he pioneered The Teen Appeal high school newspaper, and in 2000 he launched The DeSoto Appeal daily edition. In 2002 Sanford was promoted to managing editor, and in 2007 he was named editor for opinion and editorials. In that role, he started writing a weekly column for the Sunday Viewpoint section. He also launched the citizen editorial board to give readers an opportunity to help shape the newspaper's editorial voice. In 2008, he served as chairman of the Mid-America Press Institute, and in 2010, Sanford was elected president of the Associated Press Managing Editors Association.

In January 2011, Sanford joined the University of Memphis journalism faculty as the Hardin Chair of Excellence. He taught classes in Media Writing and Reporting; Media, Diversity and Society; Intro to Media; Advanced Reporting, and Opinion Writing and Reporting. In addition, he writes a twice monthly political column for The Daily Memphian online newspaper, serves as political analyst and commentator for WATN-TV channel 24, the ABC affiliate station in Memphis, and is political analyst for WKNO-FM, the public radio station on Memphis. Sanford also serves on the board of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government. In 2014, he inducted into the Tennessee Journalism Hall of Fame.

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