MANCHESTER, Tenn. — Ken Paulson pushed his sunglasses against the bridge of his nose Friday afternoon, then started to climb the ladder leading to the roof of MTSU’s $1.4 million Mobile Production Lab.
From that perch, Paulson, dean of the College of Mass Communication, got a bird’s-eye view of the Who Stage at the 2015 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, where his students would soon work an array of cameras at a concert.
“Bringing MTSU students to work at Bonnaroo reflects the full range of media and entertainment you’ll find in our college,” he said.
“They are getting their first taste of what’s it’s like to cover a world-class music festival.”
This is the second year of a partnership Paulson brokered between MTSU and the organizers of the annual festival. But 2015 is the Bonnaroo debut of “The Truck,” as the students call it, which brings some of the most modern video production and editing facilities in the industry to the festival site.
It’s a win-win relationship for the university and Bonnaroo as both partners gain experience and expertise and benefit from the energy of about 40 mass communication students who are producing multimedia content from the four-day event.
“Our friends at Bonnaroo visited us on campus last fall to tell us how this ‘instant city’ is built and operated,” Paulson said, “and now our students are seeing it all firsthand. They are here as emerging professionals.”
Paulson joined MTSU in July 2013, receiving what he said was a directive from President Sidney A. McPhee: Make the College of Mass Communication contemporary, innovative and prominent. The new dean boiled it down to this: Make the college famous.
“We’re embracing that challenge,” Paulson said.
Paulson, whose media career included a stint as editor-in-chief of USA Today, said he immediately saw “unprecedented potential” in the college.
“This is truly a college of media and entertainment, encompassing every form of content that informs, engages or entertains audiences,” he said. “I believe we can position ourselves as the most multifaceted and innovative program in the country, and for a variety of reasons.”
Those reasons include:
- A Department of Recording Industry that’s the one of the largest and repeatedly ranked as one of the best in the country — not to mention one located a short drive from Nashville’s music business.
- A Department of Electronic Media Communication whose students and state-of-the-art facilities continue to attract national recognition.
- A Center for Popular Music that houses one of the world’s most significant music archives and is a magnet for scholars.
- A Center for Innovation in Media that converges all student media in one place.
- A School of Journalism that houses the John Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies.
Paulson said he is particularly proud of the Bonnaroo partnership that began last year. Bonnaroo founders Ashley Capps and Rick Farman visited the university in April 2014 and returned in October with fellow co-founder Jonathan Mayers and a contingent of Bonnaroo directors and organizers to talk about the mechanics of the event.
“It’s simply unprecedented for the management team of a world-class music festival to take a full day to engage and educate the next generation of music and media professionals,” Paulson said.
Since 1989, the College of Mass Communication, the nation’s fifth largest, has been the only one offering fully functional journalism, electronic media and recording industry academic units. Now, “with the walls crumbling everywhere” in academia and in the industry, Paulson said that arrangement seems prescient.
“We are doing what a nationally prominent program would do, and that means going well beyond the borders of Murfreesboro or Tennessee,” he said.
But has he made the college famous? McPhee, whose words launched Paulson’s plan, said he thinks the dean has charted the right course.
“Dean Paulson’s energy, vision and influence in new and traditional media has certainly raised the profile of the college and the university,” McPhee said.
“When I see our students wearing their ‘True Blue’ shirts, working the cameras at one of the world’s biggest and best music festivals or interviewing rock stars before they go on stage, that’s pretty ‘famous’ in my book.”
You can read about the students’ first day working at Bonnaroo, plus watch a video of their experience, here.
— Andrew Oppmann and Allison Gorman (firstname.lastname@example.org)