MTSU Media Classes Creating Tomorrow's Reporters

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MTSU political science assistant professor Kent Syler, right, talks with his student 'candidates' Jessica Dowd, left, and Chloe Harris in preparation for a mock political debate.

MTSU Offers Top Media Training

While the presidential election may have been the year’s biggest news story for many, it was the fictitious congressional campaign in Tennessee’s fictitious 10th District that captured the attention of students in two classes of political science and mass communication.

The Rest of the Story


The Political Campaigning class created a mock congressional campaign, which divided the class into Republican and Democratic candidates and campaign staffs. And the Media Writing class wrote stories on the campaigns, including simulated press conferences, events and debates.

What made it more interesting was the background of the instructors: Kent Syler, an assistant professor in political science, was the chief of staff for former U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon. Andrew Oppmann, an adjunct professor in journalism, worked as an editor, reporter or executive at 12 newspapers across the country, including stints as publisher of Gannett newspapers and news websites in Murfreesboro and Clarksville.


“Andrew and I brought some real-life scenarios into play with these students, which kept them on their toes and engaged,” Syler said. “The result was a more intense and realistic set of exercises — a lot more interesting than just reading about them in a book.”

Photo ID: Political science students Jessica Dowd, left, and Chloe Harris play opposing candidates in a mock debate that Mass Communication students covered as part of their course. Adjunct journalism professor Andrew Oppmann (at lecturn).

Fictional Politics...Sometimes Safer

The students in Syler’s class brought to life the campaigns of two made-up candidates: “Chloe Harris,” the fictional Democrat, and “Jessica Dowd,” the fictional Republican. Other students in the class served as campaign managers, press secretaries and campaign workers.

The students in Oppmann’s class comprised a press corps that covered three events in the campaign: The campaign announcements, a breaking news story and a candidate debate at semester’s end, with three students in Media Writing serving as the panel of questioners.

“Kent’s students kept my reporters hopping,” said Oppmann, who also serves as an associate vice president for MTSU. “And it was great to offer them a set of experiences that come close to what they might encounter as reporters for a news organization.”

I'll See You On The Radio

And in a hyper-connected media landscape where smartphones can capture audio and video in an instant, the political stakes are always high.

And the collaboration drove home the fact that the news reporters shaping those impressions have their own stories to tell.

In their past careers, Syler and Oppmann found themselves in roles similar to those they simulated for the classes: In 2009, Oppmann was the moderator of well-attended town hall session by Gordon, organized by Syler, where the congressman fielded questions about the beginnings of the Affordable Care Act championed by President Barack Obama.

“As we crafted the scenarios for our classes, we were able to draw upon a lot of the experiences we had in our old jobs,” Syler said. “That’s what helped make this effort more realistic for our students.”

“There was a real debate. It was definitely entertaining. … It got intense, I’m telling you.” Oppmann said the instructors hope to continue the cross-pollination of the two classes in future semesters.

The students enjoyed the process as well.



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