Campus News Society & Culture

UGA’s Grady College Alumni Award winners honored in special ceremony

Athens, Ga. – Four distinguished alumni of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication were recognized at the 2010 Alumni Awards Dinner held May 6, at the University of Georgia Center for Continuing Education Conference Center and Hotel.

W.H. “Dink” NeSmith Jr., Athens; Carol J. Pardun, Columbia, S.C.; Justin Gillis, New York City; and Lynnsey Gardner, Augusta, were honored. The four also were recognized at Grady’s Spring Convocation on Friday, May 7, at the Athens Classic Center.

“These exceptional individuals demonstrate how Grady alumni carry the banner of achievement in journalism and mass communication forward into their professions,” said E. Culpepper Clark, dean of the Grady College. “They and the alumni they represent are extremely valuable resources to the college. Their character, careers and service to the field teach and inspire.”

Nesmith (A.B.J. ’70) was honored with the John Holliman Jr. Award for Lifetime Achievement, while Pardun (Ph.D. ’92) received the Distinguished Alumni Scholar Award. Gardner (A.B.J. ’06) received the Dean John E. Drewry Award for Young Alumni Achievement. Gillis (A.B.J. ’82) was presented the Henry W. Grady Award for Mid-Career Achievement in absentia. A New York Times reporter who writes about the environment, Gillis was called to the Gulf Coastto cover the BP oil spill.

Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Dink NeSmith, 61, is a Wayne County native who has had a distinguished career in newspaper management. At age 24, he borrowed $3,000 to make a down payment on a one-third interest in the upstart Wayne County Press in Jessup, a direct competitor to The Jesup Sentinel.Four years later, he joined Community Newspapers, Inc. in the purchase and consolidation of the two weekly newspapers to form the twice-weekly paper, The Press-Sentinel.

Today, NeSmith is co-owner and president of Athens-based Community Newspapers, Inc., and publisher of several dozen newspapers in Georgia, Florida and North Carolina.

The former advertising major is past president of the Georgia Press Association, Leadership Georgia and UGA’s Alumni Association.He also has served as chairman of Grady’s advisory board, president of the college’s alumni association, and chairman of the board of directors of the Fanning Leadership Institute.He is chairman of the Richard B. Russell Foundation, an emeritus member of the UGA Athletic Association’s board of directors and an emeritus trustee of the University of Georgia Foundation.

In 2008, Gov. Sonny Perdue appointed NeSmith to the University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents, representing the 10th Congressional District.He is a member of the Commission for a New Georgia and serves on the board of directors of Athens First Bank and Trust Company, Southern Mutual Insurance Company, Pattillo Construction Company and the Georgia chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

NeSmith and his wife, Pam, a 1971 UGA graduate, have three children: Alan, a CNI Northeast Georgia regional publisher in Cornelia; Emily N. Wilson, of Senoia; and Eric, publisher of The Highlander in Highlands, N.C.

Carol J. Pardun is director of and professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications and associate dean of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies at the University of South Carolina.

Pardun, 53, also is the current president of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, the world’s largest group of journalism and mass communication educators with over 3,700 members.

She has published research in Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, Pediatrics, Newspaper Research Journal, Public Relations Review and elsewhere. Much of her recent research has developed from her work as co-investigator of the Teen Media project, a $2.6 million National Institutes of Health grant awarded during 2001-2006.

The former editor of Mass Communication & Society, Pardun currently sits on the editorial boards of many journals in the field of communications. Her book, Advertising and Society: Controversies and Consequences, was published in 2009 by Blackwell-Wiley.

Before South Carolina, Pardun held faculty or administrative positions at Middle Tennessee State University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Kansas State University. In addition to her doctorate from Grady College, she holds a master’s degree in communications and an undergraduate degree in English literature from Wheaton College, Ill.

Justin Gillis, 50, of New York City, grew up near Vidalia and graduated from high school in Mt. Vernon in 1978. While a UGA student majoring in newspapers, he worked at The Red and Black, serving as a reporter and in virtually every news-editing position.

After graduating, he worked a short stint with the Associated Press in Atlanta and in Montgomery, Ala. Later, he was hired by The Miami Herald, where he was a reporter and editor for 12 years. He covered a series of government and investigative beats there and, in 1989, he and a colleague were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for their investigation of financial wrongdoing by a popular county manager.

He joined The Washington Post in 1995 and spent a decade as a business and science reporter at that paper, focusing on the new science of genomics and its commercial prospects. He was a Knight Fellow in Science Journalism in 2004-2005, studying biology, energy, environment and other topics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and at Harvard University, after which he traveled around the world to see sites that had come up in his studies.

The Post made him its economics editor in 2006. Not long afterward, he was recruited to The New York Times, joining the paper in 2007 as an editor specializing in energy coverage, among other topics. This spring he switched back to reporting, becoming the lead writer on global warming and other environmental topics for The Times.

Lynnsey Gardner, 25, anchors News 12 This Morning weekdays on Augusta’s WRDW-TV. She joinedthe News 12 teamin June of 2006 as a multimedia journalist. She was promoted to weekend anchor/senior reporter before making the switch to the morning desk.

Gardner was named “Best Anchor/Reporter” by the Georgia Associated Press in 2008. Her investigative journalism was recognized with a regional Edward R. Murrow Award for Investigative Reporting for her exclusive series on Dent’s Undertaking Establishment, a local funeral home accused of mishandling money, abusing a body and misplacing ashes. Thanks to her ongoing investigation, illegal practices were exposed and the funeral home has since been shut down, while facing bankruptcy. The same investigation also was given top honors by the Georgia Associated Press and the Georgia Association of Broadcastersin 2008 for “Best Investigative Reporting.”

Her exclusive series on a pirate radio station illegally operating in Augusta won an honorable mention by the Georgia Associated Pressfor “Best Series Reporting.” During her time at News 12, Gardner also exclusively reported on the largest marijuana bust in Georgia history, and she had an exclusive interview with Tomi Rae Brown and James Brown II at the Godfather of Soul’s statue in downtown Augusta, just hours after the singer’s death on Christmas Day 2006.

In February 2009, Gardner was interviewed for a BBC documentary as a reporter who helped break the now international story of Betty Neumar, a woman arrested in Augusta and later accused of being a “black widow” across the United States.

Born in Dallas, Gardner was raised in Birmingham, Ala. and Grayson, Ga. The summa cum laude 2006 UGA graduate majored in broadcast news and minored in political science. While a student, she worked as a reporter, photojournalist, anchor and producer for NewSource 15, the student-produced local newscast broadcast from the Grady College. Gardner was also a member of the DiGamma Kappa broadcasting society andthe Pi Beta Phi sorority.

Grady College Alumni Awards are given in recognition of distinguished achievement by journalism and mass communication professionals. The Holliman Award is given in honor of the late Grady alumnus and CNN reporter John Holliman for exceptional, sustained contributions to the profession throughout a career. The Distinguished Alumni Scholar Award honors an alumnus for excellence and sustained contributions to scholarship in journalism and mass communication education. The Henry W. Grady Award, named for the college’s namesake, honors an influential mid-career graduate. The Dean John E. Drewry Award honors a graduate of the last decade who has seen exciting and productive career developments.

Established in 1915, the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication offers undergraduate majors in advertising, broadcast news, magazines, newspapers, public relations, publication management and telecommunication arts. The college offers two graduate degrees, and is home to WNEG-TV, the Knight Chair in Health and Medical Journalism and the Peabody Awards, internationally recognized as one of the most prestigious prizes for excellence in electronic media. For more information, see or follow Grady on Twitter at