Ten Minutes with Rainmaker Jinx Broussard
Jinx Broussard is the Bart R. Swanson Endowed Memorial Professor in the Manship School
of Mass Communication where she teaches public relations, strategic communications,
media history, and mass media theory. As a public relations professional, she was
the director of public information for the City of New Orleans and served as press
secretary to Mayor Sidney J. Barthelemy for many years. Before that, she was director
of university relations for Dillard University in New Orleans.
As a child, Broussard grew up on a plantation in Vacherie, Louisiana. She became the first African American to graduate with an undergraduate degree in journalism from LSU—a dream she forged as a young child while picking beans (and not liking it very much).
What motivates you?
I wake up every day excited about the opportunity I have to teach phenomenal students. I’m not motivated by awards I might receive; I’m motivated by how I can empower students to become excellent communicators as well as life-long learners.
Even on the days I don’t have class, I’m excited to come to work. When I was on sabbatical, my colleagues asked, “Jinx, what are you doing here?” because I came to campus so often. But this is an environment where I thrive.
I often ask myself, “Did I prep enough for class today?” Even if I’ve taught the class for 20 years, I’ll still prep and add notes until the class begins. I get to campus around seven in the morning because I like to be prepared.
Much of my research has been on the black press, where I seek to break new ground in media by illuminating the periodicals and individuals who sought to provide a truer representation of the race and were instrumental in the quest for civil and social justice. My book on African American foreign correspondents was the first of its kind.
What is your background?
I brag on the fact that I was born on a plantation and didn’t have indoor plumbing. I don’t brag on the fact that I lost my mother when I was 13, but I hold myself up to students and say, “Let me tell you how I grew up on the Bessie K Plantation without a mother, without a telephone, and without indoor plumbing. Let me tell you how I started school in a one-or-two-room schoolhouse where one teacher taught three grades... This is where I am today; and you could be that person.”
“I prayed all the way to campus that I wouldn’t be the only black person in the dorm or the only black person in my class.”
I tell students to not look at challenges as impediments but to grow from those challenges. To be strong. When students ask, “How did you do that?” I tell them I learned to compartmentalize and be single-minded on whatever task or goal I was working on. That’s just who I am. I’m driven.
It sounds like you get a lot of energy from your work?
Oh, yes! I cannot say how much energy I get from the work. Just to hear my PR students come up with really good themes for their campaigns and hear them brainstorm. I’m excited as I watch them become more confident on their path to becoming public relations practitioners who see the connection between the academic and practical aspects of the field. The same thing happens when I teach media history, mass media theory, and other courses.
I know you have your students work on real-world projects. How do you connect them with Louisiana companies and initiatives? How does this come about?
It’s kind of organic. We work with non-profits to help them achieve their goals. Often, students give me names, and I then contact the directors to find out their needs. Sometime the organization contacts me. A student recommended LOPA, the Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency, and another student recommended the Gardere Initiative. I’ve partnered with LOPA for more than five years and with Gardere for three years. Over the years, my classes have partnered with dozens of non-profits.
My students do real campaigns in real time. They don’t do campaigns just on paper. They conceptualize, work on all the planning, and they implement. I give them guidance and the leeway to figure out how to best accomplish the non-profits’ goals and objectives.
We function as PR agencies. The students apply for positions and successfully meld classwork with “professional” work.
Tell me about the relationship between PR and journalism at Manship.
A former colleague in the Manship School and I just finished a book titled Public Relations and Journalism in Times of Crisis: A Symbiotic Partnership where we explore what can sometimes be an adversarial relationship. Among other strategies, we recommend that both professions spend some time getting to know about the other. We provide a whole list of best practices. Our goal is to help journalists and public relations practitioners work better together and understand each other to better do their jobs.
Tell me more about how you grew up.
I grew up in St. James Parish in Vacherie, Louisiana. The official name of the plantation was the Laurel Ridge Plantation, but for some reason its nickname was the Bessie K Plantation. I left there to come to LSU. I prayed all the way to campus that I wouldn’t be the only black person in the dorm or the only black person in my class.
I wasn’t the only black student in my dorm, but in most cases, I was the only black in my class. And I tell people that if I sat in a row, everyone in that row would get up and sit somewhere else. That’s why I tell my students; you can be anything you want to if you’re tough enough. If you make up your mind to do it. Because I could have easily packed up and gone back home. And in four years, I graduated as the first black to earn an undergraduate degree in journalism from LSU.
“I just want to empower students to be the best that they can be.”
I’m not competing with anybody, just trying to do my job to the best of my ability. And I think the best of my ability is as good as anybody’s.
My daddy told us, “Do your job, no matter what it is, and do it so well that no man living or dead could do it any better.” That’s always in the back of my mind.
So, growing up on the Bessie K Plantation, how did you figure out that you wanted to work in mass communication?
I asked my dad one day, why did he leave another plantation in the St. James Parish area and wind up at Bessie K? And he said, “For a better opportunity.” And I thought, “You work from sun-up to sun-down! You wake up at four in the morning to cut sugarcane!” But the opportunity in his mind was that the owner of the plantation gave everyone on the plantation the chance to grow his or her own garden.
My dad had several acres of butterbeans, okra, tomatoes—you name it. I hated picking beans. I was born in the country, but I hated country living. Never learned how to ride a bicycle or climb a tree—but I read all the time. My daddy used to watch the news every day. The local and the national news. And I watched the news with him. I saw that one of the correspondents was Pauline Frederick, and that’s how I decided at age eight or nine, that I wanted to be a journalist. As I picked beans, I transported myself to another world. And in that world, I would interview presidents, the Pope, and Queen Elizabeth. Through the job I later had with the City of New Orleans and by the grace of God, I’ve since met the Pope and four American presidents. You see the photos over there? [gestures to wall]
I dared to dream, and I dreamed big. Coming to academia, I didn’t think I was going to write one book, let alone three. I didn’t think I was going to be named national Teacher of the Year [Scripps Howard Foundation, 2018]. I wasn’t striving for that. Also, I never thought I would be named a Rainmaker. I just want to empower students to be the best that they can be.
The Rainmaker Awards are given each year by the Office of Research & Economic Development, Campus Federal Credit Union, and the Council on Research to faculty who show outstanding research, scholarship, and creative activity for their respective ranks and discipline. The awards recognize both sustained and continuing work, as well as the impact that work has had on faculty members, departments, and our academic community. There are three award categories: Emerging Scholar, Mid-Career Scholar, and Senior Scholar. For each category, an award is offered for a faculty member in the area of Arts, Humanities, Social and Behavioral Sciences, and one in the area of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.
Emerging Scholar Award
Mid-Career Scholar Award
Senior Scholar Award
LSU Office of Research & Economic Development