2021 M&E magazine

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Middle Tennessee State University Summer 2021 / Vol. 1, No. 1

Dean Beverly Keel

Development Officer Kristin Wells-Morrison


Breaking Ground


In the Spotlight

Senior Editor Drew Ruble

Associate Editor Carol Stuart

Senior Director of Creative Marketing Solutions Kara Hooper

Designer Micah Loyed

University Photographers James Cessna, Andy Heidt, J. Intintoli, Cat Curtis Murphy

Contributing Editor Nancy Broden


Keeping the Cameras Rolling


Defend True Blue

Contributing Writers Skip Anderson, Gina Fann, John Glennon, Allison Gorman

Special thanks to Leslie Haines, Rachel Helms, Dixie Owen, John Underwood

University President Sidney A. McPhee

University Provost Mark Byrnes

Vice President of Marketing and Communications Andrew Oppmann


A Famous Friend


Living Legends

Address changes should be sent to Advancement Services, MTSU Box 109, Murfreesboro, TN 37132; alumni@mtsu.edu. Other correspondence should be sent to M&E magazine, Drew Ruble, 1301 E. Main St., MTSU Box 49, Murfreesboro, TN 37132.

0521-9750 / Middle Tennessee State University does not discriminate against students, employees, or applicants for admission or employment on the basis of race, color, religion, creed, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, disability, age, status as a protected veteran, genetic information, or any other legally protected class with respect to all employment, programs, and activities sponsored by MTSU. The Interim Assistant to the President for Institutional Equity and Compliance has been designated to handle inquiries regarding the non-discrimination policies and can be reached at Cope Administration Building 116, 1301 East Main Street, Murfreesboro, TN 37132; Christy.Sigler@mtsu.edu; or 615-898-2185. The MTSU policy on non-discrimination can be found at mtsu.edu/iec.

2,000 copies printed at Pollock Printing, Nashville, Tennessee. Designed by MTSU Creative Marketing Solutions.


A Perfect Union

Cover photo courtesy of Anthony Stone


The Leading Edge


Mastering the Extraordinary I am delighted to welcome you to the first edition of M&E, the magazine of the world-renowned College of Media and Entertainment at Middle Tennessee State University. As you will see, we have done some extraordinary things during the pandemic. Two months after I became dean, COVID-19 forced our faculty, staff, and students to quickly convert to remote learning. I proudly watched as my team rose to the occasion, going above and beyond on a daily basis to teach, encourage, and mentor students who were dealing with an unprecedented disruption in their lives. This first issue of M&E is a celebration of the perseverance and spirit of the college’s faculty, staff, students, and alumni— all of whom have continued to achieve great things during a difficult time. Whether it’s launching a new student-run venue, creating an award-winning mask campaign, or producing live sports events while following COVID-19 protocols, the College of Media and Entertainment has continued to produce quality and noteworthy content and create new opportunities for our students to learn and grow. Our M&E cover story features singer-songwriter and MTSU alumna Brittney Spencer, who recently celebrated her Grand Ole Opry debut and the Times Square premiere of the video for her new single, “Sober & Skinny.” I’ve known Brittney since her days as a student here, when she immediately impressed me with her talent, charisma, personality, and drive. I know great things are in store for her! She is a great example of what our students and alumni can and will achieve. While technology, media, and entertainment

have changed since my days as a student working on electric typewriters, the professors’ passionate commitment to their students has remained steadfast. Students are our priority at MTSU, and we devote our days to improving their lives. I am so grateful to our generous alumni who are dedicated to giving back to the University they so love. Country singersongwriter Chris Young has been a staunch supporter of MTSU students for years, including his creation of a scholarship in the college. He has taken his involvement to a new level with the opening of the Chris Young Café, which provides students with real-world, hands-on experience in performance, audio production, and venue management. We are so thankful for every gift, no matter how big or small, because it assures our students that they are important and worth the investment. Finally, I’m so grateful to Professor Leslie Haines for using her creative magic to design our new magazine logo. There has never been a more exciting time to be a part of CME, whether students study journalism, strategic media, sports media, public relations, advertising, digital media, animation, photography, TV and film production, media management, interactive media, audio production, music business, or commercial songwriting. We are creating leaders who will have a voice in all things that inform and entertain us. Thanks for spending a few minutes to learn what’s going on at MTSU! Beverly Keel Dean, College of Media and Entertainment



Photo courtesy of Anthony Stone 4 | M&E MAGAZINE Summer 2021

G r o u n d MTSU alumna and rising country star Brittney Spencer hopes to expand country music’s fan base

by Skip Anderson



© Grand Ole Opry, photo by Chris Hollo 6 | M&E MAGAZINE Summer 2021


When MTSU alumna Brittney Spencer relocated to Nashville to build ‌a career as a mainstream country music artist and songwriter, she knew the mountain she’d have to scale would be formidable. After all, the genre is dominated by white, male megastars and a seemingly endless supply of soundalikes. A recent study suggests only about 30% of songs played on terrestrial and satellite country radio stations are performed by female artists. Being Black exponentially compounds Spencer’s aspirations given that, historically speaking, few Black artists have found success in country music. Spencer knows her path to success is largely uncharted. But talent, confidence, and determination have a way of shrinking mountains. Spencer knows that, too.

Hitting the Streets Spencer started singing gospel in her hometown of Baltimore, then became a backup singer for several notable artists, including Carrie Underwood and Christopher Cross. When she moved to Nashville in 2013, she wasted no time.


“I saturated myself in the Nashville scene when I got here. I wanted to learn more about the industry to go with the creative component,” Spencer said. “When I moved to Nashville, I attended writing workshops during the day and busked downtown at night.” She sang for tips on the sidewalks in the heart of Nashville’s high-energy tourist district. “I busked at a yellow shack by the Tequila Cowboy and also over near Printers Alley. I can’t think of any more organic way to connect with people than playing on the street. But I was just so nervous,” Spencer said. “I had only recently learned to play guitar [by watching how-to videos on YouTube], and a friend suggested I play downtown. Busking makes me feel connected to people—myself included. I met all kinds of people when I was busking.” She was absorbing important lessons about the music business, too. “While I was singing, I was also doing a lot of market research. I wanted to see what made people stop and listen to me, or what made people tip me $10 instead of $2. So I would play Miranda [Lambert] or Michael Jackson and see what the reaction would be. It gave me a good feeling of what people wanted to hear,” she said. “At Printers Alley, there was a hotdog stand and a taco truck, so I established relationships with vendors, which was a nice business partnership for us both. Their customers would listen to me as they waited in line and when they ate the food. Honestly, that helped inform my decision to go to MTSU.”

True Blue Roots Spencer already had two years’ worth of credits under her belt from attending community college in Maryland. Brittney Spencer reflects on a portrait of the late Charley Pride. Photo courtesy of Anthony Stone

“I realized I wanted to further my education,” she said. “I knew I wanted to go back to school, and a friend told me about MTSU. So I visited campus and learned about what it offered. I just loved it.”



As one might expect, Spencer resumed her academic career in MTSU’s acclaimed Recording Industry program. But then she concluded that what she needed most from MTSU were tools to brand and market herself as she prepared to continue her expedition. “I decided to study Public Relations with a concentration on Music Business,” Spencer said. “I told myself when I moved to Nashville that if I wanted to sing, I could sing in the shower. But if I wanted to be successful, I needed to understand how the business works. And I needed to put my shyness aside. I told myself that if I wanted to meet people, I needed to be the one to engage them.” During her time at MTSU, Spencer focused on classwork, networking, honing her talents, learning the music business, and deejaying at WMOT, MTSU’s NPR-affiliated public radio station. “I took full advantage of my time at MTSU. When I was there, I wasn’t a part of organizations, but I found ways to connect to them. I was part of things but not tied to things,” she said. “No one cares about your songwriting degree if you can’t write a song or sing. So I was there to get the most out of meeting people and being a songwriter. The Recording Industry program sent me to Germany for a songwriting session in the summer of 2015, and I stayed there for a week. It was wonderful.”

Roots to Radio But Spencer simultaneously kept a foot in Nashville, too, with the same strategic goals: meet people, learn the business, hone her talents. “Two to three times per week I would drive from Murfreesboro to Nashville to do songwriting sessions” with other songwriters, she said. After graduation, her songwriting sessions would include heavy-hitters Brandy Clark, Jason Isbell, Ashley Monroe, and Amanda Shires, among others. While at MTSU, she also would attend seminars hosted “by Nashville Songwriters Association International, Grammy U, and any other U that was out there,” Spencer said. “I did all that stuff. I did panels, songwriting-in-the-rounds. Any opportunity to participate, I was there. I did SoundCheck at Grammy U, where if you responded to their email fast enough, you could get on the list to go to a sound check at the Ryman and talk to the artists.” Busy as she was, she also took time to tend to the betterment of the business itself. “I did advocacy work with the Grammys,” Spencer said. “We met with legislators and talked to them about the benefits of caring about songwriters, and presenting bills to Congress. This was a big part of my agenda as a student and as an artist.” Beverly Keel, dean of MTSU’s College of Media and Entertainment, recognized Spencer’s drive early on. “In a crazy industry, she’s always been levelheaded and very together,” Keel said. “She’s not affected by the glamour of the industry—she’s focused on making great music. She was so clear that she wanted a career as a singersongwriter in country music, and that’s just what she’s doing.” Since graduating MTSU in 2017, Spencer has made steady progress up the mountain, progress made more difficult by her race. Those who have heard her music know her talent is deep. Count among her fans Maren

8 | M&E MAGAZINE Summer 2021

Building Bridges College students of color nationwide could connect with country music careers and experts from across the industry in a pilot program MTSU’s College of Media and Entertainment launched in 2021. The “Bridges to Nashville: Exciting Career Opportunities in Country Music” monthly series of virtual sessions began with a conversation with Shy Carter, country artist and hit songwriter, and Shannon Sanders, award-winning songwriter-producer and an executive at Broadcast Music Inc.’s Nashville office. “The goal of this program is to educate students of color about country music in hopes that they will consider country music as a viable career path after graduation,” said Dean Beverly Keel, creator of the new initiative. “The program will explore what today’s country music is, how the industry operates, and what the potential career opportunities are. In addition, this program will introduce industry leaders to African American students who are interested in internships and jobs. The goal is to create more diversity in all areas of the country music industry.” The Bridges to Nashville series was co-sponsored by the Academy of Country Music, BMI, the Country Music Association, Diversify the Stage, the Nashville Chapter of the Recording Academy, Nashville Music Equity, and MTSU’s College of Media and Entertainment. More info: mtsu.edu/media/bridgestonashville.php —Gina E. Fann





Morris and Shires of the Highwaywomen. Last fall during the COVID-19 pandemic, when Spencer, a social media maestro, tweeted a clip of herself singing the all-female supergroup’s song “Crowded Table,” Morris and Shires did more than click “like”—they each tweeted their applause along with an invitation. “This is beautiful, Highwaywoman. Someday, we will play again—and when we do, we’d be honored if you’d come sing this with us,” Shires tweeted. “Brilliant. Come sing with us,” echoed Morris. By all accounts, Spencer is a legitimate contender for airtime on country radio stations. And, in a shift from the long-established pattern, the industry dominated by white performers seems to be embracing her. Social media—simultaneously a stage, a megaphone, and a launching pad—seems to be a powerful equalizer for talented independent artists, regardless of race. “In general, I think the story of Black artistry in country music is finally accelerating and fostering real cultural change against too many headwinds and too much industry inertia,” said Craig Havighurst, co-host of Music City Roots, a weekly live-performance radio show that airs on WMOT. “So many grand singers and songwriters are stepping up to insist on their place in the scene, and so 10 | M&E MAGAZINE Summer 2021

many fans and allies are demanding those voices be heard and promoted in country music, that this overdue shift and consciousness is finally a real, dynamic thing. “I’m thrilled by the traction and the excitement around Yola, Amythyst Kiah, Kyshona—and I want more people to hear Wendy Moten, too. And there are other great Black voices, of course. What I’d emphasize, though, is that this is only becoming possible in country because, at last, streaming and playlisting is challenging formatted radio’s longstanding monopoly on exposure and artist development. Country radio has been biased against almost everything for a couple decades—variety, diversity, storytelling, women—and it’s had no incentive to change on its own. But now an artist like Brittney can get on the Indigo Spotify playlist and has a shot at being heard widely.”

Breaking Barriers Spencer describes the changes in the genre as an “opportunity” and a “renaissance.” “The push for inclusivity in the genre has forced the industry to, at the very least, acknowledge that it’s a real issue,” Spencer said. “Continual demand from fans and critics alike presents an opportunity for the industry to

Change Agent Beverly Keel, dean of MTSU’s College of Media and Entertainment, is part of a trio of activists Billboard recognized as national change agents for organizing a Zoom panel discussion for Blackout Tuesday in 2020 that led to the creation of Nashville Music Equality. Keel, a 1988 alumna of MTSU, became the College of Media and Entertainment’s first female dean in January 2020 after teaching since 1995 in the internationally recognized Department of Recording Industry, including a seven-year stint as chair. A former record label executive and award-winning journalist, she served as secretary for The Recording Academy Nashville Chapter and is a member of the Academy of Country Music’s Diversity and Inclusion Task Force. Co-moderated by Keel and Sekou Franklin, a Political Science professor at MTSU, the “Being an African American in the Nashville Music Industry” discussion included singer-songwriter Mickey Guyton, the first Black female country artist nominated for a Grammy, and Kortney Toney, corporate sponsorships manager for the Nashville Symphony. That work by Toney, Keel, and fellow panel organizer Cameo Carlson of mtheory Nashville quickly launched Nashville Music Equality.

Spencer with rising R&B artist Langston Bleu

In 2014, Keel joined forces with music industry peers Tracy Gershon and Leslie Fram to create Change the Conversation, a coalition designed to help fight gender inequality in country music.

Photo courtesy of Anthony Stone

take chances and extend access in ways it historically hasn’t. This renaissance happening in country music is one of hope and innovation.” If the powers that be within the country music industry open the door to inclusivity, will the fans—who are largely white and skew conservative—follow? There’s reason to wonder. After all, when a video surfaced in February of country music star Morgan Wallen using the N-word, his record sales skyrocketed immediately thereafter. Spencer pays no mind to that question; the answer likely wouldn’t change her game plan one iota. “I don’t worry about that, because I know I’m on the right side of history,” Spencer said. “And I make it a point to find my people, and the people who connect to my music will have a great time—and those who don’t can listen to other artists. I can help [the country music genre] find the people who are going to become fans of country music. I can help it grow.” Keel says this perspective is an asset, not a liability. “There is a buzz about her up and down Music Row,” Keel said. “She has a strong sense of self, and she is bold and brave. She’s taken a stand on issues of social justice at a time many new artists might not do anything to stand out.

Her strong sense of self prevents her from being something that she’s not. One listen, you can see that she’s an artist who is already creating a lasting legacy. Those who know her know that she is inspiring other young, up-and-coming female songwriters—especially African American female songwriters—to follow their dreams, too.” Despite only having released one EP to date as a solo artist, Compassion (2020), and remaining an independent artist (for now), Spencer’s career is taking off fast enough to leave a vapor trail. In 2021, CMT named her to its annual “Next Women of Country” list. In May, she made her network television debut, appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live, where she and Brandi Carlile sang with the soulful Alison Russell. Spencer is slated to serve as the opening act for Isbell and the 400 Unit for three dates later this year, and she will perform at Merlefest in September. Spencer also made her debut at the Grand Ole Opry in May and signed with United Talent Agency for booking. And she recently performed with legendary hip-hop band the Roots at its pre-Grammy Jam Session. The band’s leader, Questlove, served as musical director for the 2021 Grammy Awards. A proud MTSU alumna, Spencer is most certainly scaling that mountain, with her eyes fixed on the peak.



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Katherine Foss experienced 2020 as the professor who wrote the book on American epidemics and attained major media exposure story by Allison Gorman and photos by J. Intintoli

Early last year, as it was dawning on Americans that their lives were about to change in some drastic but unknowable way, MTSU’s Katherine Foss got a phone call from The New York Times. Thus began the steady influx of requests from newspapers, magazines, broadcasters, and podcasters wanting to talk to the woman who wrote the book on epidemics in the United States. Foss, a professor of Media Studies, couldn’t answer the nation’s pressing epidemiological questions, like how this mysterious new virus spread or who was most vulnerable to it. But she could offer perspective—from comforting to cautionary—on our past public health crises and the narratives that shaped our responses to them. Her 2020 book, Constructing the Outbreak: Epidemics in Media and Collective Memory, revisits scenes from seven inflection points in our country’s public health history—from 1721 in smallpoxravaged Boston, where authorities debated whether to try inoculation, suggested by an enslaved man who had been inoculated in his home country in Africa; to turn-of-the-century New York City,

where Irish immigrant “Typhoid” Mary Mallon was the victim of forced isolation and collective demonization; to 1952 in Minnesota’s Twin Cities, where overflowing polio wards reflected a terrifying virus at its peak, even as Dr. Jonas Salk was on the verge of developing a vaccine. Back in 2016, when Foss decided to write the book, she couldn’t have anticipated that its publication four years later would align with the deadliest epidemic America had seen in more than a century. She says her sudden popularity with the media last year was “a curiosity.” So was living through the kind of event she’d just finished writing about.

Crises and Controversies Since joining the MTSU faculty in 2008, Foss has carved out a scholarly niche at the intersection of media and medicine in the United States. Author of three books and editor of three more, she has written extensively about how news and entertainment media shape Americans’ understanding of public health issues and how



they serve as “gatekeepers” who frame our collective memory of epidemics and similar crises. If that sounds like uncontroversial academese, don’t tell that to the World Health Assembly, which in 2018 was shocked when the United States refused to sign its evidence-based resolution encouraging breastfeeding over bottle feeding. And don’t tell it to the two moms in Mora, Minnesota, who that same year unwittingly triggered a national debate by nursing their babies at a local kiddie pool. Foss waded into those turbulent waters with newspaper op-eds pointing out that the cultural push against breastfeeding in the United States in the early 20th century—and a similar effort later in developing countries—was framed and funded by infant-formula companies, to devastating effect. (She wrote the book on that, too—Breastfeeding and Media: Exploring Conflicting Discourses That Threaten Public Health, 2017.) When COVID-19 turned into an American public health crisis, Foss was as blindsided as the rest of us, but she saw the controversies coming. In early January 2020, as worrisome reports about the virus were just making landfall here, Foss’s teaching assistant mentioned that she was trying to find masks to send to her family in China. “I casually remarked that I just couldn’t imagine that Americans would ever be willing to wear masks—that individualism would prohibit such collective action,” Foss wrote in a blog post later. “I had no idea that we were on the cusp of a global pandemic.” In early February, roughly three weeks before the phone call from The New York Times, Foss wrote an opinion piece for The Tennessean reminding readers that the flu posed a greater public health hazard to Americans than the new coronavirus. The piece “became outdated almost immediately,” she said. But it was also prescient. In the op-ed, Foss warned that “misinformation has distorted and impaired flu vaccination efforts” and that a “lapse in the collective memory of infectious disease feeds anti-vaccination rhetoric that undermines public health efforts to curb transmission.” In other words, time and first-world privilege had eroded Americans’ reasonable fear of contagious illnesses. More than a hundred years after the 1918 influenza outbreak killed 675,000 of us, we had forgotten what it was like to have family, friends, and neighbors felled by a virus in devastating numbers. Yet as 2020 wore on, and COVID-19 was charting a similarly fatal course across the country, many Americans remained dismissive of it. Foss attributes the prevalence of that attitude to two factors.

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First, we didn’t feel the collective loss in a visceral way, as we might have a century ago, because media coverage was relatively sterile. There were few visceral images or stories from the front lines of the war on COVID-19. Even the obituaries of victims rarely mentioned cause of death. Second, Foss said, we had never before had a president downplay the dangers of a deadly virus. “In the past, no politician who wanted to get elected again would have questioned disease, because it was just too much of a threat,” Foss said. “It was such an ever-present part of life, that could take life away so quickly, that no one was that arrogant in the past.”

Historical Parallels It was this extreme politicization of a public health crisis in the United States—a situation as novel as the virus itself—that sparked that February phone call to Foss from The New York Times. But the many interviews that followed generally focused on historical comparisons, as people looked to the past to make sense of a bewildering present. The media’s preferred touchpoint was the so-called Spanish flu, which struck the United States toward the end of what was known then as the Great War, in 1918. The virus took nearly six times more American lives than the conflict did, in less than half the time. Yet in our collective memory, Foss says, it was eventually reduced to “a footnote of World War I.”

Publication of Constructing the Outbreak proved timely for Katherine Foss’ research on past epidemics.


Then came COVID-19, and Foss was suddenly on the receiving end of a lot of Spanish flu questions, such as “How did Americans celebrate Halloween in 1918?” (Most cities banned or scaled back celebrations, she told a writer for History.com—although back then Halloween was more of an adult holiday.) She also tried to correct misinformation about how that influenza pandemic played out in the United States. She found little evidence to support the narrative that there were a significant number of “anti-maskers” in 1918; most Americans were compliant, even though wearing masks to prevent the spread of infection was a new concept then. And she was frustrated by the frequent parallels drawn between “waves” of Spanish flu and COVID-19. The comparison is problematic, she says, because a century ago Americans didn’t have timely information that would have enabled them to adjust their behavior to the emerging outbreak. “That drove me nuts, when we kept comparing COVID-19 to influenza,” Foss said. mtsu.edu/media


She thinks a closer comparison would be polio: In the early to mid-20th century, as with COVID-19 in its early stages, no one understood how polio spread or who might succumb to it. Most infected people felt perfectly fine or had only mild symptoms; others were paralyzed or died. In 1937, a late-summer surge in that dreaded disease, which notoriously struck young children, led Chicago Public Schools to develop “radio school,” the original remote learning. Foss wrote about that pioneering moment in American public health for the online news outlet The Conversation. During the latest pandemic, Foss published many epidemic-themed articles in popular media, from Smithsonian Magazine to The Washington Post. Many of those were syndicated and picked up by other outlets. But the remote-learning piece really struck a chord, garnering 346,000 hits between October 2020 and May 2021. It’s not hard to imagine parents googling for reassurance, if not answers, as COVID-19 upended a second academic year. The virus was making the logistics of family life nearly impossible, especially for working mothers. Meanwhile, parents of school-age children were tearing their hair out trying to keep them engaged academically. Foss, who has two young daughters, was right there too.

Hands-On Research There’s a big difference, she notes, between reading about other people’s experiences in epidemics and experiencing an epidemic yourself. “I obviously prefer the vicarious method,” she said. In 2018, Foss spent a semester doing research for Constructing the Outbreak. She walked through historic Philadelphia, where yellow fever killed thousands of people in 1793; pored over records of the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul; and traveled to New York to visit the March of Dimes Archives in White Plains and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park. The documents she read inevitably reflected the perspectives of doctors, government officials, and other authority figures. “What’s not captured [in historical records] is the day-to-day uncertainty of regular people,” she said. Parenting through a pandemic? That history hadn’t been written. But now it has, millions of times. In 2020, parents took to social media to document their pandemic moments, from hair-raising to mundane. That included Foss, who found blogging “therapeutic” at a time when she felt like she was failing both her students and her children—who were suddenly her students too. 16 | M&E MAGAZINE Summer 2021

The same week in March 2020 that MTSU shifted classes online and public schools shut down, Foss received the final proofs for Constructing the Outbreak, which was scheduled for release in September. So while she was figuring out how to teach and parent in totally new ways, she also had to figure out how to work COVID-19 into her completed book, so it wouldn’t be obsolete before it was published. It probably benefited the book that she didn’t have the freedom to make big changes, she says. “Even speculating wouldn’t have worked in that moment, because optimistic me, I couldn’t fathom how long the crisis would go on. Part of this was just a way of coping, just thinking, ‘Things will get better.’ ” Like so many of us, she slogged through. Making weird pandemic purchases. (“Drowning in stress” during quarantine, she bought a rubber boat so her daughters could paddle around their rain-flooded backyard.) Going to heroic lengths to make homeschool fun. (“My kids were not amused when I woke them up dressed like Maria von Trapp on Sound of Music day,” she blogged.) And eventually things did get better—including her book sales.

TIME AND FIRSTWORLD PRIVILEGE HAD ERODED AMERICANS’ REASONABLE FEAR OF CONTAGIOUS ILLNESSES. “I lost money on my first book because I bought copies for my parents,” she remarked. “That put me in the hole.” Not that selling books has ever been her motivation for writing them. “Having been an academic for more than a dozen years, I publish a lot of stuff,” she said. “But we don’t write for fame or money. That’s not the business we’re in.” Nevertheless, Constructing the Outbreak has been doing brisk business on Amazon. Foss really hasn’t been paying attention, though; she’s planning her next book. The pandemic isn’t over, but Foss says there’s no time to waste. If they’re not contained, memories mutate. She can’t let that happen.




Photo by Cat Curtis Murphy 18 | M&E MAGAZINE Summer 2021


C A M ER AS R RO OLLI N G Professor’s know-how shows TV students how to deal with the unpredictable—even in a pandemic by Gina Fann



Walker Oakes (l), Ryan Tyler, and Jordyn Lee (r) help produce the Don’t @ Me game show in Bragg Studio 1.


Media Arts Professor Robert “Bob” Gordon Jr. has always encouraged his multi-camera TV production students to be ready to change course when the unexpected happens, because it always seems to in television. He didn’t quite expect “changing course” to become so literal.

Quiet on Set

department’s annual coverage of the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival since 2015. “In our field, doing live television, you have to have your Plan A and a Plan B and a Plan C and a Plan D, because all sorts of things aren’t going to work right,” Gordon said. “You can’t just freeze because it’s not the way you planned it. You have to be very flexible and very variable.”

Gordon and his Video and Film Production students, who produce live and scripted shows in several multi-camera courses, watched the COVID-19 pandemic erase the live entertainment, sports, special events, and in-house series productions from much of the 2020 calendar. Their in-class time, connected by video, was all that remained for spring, summer, and part of fall.


Months later, on the other side of a reinvigorated event schedule and a slightly revamped way of teaching and learning, Gordon says he challenges “any other video and film program, anywhere, to say they do as much television as we do.”

A lifelong TV producer and a founder of the Nashville chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Gordon uses his career ties to help his students make connections. He brought top professionals into his virtual classroom via Zoom during the pandemic.

Gordon, who coordinates the live production and multicamera area of the program, additionally serves as executive producer for Media Arts Productions, MTSU’s live TV production company, and as faculty advisor for MT10, the student-run TV station. He also has led the

The guests included the producer and director of the Oscars and the Tony Awards, the director of The Voice, the director of Jeopardy, the script supervisor for ABC’s Nashville series, and the producer of the Academy of Country Music Awards.

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2019. American Idol semifinalist Briston Maroney and fellow Knoxvillian Cece Coakley, a Music Business major at MTSU, performed for a limited audience of students March 24 in the Student Union Ballroom.

Bob Gordon with $1.7 million production truck

Producing livestream for campus concert

Outside the Student Union, Gordon’s students worked inside the University’s $1.7 million Mobile Production Lab, aka “The Truck,” to capture the concert for livestreaming. Other Media Arts students set up the video wall; Recording Industry students from the Sound Reinforcement course took care of audio; and the Department of Theatre and Dance worked with lighting.

DOING LIVE TELEVISION, YOU HAVE TO HAVE YOUR PLAN A AND A PLAN B AND A PLAN C AND A PLAN D. “This kind of hands-on collaboration helps students launch professional careers after graduation,” said Billy Pittard, department chair of Media Arts. “We should also recognize that the live broadcast also made it possible for a much wider audience to enjoy this event.”

That’s a Wrap

Dawn Nieman (r) operating camera in studio

Sound, Camera, Action As MTSU eased back into in-person operations during the Fall 2020 semester, opportunities returned to get Gordon’s students back behind the cameras. Their once-empty fall calendar ballooned to 41 in-person, hands-on TV shoots, including high-definition coverage of football and basketball games, multiple Department of Theatre and Dance productions, and 2020 election night returns, as well as working outdoors at MTSU’s fall 2020 in-person graduation ceremonies. They also shot talk and game shows, with all events following pandemic protocols. During spring 2021, the advanced multi-camera TV production course collaborated with students from two other departments to add the sound, sights, and streaming for MTSU’s first in-person, large-scale Signature Event since

The TV production schedule for the Spring 2021 semester also involved women’s basketball, volleyball, and soccer games, along with the College of Media and Entertainment’s Wall of Fame ceremony. “Sometimes when I talk to people, they’re impressed with our students’ responsiveness and flexibility to change and with the sheer amount of production they do in a semester,” Gordon said. “Though we normally do a lot, COVID-19, surprisingly, allowed us to do even more and different productions in completely different ways.” Producing shows again has meant some arduous 16-hour days for Gordon and his students. He has reminded them, though, that once they’re in the field, especially if they’re freelancing, those days mean more experience, more reputation-building, and, ideally, higher pay. “In addition to producing many types of television programs, the students learned to be nimble, think outside of the box, and perform very well in ways they never imagined. As a teacher, I find all of that, and their smiles, to be both rewarding and worthwhile . . . and fun.” mtsu.edu/media


Advertising major Bella Utley is featured on a Raider Xpress bus shelter sign on campus for an MTSU student public relations campaign. Fellow team member Andrew Felts (r), a Visual Communication major, helps Ed Arning, director of market development, install the poster. 22 | M&E MAGAZINE Summer 2021

Defend True Blue MTSU media students create mask-wearing PR campaign by Gina Fann

Six MTSU School of Journalism and Strategic Media students have seen firsthand how public relations and advertising campaigns can help make a lifesaving difference to their community. Knowing that everyone was aware of—and fatigued by—COVID-19 information as they prepared to return to campus in August 2020, the Safe Return Campaign team came up with a creative way to reinforce MTSU’s campuswide mask mandate. “We realized that the fact-based messaging just [wasn’t] working,” said Bella Utley, a senior Advertising student, who was one of six top College of Media and Entertainment students on the project. Students were “bombarded with COVID-19 messaging,” Utley said. “ . . . This had to be concise, easy to digest, and hit on an emotional level for students.” The team, led by professors Leslie Haines and Matt Taylor, also included recent graduates Sydney Clendening and Andrew Felts (Visual Communication), T. Chism (Advertising), and Nathaniel Nichols (Public Relations), along with rising senior Caitlin Davis (double-majoring in Public Relations and Agribusiness). Their extensive research in late spring and summer of 2020 showed them what would resonate with their target audience. mtsu.edu/media


“We wanted to choose something that pushed forward a unique way to frame life with a mask . . . to implement it as a normal part of our lives and our lifestyles and making wearing a mask easy instead of annoying or strange,” Utley said. She and her colleagues found a simple, straightforward focus for their campaign: Tell students that mask-wearing is easier than the everyday challenges of parking, finding a spot to study, or remembering your ID, ending with “Wear Your Mask. Defend True Blue.” Their plan used close-cropped photos of current students on yard signs, bus shelters, and digital screens scattered across campus, as well as videos, social media, buttons, and even text-only messages pasted onto high-traffic windows and doors—all incorporating the “True Blue” motto of community values MTSU has embraced since 2011. “Students recognize that it is much different [than official University campaigns], which automatically creates a stronger sense of connection to the message,” Utley said.

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“Most importantly, it builds the community without saying, ‘We’re all in this together.’ ” Davis, who appeared in an Instagram video about the campaign, said, “I’ve had professors in the past who like to joke about their classes, where they say that their class is so hard to pass, so they can even put it on the syllabus: ‘Remember, wearing your mask is going to be easier than passing my class!’ ” MTSU’s mask mandate in campus buildings, lifted in May 2021, was instituted for the 2020–21 academic year. Rutherford County had a similar requirement during the peak of the pandemic and prior to widespread vaccines. MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee praised the campaign, admitting to “shameless bragging” on the students. “I thought I was on Fifth Avenue at a PR firm that was selling your proposal to a company, and that’s without exaggeration,” the president said. “We really can’t put a dollar figure on the effort and the work that you all have done.”

The campaign fell under the School of Journalism and Strategic Media’s “capstone course” plan to give Advertising and Public Relations students real-world experience in their final semesters. “Students work on a campaign with a client, often nonprofits in the community, the sort of thing that gives them a chance to apply the skills they’ve been learning,” Taylor said. The mask campaign offered hands-on experience and let the two professors focus on the students’ work and the product rather than grades. “I always talk about design for the greater good, and I work with nonprofits,” Haines said, “and for the students to be able to see their work put into action and to have this actual end result and to be able to present to an executive board and the president of the University is great. “I’m so impressed that MTSU gave the students this challenge and had enough confidence that they could pull it together.”

Team member Sydney Clendening, a Visual Communication major, poses next to a “Defend True Blue” promotional campaign sign featuring her photo.



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story by Gina Fann and Carol Stuart with photos by Andy Heidt and J. Intintoli

Chris Young Café celebrates entertainer’s gifts to his alma mater and provides a practice lab for students Multiplatinum recording artist Chris Young hasn’t forgotten his roots as a former student at MTSU or as someone who grew up in Murfreesboro. While Young’s latest hit pays homage to his “Famous Friends” back in Rutherford County—the football hero, the “life of every party,” a sheriff, a preacher, the teacher of the year— the singer-songwriter continues to invest in students following in his footsteps at his hometown university. Young even performed the song live for the first time when he christened the stage at the new Chris Young Café on campus in January. Continuing to serve as a benefactor to MTSU, Young made a generous gift to turn the former dining facility into a College of Media and Entertainment learning lab by day and an entertainment venue by night. An eye-catching “Famous Friends” mural and a Tennessee Music Pathways tourism marker also were unveiled outside the café at the livestreamed grand opening. “I studied jazz, I studied . . . how to sing in multiple languages,” Young said, “and . . . I wouldn’t have the breadth of musical knowledge that I do, sing the way I do, and know some of the people that I know, if not for this University.” Inside the facility, students will learn skills from nearly every facet of entertainment: music business, audio production, songwriting, venue management, sound reinforcement, lighting, and rigging. The Charlie Daniels Journey Home Project, a major donor to MTSU’s Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center, also gave $10,000 for a Daniels/Young scholarship for veterans. Young has maintained his True Blue ties since his time at MTSU in 2005. He donated touring audio equipment in 2012 and funded a Recording Industry scholarship in 2016. A famous friend, indeed.



From dining hall to performance hall • 4,096 airy square feet of expanded space • custom LED video wall for Media Arts • state-of-the-art audio and lighting control boards • 2 club-style seating areas and a VIP-type zone • performance venue and teaching/rehearsal space • mics, soundboards, amps, and more from Young’s tours • 240-person capacity • opened as Woodmore cafeteria in 1963 • reopened as the Cyber Café in 1999

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Young accomplishments • 3 billion+ on-demand streams • 13 million singles sold • 11 career No. 1 singles • 28 gold and platinum records • RCA Nashville country artist • Grand Ole Opry member • 2 Grammy nominations




Tennessee Music Pathways now has two heritage markers on campus—with the other at MTSU’s Center for Popular Music.

Generations Before Young’s mother, Becky Harris (’84), an MTSU alumna and MTSU Foundation board member, is involved in the music business as founding partner at HuskinsHarris Business and was awarded an honorary Recording Industry professorship at the grand opening. Young’s grandfather, Richard Yates, performed on the Louisiana Hayride.



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Young and his mother, MTSU alumna and music business entrepreneur Becky Harris (’84), join University and state officials at the ribbon-cutting in front of the “Famous Friends” mural. Professor Leslie Haines (Visual Communication) designed the artwork in collaboration with colleague Jonathan Coulter Trundle (Photography). See who's on the mural at mtsu.edu/muralkey



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Acclaimed alumni boost MTSU media college’s Wall of Fame to nearly 100 members by Skip Anderson and Gina Fann

Six accomplished alumni joined the Wall of Fame in MTSU’s College of Media and Entertainment in 2021. The 2020–21 Wall of Fame members are Patrick Eaton, a 2009 graduate of the college’s then-Radio and TV Production program, now the Department of Media Arts; Lee Foster, a 2002 alumnus of the Department of Recording Industry; and John L. Pitts, a 1978 graduate of what is now the School of Journalism and Strategic Media. The college also formally recognized three 2019–20 honorees after the pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 induction: Laura Cruz, a 2011 Radio and TV Production alumna included in the Media Arts group; Mike Molinar, a 1998 School of Music graduate with a Recording Industry minor; and Larry Ridley, a 2000 electronic media journalism alumnus added to the School of Journalism roster. The six new honorees bring the College of Media and Entertainment’s Wall of Fame membership to 98. Launched in 2000 to recognize outstanding alumni and community leaders from each of the college’s specialties and inspire current students to continue working toward their goals, the Wall of Fame is featured inside MTSU’s Bragg Media and Entertainment Building in an interactive digital display. Its membership includes many MTSU alumni nationally recognized in their fields.



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But before Foster could save the studio, he first had to save his collegiate career. “By my sophomore year, I got placed on academic probation, so I went home to help Dad with the farm, doing all that country stuff. I had given up on college. I started dating the small-town girl and wearing overalls, and I figured that’s what I would do with the rest of my life. But, six months in, I realized I had to give it one last try and went blazing back to MTSU with a newfound purpose.”

Lee Foster Owner/managing partner, Electric Lady Studios, New York

When Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studios in New York City turned 50 in August 2020, no one had more reason to celebrate than Lee Foster. Foster, a 2002 graduate from MTSU’s noted Recording Industry program, is widely credited with saving the iconic facility from collapse and then expanding the business model. He credits his career in the music business to a tenacity that his mentors in the MTSU program saw at a time perhaps he didn’t. That tenacity helped Foster—a self-confessed subpar student until he found the Recording Industry Department—advance from an unpaid internship to studio manager and co-owner. When Foster took his first step onto the career ladder in 2002, he left a footprint in the ashes where the Music Industry v1.0 had stood until the peer-to-peer, free-music stampede blasted its revenue streams to smithereens. The morning he carried his suitcase from Penn Station to Greenwich Village, there were signs that the Electric Lady was teetering on the verge of insolvency. Most notably, the studio’s client base was dwindling from a slow stream to barely a trickle. But shuttering the studio meant shuttering a manifestation of Hendrix’s enduring legacy, and that was an outcome Foster, whose first real weekly paycheck would be $150, couldn’t fathom. After all, the studio had beaten the odds before, somehow remaining solvent when Hendrix died only 23 days after he hosted an A-list grand opening soiree. The studio was famous from the start because its genreshaping founder was renowned across the globe as one of rock’s most inventive guitarists. But what would happen within its walls after his death at the age of 27 would propel the studio to iconic status. It’s where David Bowie and John Lennon would write and record the song “Fame” in under 24 hours and where Patti Smith would record her seminal debut album, Horses. It’s the studio where AC/DC recorded overdubs and mixed Back in Black, the sixth-bestselling album of all time, and where Led Zeppelin recorded Physical Graffiti. The Soulquarian movement torchbearers Questlove, D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, and Common took up residency at Electric Lady Studios for six years. Their departure coincided with the financial wrecking ball that Napster’s free file-sharing sent through the industry worldwide, leaving the studio in perilous straits.

Joining the Recording Industry program, Foster soon aligned all aspects of his life with music. He started doing stagehand work in Nashville, Atlanta, and Louisville—setting up and tearing down big shows like the Rolling Stones and Elton John. Then he landed the internship he needed to graduate in faraway New York City at the famed studio Hendrix launched. But the Electric Lady was in physical and financial disrepair, and its leaders were unsure how to move forward. Foster started assisting sessions—Badu was his first—but when a receptionist left, he asked to answer the phones instead.

FOSTER IS WIDELY CREDITED WITH SAVING JIMI HENDRIX’S ELECTRIC LADY STUDIOS. “I worked hard, and I was stubborn and persistent. And I found ways to make myself useful: If the boiler wouldn’t work, I would figure it out and fix it. If the AC didn’t work, I’d figure out where to kick it to get it going again.” The studio’s turnaround began when Americana artist Ryan Adams called Foster one morning at dawn to take him up on a recent offer he had extended to record at Electric Lady. They recorded the Easy Tiger album over the next few months. The dominoes started to fall. Patti Smith returned to Electric Lady for her 2007 album Twelve. Soon the client list ranged from Kanye West to Taylor Swift. Grammy-winning projects, including Beck’s Morning Phase and Adele’s 25, were mixed at the facility. The momentum hasn’t stopped. As recently as 2020, artists including global pop phenomenon Lady Gaga have worked on their most recent projects at the studio. Along the way, Foster expanded Hendrix’s original business to include a record label, content programming partnerships, and an engineer/producer management division. “Much of what I learned at MTSU comes into play in my professional life. I recognize there are people who go to college and don’t use it, but I use every bit of it,” Foster summed up.

—Skip Anderson



Patrick Eaton Senior technical project manager, Fuse Technical Group

Eaton, a senior technical project manager for film and television at Fuse Technical Group who joined the company in 2019, currently specializes in extended reality, known as XR, and virtual production for film environments. He worked with the VER entertainment company now known as PRG Gear from 2013 to 2018 as a senior project manager with the concert touring division, where he developed new products alongside artists and creative teams for touring and innovative video systems deployment. Among his touring and TV credits are work with Josh Turner, Women of Faith, Rascal Flatts, Twenty One Pilots, Shania Twain, Imagine Dragons, Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez, and Gwen Stefani, as well as the MTV and VMA Movie Awards, Grammy performances, and a variety of live TV special events.

John L. Pitts Sports editor, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal

Pitts, sports editor for the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 2006, has covered five Olympic Games and a variety of other national and international sports events. He led award-winning community weeklies in Warrenton, Virginia (1992–94), and Leesburg, Virginia (1994–95), before joining the staff of a northern Virginia public relations firm, News USA. In 1996, Pitts was working as night manager at the Main Press Center at the Atlanta Olympics when the Centennial Park bomb exploded nearby. He helped with the treatment of several injured people and with conducting the late-night news conference where organizers announced that the Summer Games would continue. He joined the Decatur Daily in Alabama in 1999, worked at the Tupelo paper 2001–04, and spent a year at the Times Daily in Florence, Alabama, before returning to Tupelo.

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Cruz works in the film and TV industry as a script supervisor, most recently on the ABC network limited series Women of the Movement, set to air during the 2021–22 season, and the Starz series Hightown. Her credits also include script supervision for 81 episodes of the ABC/CMT series Nashville during 2014–18 and the 2018–20 CBS All Access thriller anthology series Tell Me a Story that also aired on The CW’s Nashville affiliate, WNAB. Cruz’s feature film work includes the Lifetime release Patsy & Loretta and the 2021 film Son. She also has worked on commercials for brands that include Nissan, Coors Light, Band-Aid, and Hershey.

Mike Molinar General manager, Big Machine Music

Molinar is the general manager for Big Machine Music, which has been in the top 10 of Billboard’s best music publishing and country publishing lists since 2017. He was elected in 2019 to the boards of the National Music Publishers Association, the trade association for the American music publishing industry, and the Mechanical Licensing Collective, the nonprofit organization created by the U.S. Copyright Office as part of the historic Music Modernization Act of 2018. He’s also a board member for Music Health Alliance, a nonprofit that helps music professionals find medical and financial health care solutions, and for the Country Music Hall of Fame Education Council. His previous roles include working with Reba McEntire’s original Starstruck Writers Group and Cal IV Entertainment as well as his own startup businesses, including Effusion Entertainment.

Larry Ridley TV host, SportsNet New York; update anchor, CBS Sports

Ridley has been a sportscaster and anchor for SportsNet New York since 2016 and has his own weekend esports show on the Black News Channel, which features his Compete4ever Madden League and 2K Association series. He also provided voices for the Madden NFL video game for five years. The 1994–98 Blue Raider football player hosted the E.A. Madden NFL Championship Series in 2014– 18, as well as the NBC Sports Universal Open Rocket League Championships and the NBA-run NBA 2K League at NYC Studio in 2018. He’s currently the host of Esports Xtra, a live call-in show on traditional sports, esports, and gaming that airs on Twitch, YouTube, and Facebook. —Gina Fann



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A Perfect Union MTSU’s Free Speech Center and John Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies place the University at the forefront of America’s primary freedom by John Glennon

Ken Paulson produced his first newspaper at the age of 7, drawing the stories in crayon and hand-delivering copies through his suburban Chicago neighborhood. A child of the 1960s, Paulson later witnessed much of the country battle an unpopular war, fight for civil rights, and demand equality for women—using the guaranteed freedoms of the Constitution’s First Amendment as a multi-tooled weapon. “Growing up as I did, the First Amendment was not a dusty document,” Paulson said. “It was the way to make things better and more just, and I’ve never lost that sense.” So it’s only fitting that Paulson, who has an extensive background in both journalism and law, now serves as director of MTSU’s Free Speech Center, as well as dean emeritus of the school’s College of Media and Entertainment. Paulson and the Free Speech Center are half of a one-two punch that is putting MTSU at the nation’s forefront when it comes to exploring the role of the First Amendment, which protects an individual’s rights to speech, religion, press, assembly, and petitioning the government. The other half is represented by Deborah Fisher, who since 2016 has served as director of MTSU’s John Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies. The position is a natural fit for Fisher, who spent more than 25 years as a newspaper reporter and editor, including a decade at The Tennessean in Nashville. The Seigenthaler Chair was founded in 1986 to honor John Seigenthaler, the longtime president, editor, and publisher of The Tennessean and the first chair of the Freedom Forum’s First Amendment Center on the Vanderbilt University campus. It supports a variety of activities related to the First Amendment, free speech, free press rights, and other topics of concern for contemporary journalism. Over the years, those activities have included distinguished visiting professors and visiting lecturers at MTSU, research related to free expression, seminars and meetings dedicated to expressive freedom, and hands-on training for student journalists through the Seigenthaler News Service. As the latest director of the Seigenthaler Chair, Fisher guided the first online posting of the First Amendment Encyclopedia, a database of 1,500 articles that has become hands-down the most comprehensive First Amendment encyclopedia available to the public. It includes essays and entries covering court decisions and doctrines, people, laws, events, issues, and organizations. Started with the hope of one day reaching 5,000 website visitors per day, the First Amendment Encyclopedia is now averaging 20,000 daily hits. Fisher said the number of users has nearly doubled in each of the past two years, in part because there is really nothing else like it on the web. mtsu.edu/media


The site even features a journalist hotline, so reporters from across the country can call MTSU’s specialists, seeking their views on First Amendment issues. In 2020, MTSU’s expert commentaries appeared in nearly 180 different news organizations, another example of the school’s nationwide recognition for its breadth of knowledge on all First Amendment topics. “There are other things out there that summarize court cases, but there’s nothing out there that has so many articles,” Fisher said. “The larger point is that when they cite the First Amendment Encyclopedia, they’re citing a resource that was created, maintained, and is updated by MTSU and the Seigenthaler Chair.” Added Paulson: “We’re literally reaching millions of people with information about the First Amendment. . . . The reach has been satisfying and has come at a time when there is probably more hunger for information about these issues than ever before.”

A Public Awakening One of Paulson’s primary goals at the Free Speech Center is simply education, raising understanding of the First Amendment through awareness and engagement. The amendment, after all, is nearly as old as the United States itself. Paulson notes that for many years, this country permitted slavery and treated women as second-class citizens, refusing to give either group the right to participate fully in society. But it was the five freedoms of the First Amendment that allowed people to speak out and demand change. “The line from American history in which we talk about forming a more perfect union is an apt one,” said Paulson, former president and CEO of the the First Amendment Center in Nashville, as well as editor and senior vice president of USA Today from 2004 to 2009. “In our founding documents, we recognized the need for our nation to assess its problems and improve them, and that’s what’s happened. It’s not coincidence that the strongest and most dynamic, most creative, and most ambitious nation in the history of the planet is also the most free.” But are today’s youth and college students as educated regarding the First Amendment—and the power it carries— as were their predecessors decades ago? Paulson is sympathetic to current grade-school and high school teachers, whose responsibilities are tilted greatly toward state testing. Still, he is disappointed by the absence of time once devoted to current events, not to mention the lack of investment in civics and civic engagement.

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“Our students don’t know the basic functions of government, and they don’t understand how the Constitution works,” Paulson said. “Little wonder that they grew up to be citizens who are taken in by misinformation and conspiracy theories. That’s the heart of our mission, to give young people in particular the information they need to be better and more aware citizens.” That explains why one of the pillars of the Free Speech Center is its 1 for All online section, which provides materials, course content, and study guides for teachers— of grades one through 12—who want better resources to teach about the First Amendment.

WE’RE LITERALLY REACHING MILLIONS OF PEOPLE WITH INFORMATION ABOUT THE FIRST AMENDMENT. The 1 for All is a nonpartisan and nonprofit educational tool that is also interactive. Students are encouraged to submit photos, videos, songs, and stories that reflect the value of freedom in America. “Everyone can recite the pledge of allegiance, but only 2% of Americans can tell you the five freedoms of the First Amendment,” Paulson said. “So we are doing whatever we can to understand the importance of free speech, press, religion, petition, and assembly. . . . That takes so many forms, and it’s all on the website.” Another major initiative of the Free Speech Center was a national campaign featuring a diverse group of American celebrities—ranging from Kane Brown to Loretta Lynn—with a much-needed message about the value of journalism in the COVID-19 age and in times of social unrest stemming from racial inequalities.

Moving the Conversation Meanwhile, the Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies also is promoting awareness and understanding of the amendment—as well as supporting quality journalism in the state—but through different means. Fisher, focusing more on research and academia, has continued the tradition of undertaking programs of great significance for the school. They have included annual MTSU speaking

Aubrie Sellers

Ann Patchett



PRESS. press.

Becca Stevens


of faith.

Freedom of press protects my right to read and engage

Freedom of press protects my right to read and engage with

diverse viewpoints just as freedom of speech protects my ability to write and express myself through books without restraints. The First Amendment allows us to be who we are, freely. Freedom of speech, press, petition, and assembly. Five freedoms of expression. Protect one. Protect them all. Learn more at www.1forall.today.

with diverse viewpoints, not only those I agree with, just

as freedom of speech protects my ability to write and ex-

Faith is at the core of our Thistle Farms project, bringing hope

press myself through music without restraints. The First Amendment allows us to be who we are, freely. Freedom

and help to women in need, just as the other freedoms of the First

of speech, press, petition, and assembly. Five freedoms of

Amendment empower us to make a difference every day. Each of

expression. Protect one. Protect them all. Learn more at

us is different, and these five freedoms allow you to be the special


person you are. Five freedoms of expression. Protect one. Protect them all. Learn more at www.1forall.today.

Kathy Mattea

Billy Ray Cyrus Jason Isbell

Ketch Secor



SPEECH. My free speech allows me to sing and say whatever I believe,

just as the First Amendment protects freedom of faith, press, petition and assembly. Five freedoms of expression. Protect


one. Protect them all. Learn more at www.1forall.today.

From Some Gave All through Old Town Road, I’ve had the


SPEECH. My Free Speech works best when I also endeavor to listen.

The First Amendment provides each of us the right to share our opinions, but in order for it to work we need to respect

freedom to express myself in music, television and film.

that this right is given equally to ALL Americans, even ones

But as I wrote and sang on my very first record, “many

we may disagree with. That makes the First Amendment not

just don’t understand about the reasons we are free.” The

only a radical concept—but a revolutionary one! Five free-

First Amendment gives us five freedoms—speech, press,

doms of expression. Protect one. Protect them all. Learn more

religion, petition and assembly. “We don’t dare take them

at www.1forall.today.

for granted.” Learn more at www.1forall.today.

Photo: Danny Clinch

Photo: Danny Clinch

My free speech allows me to sing and write songs from the

Ruby Amanfu

heart, just as the First Amendment protects freedom of faith, press, petition and assembly. Each of us is different, and your free speech allows you to be the special person you are. Tennessee author Ruta Sepetys

Five freedoms of expression. Protect one. Protect them all. Marcus Hummon

Learn more at www.1forall.today.

New member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame




SPEECH. Photo: David McLister

My free speech allows me to write songs for artists I truly

My freedom of speech allows me to lift my voice to add to

admire, just as the First Amendment protects freedom of

the magnificent chorus of voices who have gone before

Even during the pandemic, Fisher coordinated a wide-ranging Zoom panel last September that discussed racial justice protests and the First Amendment. One participant was Ryan Haas, news editor with Oregon Public Broadcasting, who led the team of reporters that broke the news that the federal government had deployed massive forces to Portland, Oregon, to suppress Black Lives Matter protests. A 2019 discussion panel featured journalists from the South Florida Sun Sentinel who had won the Pulitzer Prize in public service earlier that year for their reporting about the deadly shooting rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018. Sun Sentinel staffers not only presented programs to students but also engaged them in discussion about the ethical decisions and role of the press in reporting what happened.

books about hidden history and those who were affected

me, singing of hope, courage, liberty and justice for all.

by it. I’m thankful for the First Amendment and its five

and your free speech allows you to be the special person

Learn more at www.1forall.today.

freedoms of expression—speech, press, religion, petition and assembly. Protect one. Protect them all. Learn more

you are. Five freedoms of expression. Protect one. Protect

at 1forall.today.

them all. Learn more at www.1forall.today.

Photo: Moser Photography

engagements by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists and panel discussions at the University on major issues relevant to the First Amendment.

The photo credit is Kacie Lynn Wheeler. My freedom of the press allows me to write and publish

faith, press, petition and assembly. Each of us is different,

Photo: Anna Haas

government from passing laws and limiting your ability to freely think and freely speak and freely publish. “But there’s nothing to prevent a tech giant from doing that. Because they’re not the government, right? . . . But people have gotten really interested in the power of these tech giants to basically control the flow of information in ways we haven’t seen before.” Fisher believes, however, that the Seigenthaler Chair’s biggest achievement since she’s been director has been the online posting of the First Amendment Encyclopedia, which had existed only in hardback form prior to 2017. The encyclopedia’s database is regularly updated with article entries on court decisions, legal doctrines, and current events involving the First Amendment. Fisher said she and her staff are beginning to see legal briefs filed in court that quote the encyclopedia on cases pertinent to the First Amendment. That brings recognition and positive publicity to the school.

What lies just ahead? Likely an in-depth look at First Amendment rights as they apply to technology giants like Google, Facebook, and Twitter.

Most of the traffic to the First Amendment Encyclopedia site, though, comes from academics and students, since activity spikes during the school year and dips in the summer.

“It takes us to a place where we really haven’t been before,” Fisher said. “Certainly the First Amendment prevents

The higher-than-expected numbers mean the site is more than fulfilling its intended purpose.




News about happenings in MTSU’s College of Media and Entertainment

Baldwin Photo Gallery capstone exhibit

On the Move

Senior capstone photo by Spencer Bird

The Department of Media Arts has elevated two additional programs to stand-alone degrees, has created capstone courses for all concentrations, and is considering launching a Master of Fine Arts in Independent Film and Television.

Media Management and Photography, formerly concentrations under Media and Entertainment, are now free-standing majors. Animation, Interactive Media, and Video and Film Production have also become stand-alone majors, with the latter offering new concentrations in Filmmaking and Live Production. Senior capstones, meanwhile, give students an opportunity to create culminating projects supported by faculty to add to their portfolios and to help launch their careers.

Senior capstone photo by Makayla Stovall

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The focal tracks of the new master’s degree would create a unique offering both in the region and the state, said MTSU Board of Trustees member Pam Wright, especially as film and TV remain burgeoning industries, as noted by the Atlanta Film Commission. The proposed program, currently undergoing a feasibility study, would be composed of three tracks: Documentary, Creative Producing, and Live Event TV.


Bringing Home the Gold Two MTSU graduates won Grammy gold for helping create 2021 best country album Wildcard by Miranda Lambert. In fact, Department of Recording Industry alumnus Jason A. Hall (’00) and Audio Production grad Jimmy Mansfield (’14) had a great chance of winning this year’s country album category, thanks to their teamwork on three of the five nominees. Along with Lambert’s winning effort, announced from Los Angeles’ Staples Center, engineer Hall and assistant engineer Mansfield also were part of the crews nominated for Brandy Clark’s Your Life is a Record and Ashley McBryde’s Never Will. A third MTSU-trained pro, Audio Production graduate Jeff Braun (’12), was Hall and Mansfield’s friendly country-album competition. His mixing work on the project by Ingrid Andress, Lady Like, earned him a Grammy nomination. As of the March 14 ceremony, the number of MTSUconnected Grammy winners since 2001 has risen to 13 with a total of 33 Grammys in categories from classical to pop to country to gospel. Whether they created the words or captured the music, MTSU alumni’s work stood out throughout the 63rd annual Grammy Awards. School of Music alumnus and producer/ songwriter Wayne Haun (’00) competed against himself again with recognition for three of the five best roots gospel album nominees in a repeat of the 2018 Grammys ceremony. Former student and multi-Grammy winner Lecrae Moore, known professionally as Lecrae, was back in the golden circle for two new efforts: nominations for best contemporary Christian music performance, “Sunday Morning,” with gospel icon Kirk Franklin, and a best gospel performance/song co-writing nod for “Come Together” for Rodney Jerkins Presents: The Good News.

Jason A. Hall

Jimmy Mansfield

Music Business alumna Laura Rogers (’09) and her sibling, Lydia Slagle, who perform as The Secret Sisters, were nominated for two Grammys: best folk album for their fourth release, Saturn Return, and for writing a best American roots song on it, “Cabin.” And former student Hillary Scott and her bandmates in Lady A were nominated for best country duo/group performance for their song “Ocean.”



THE LEADI History on Audio

The Center for Popular Music (CPM) recently added several oral history collections related directly to the Nashville music industry to the archive. CPM graduate assistant Tiffany Minton, from MTSU’s Public History program, created the Women Musicians in Nashville Oral History Project as a collection of narrative histories from some of the industry’s most prominent studio and stage musicians. Minton also organized an online panel discussion with several of her interviewees (view at mtsu.edu/popmusic). Recording Industry faculty member Odie Blackmon launched the center’s Soul of a Songwriter oral history collection with an extensive series of interviews with legendary country songwriter Kostas. Born in Greece, Kostas grew up in Montana and in the 1980s launched his songwriting career with a string of hits for artists such as Patty Loveless, Dwight Yoakam, Martina McBride, and The Mavericks. Additionally, West Virginia University’s Travis Stimeling donated the interview recordings and transcripts from his research for the book Nashville Sounds: Record Production in Music City (Oxford University Press, 2020). Stimeling’s interviews with many of the session musicians, arrangers, and businesspeople who helped create Nashville’s famed production practices in the 1960s and ’70s include such legendary figures as Hank Bradley, Bergen White, Ray and Polly Edenton, Rose Drake, Ray Stevens, and Wayne Moss.

Animation Domination Animation students Tyler Aldridge, Ngoc Chi Nguyen, and Virginia Lake Petty took home the prize for best Tennessee student short at the 51st annual Nashville Film Festival. The animated short film Cat Burglar was created by the trio in their Animation capstone classes.

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Rodeo with Reba and Cody

Photo by Andy Heidt

With Tennessee Miller Coliseum as the backdrop, MTSU alumni and students from the College of Media and Entertainment helped produce the Dear Rodeo music video for country star Reba McEntire and rising artist Cody Johnson in fall 2020.

Prince of a Hire The Commercial Songwriting program welcomes musician and singer Dez Dickerson, who will teach Performance Skills for Artists and Songwriters starting in the Fall 2021 semester. Dickerson was an original member of Prince and The Revolution and performed on tracks such as “1999” and “Little Red Corvette.” He joins other prominent music industry professionals teaching in the program, including producer Torrence “Street Symphony” Esmond (’03), hit songwriter Shelly Peiken, and producer/ engineer Doug DeAngelis.



THE LEAD Musical Chair

John Merchant, the new chair for the Department of Recording Industry, is a Grammy-nominated producer and engineer who has worked with a multitude of A-list artists, such as Barbra Streisand, Michael Jackson, the Bee Gees, Toni Braxton, Celine Dion, Lenny Kravitz, and David Foster. While earning his degree in Music Engineering from the University of Miami, Merchant interned at Middle Ear Studios on South Beach, owned by Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees. He worked his way up from assistant to chief engineer and then opened his own studio called RedDoor in Miami in 2004. He produced a top-selling DVD on mixing techniques for Multiplatinum Productions in 2007 and was nominated for a Grammy as producer for the British artist Mika in 2008. That same year, he completed the Master of Fine Arts degree in MTSU’s Recording Arts and Technologies program. Merchant soon joined the Recording Industry faculty. During his tenure, he helped bring Barry Gibb to campus as part of the department’s Chair’s Speaker Series. In recent years, Merchant has produced and engineered Gibb’s critically acclaimed album In the Now and served as Coldplay’s monitor engineer at the Glastonbury Festival.

Pleasant Honor Jennifer Woodard, assistant dean and associate professor in the School of Journalism and Strategic Media, received the 2021 John Pleas Faculty Award. Woodard, an MTSU alumna, teaches classes on convergence, digital writing, podcasting, audio journalism, women in the media, and race, class and gender. Her emphasis on media literacy instructs students in how to judge the media they see and hear based on credible facts, a valuable skill in an age of growing disinformation. As assistant dean, Woodard focuses on diversity issues, assessment, student and faculty mental health programs, curriculum development, internship development, and a mentoring/advocacy program for faculty. She also is the faculty advisor to the National Association of Black Journalists student chapter. The award, created in 1997 to honor the MTSU professor emeritus of Psychology, is presented annually during Black History Month to a Black faculty member who has demonstrated excellence in teaching, research, and service. “John Pleas was the first African American professor that I ever had a class with,” Woodard said. “I took his psychology class my freshman year at MTSU, and it changed my life. You see, representation matters, and he represented what was possible for me in the classroom.”

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McDonald’s Track Music producer and alumnus Tay Keith (’18) teamed up with McDonald’s to promote the restaurant’s new Crispy Chicken Sandwich. For a limited time, the sandwich was available with a gift box set that included an exclusive track written and produced by Keith as well as a limited-edition hoodie. Keith, who has produced songs for Travis Scott, Drake, and Eminem, received a Grammy nomination for best rap song for his work on “Sicko Mode” by Travis Scott during his senior year at MTSU. Billboard also recently named Keith among the 50 Greatest Music Producers of the 21st Century.



THE LEADI Journalism student Christyn Allen records her introduction to a national award-winning TV and web special, 100 Years of Broadcasting, at the Music City Walk of Fame in Nashville.

Local News Service The School of Journalism and Strategic Media has launched Middle Tennessee News (MTN) in order to bring an immersive, teaching hospital-style learning experience for students. Aspiring journalists training for the multimedia and sports media fields are creating content and providing local news, sports, and educational programs for the middle Tennessee region. Faculty advisors, including Dan Eschenfelder, Christine Eschenfelder, Keonte Coleman, and Chris Bacon, work with students in the MTN newsroom and the classroom. Student staffers participate by taking contributing classes, such as Video Journalism Practices, Video Reporting and Editing, and News Producing, as well as practicum courses. Students report, produce, and anchor livestreaming newscasts at 5 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays, along with contributing to the website (middletennesseenews.net). “I get excited every Monday and Wednesday when I know that I am about to put together a newscast with an amazing crew,” said senior Kristi Jones, an MTN manager, anchor, reporter, producer, and assignment manager. “I love the people that I work with and the content that we are able to create in such a short amount of time. I cannot wait to use what I have learned in this newsroom in my future career.”

Student journalists (l–r) Zoë Haggard, Cheyana Avilla, Dontae Rucker, and Christyn Allen take a selfie outside Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium while working on 100 Years of Broadcasting.

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MTSU students with an interest in sports also produce a 30-minute weekly sports show, Blue Raider Extra Point, which airs on True Blue TV every Saturday in the fall semester at 10:30 a.m. In spring 2021, MTN sports journalists launched live streaming coverage and play-by-play of MTSU tennis and produced an interactive special when the Blue Raider men’s tennis team achieved an impressive streak of 25 home wins. MTN News covered the 2020 election with three livestreaming news cut-ins and newscasts, paying special attention to local races in seven counties within a 40-mile radius. Students also produced a special report on the 100th anniversary of the first radio broadcast, which won a 2021 national award of excellence from the Broadcast Education Association and a silver in the Telly Awards, and an MTN special and website for the 75th anniversary of D-Day as part of a study abroad that won Best of Show at the 2019 Tennessee Student Associated Press awards.


• Michael Ryan composed, produced, recorded, and mixed a folk-rock concept album centered around his experience of the pandemic.

• Dustin Painter, selected as this year’s Outstanding M.F.A. Student, completed his final project of interactive immersive audio for gaming. Painter and Gabe Pacino were selected as ambassadors for AdamAudio, a manufacturer of studio loudspeakers.

Bill Crabtree’s “video” studio using iPhones to teach audio recording online

True Mastery Recording Arts and Technologies M.F.A. students excelled through a very challenging year of creative production despite restrictions imposed by COVID-19. Classes were conducted remotely over Zoom using multi-iPhone-camera and highdefinition-audio streaming tools put into place during summer 2020. Hands-on studio classes were conducted online with student recording sessions taking place on campus. • Christopher Lippincott completed an outstanding final project that was an original film score, composing and recording piano and strings for No Country for Old Men.

• The M.F.A. program began an accelerated bachelor’s-tomaster’s (ABM) program, which allows top undergraduates to begin the M.F.A. while completing their bachelor’s degrees. • M.F.A. students recorded and mixed nine original songs written by undergraduate songwriting students utilizing the talents of professional American Federation of Musicians session players from Nashville. The sessions occurred in Studio B and were livestreamed over Zoom so student songwriters and engineers could collaborate online in real time with the pro players in the studio. • The M.F.A. also underwent a very successful program self-study and program review conducted by New York University’s Agnieszka Roginska. • Michael Fleming and Bill Crabtree were co-chairs of the AES Conference on Audio Education July 22–24.

Field of Dreams The Sports Media concentration was launched by the School of Journalism and Strategic Media in fall 2019. The program offers students targeted educational and hands-on opportunities to be successful in the sports industry. Chris Bacon’s Advanced Reporting for Sports class gives students a chance to cover local sports events and stories on a weekly basis for Middle Tennessee News. Bacon is a community advisor for Music City Baseball, a group working to bring Major League Baseball to Nashville that provides MTSU student internships. Students also have done production work for ESPN, the NFL Draft, and the Nashville Sounds.



Media Arts students Sydney Penn (l) and Liam Nelson deconstruct LED video display panels to use on the set of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

Leading in LED Video MTSU alumni Billy Pittard, chair of the Department of Media Arts, and Mike Forbes, assistant director of technical systems, use their years of media and entertainment experience to equip students with relevant and in-demand industry skills. The Media Technology course taught by Forbes trains students on LED video display technology, a developing and booming area of the industry, Pittard said. Not only does Forbes teach students how to use the technology, but he also has them use it with real clients out in the field from the initial design stage to on-set operation. “As far as we know, we’re the only university in the world doing this,” Pittard said. “MTSU has become an important player in workforce development for the touring industry.” MTSU has access to the specialized equipment, with donations from partners like Nashville-based PRG Gear, as well as the space to host large events and provide students with hands-on opportunities. “I have gotten to work on countless ESPN broadcasts, several award shows, concerts, studio shows, and live newscasts,” said Brea Robbins, a May 2021 Video and Film Production graduate. “What better way to learn than to actually go out and do it? It doesn’t get better than that.” LED video display technology is used to visually enhance everything from live performances like Super Bowl halftimes to reality TV programs to Broadway plays to the faraway galaxies depicted in sci-fi programs like The Mandalorian. Alumni have worked for major artists such as Rascal Flatts, Little Big Town, Twenty One Pilots, and Keith Urban. 50 | M&E MAGAZINE Summer 2021



Modern Politics MTSU media graduate Ben Burnley’s timely research into how social media can affect politics and voting was chosen as 2021’s best thesis by the Tennessee Conference of Graduate Schools. After earning his M.S. in Media and Communication, Burnley is now working toward a master’s in Public Policy and a doctorate in American Government at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy in Washington, D.C. Burnley toured with a band out of Nashville and worked in music publishing before the 2016 election convinced him to shift his interests to political science.

TRUE BLUE NEWS ANY TIME Stay up to date all year round

Advisor Advocacy Like most things on campus, the way academic advisor Laura Helen Husband advised hundreds of Commercial Songwriting and Music Business students changed last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic—meeting with students via Zoom and by phone, instead of face to face. But one thing that didn’t change is supporting the 250 students she advises: “Our passion for students is the same; our advocacy and hope for them is the same.” Husband said she believes “we may be creating one of the most versatile and resilient communities that we’ve seen in a long time.”



Scene and Heard

Industry Titans

MTSU‘s WMOT-FM Roots Radio 89.5 earned acclaim in the Nashville Scene’s annual “Best of Nashville” issue as the best roots radio station, along with recognition for Whit Hubner as best blues and Americana radio host. Ron Wynn, a Grammynominated music critic, praised the 100,000-watt station for making a difference by focusing on “contemporary and vintage acoustic music, much of it deemed a commercial liability by the corporate types who rule mainstream radio.” He deemed Hubner, a two-time alumnus, “an active, vital part of Nashville’s blues and Americana scene.”

Several MTSU alumni were finalists for the 56th annual Academy of Country Music Awards. Commercial Songwriting graduate Michael Hardy (’13), who uses his last name professionally, was nominated as ACM songwriter of the year a second time. Recording Industry alumni Jason A. Hall (’00) and 2019 category winner Reid Shippen (’94) were both up for audio engineer of the year. Audio Production grad Jimmy Mansfield (’14) was assistant engineer for two ACM-nominated albums, and new scholarship creator Hillary Scott was nominated in group of the year and event of the year.





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