BIG NEWS: MTSU selects former USA Today Editor as Mass Communication Dean

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Ken Paulson, a lawyer who combined his passions for journalism, free expression and popular music to become a national advocate for the First Amendment, will be the next dean of the College of Mass Communication at Middle Tennessee State University, officials announced Tuesday.

Paulson, president and chief executive officer of the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University in Nashville and at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., will assume leadership of the college on July 1. He replaces Roy Moore, dean of the college since 2008, who will remain with the college as a professor.

Paulson served as editor-in-chief of USA Today from 2004 to 2009.  He was on the team of journalists who founded USA Today in 1982 before moving on to manage newsrooms in Westchester County, N.Y., Green Bay, Wis., Bridgewater, N.J. and at Florida Today in Brevard County, Fla. He is now a columnist on USA Today’s board of contributors, writing about First Amendment issues and the news media.


A member of The Recording Academy and a former music journalist, Paulson is active in the Nashville music community, serving as vice chair of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame; a member of the Music City Music Council, convened by Mayor Karl Dean; and a Leadership Music board and executive committee member.

Paulson also was the host of the Emmy-honored television program “Speaking Freely,” seen in more than 60 PBS markets nationwide over five seasons, and the author of "Freedom Sings," a multimedia stage show celebrating the First Amendment that continues to tour the nation's campuses. 


MTSU boasts the fifth-largest mass-communication college in the nation and is the only one that features departments of recording industry, journalism and electronic media communication. It also is home to the Center for Popular Music, which maintains a large research library and archive and interprets various aspects of American vernacular music.

MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee said Paulson’s unique blend of national media leadership, scholarship in the First Amendment and music background will strengthen the college and move it to the next level.

“We were impressed by the breadth of Ken’s experience,” McPhee said. “He has led a national news organization, traveled the country with a rock ‘n’ roll band to tout the First Amendment and hosted a national television program. His career has touched all of our college’s disciplines.”

Paulson said he was honored to be selected as dean and that the college “has an impressive faculty, a clear commitment to innovation and an unrivaled curriculum in media education.

“The College of Mass Communication is a singular institution, bringing the creative forces behind journalism, broadcast and digital communications and the music industry under a single roof. That allows for unprecedented collaboration and synergy, and a multi-faceted media education.”

University Provost Brad Bartel, MTSU’s chief academic officer, said Paulson would help the college forge stronger ties with media organizations and industry foundations. The provost said the university would also benefit from his close rapport with the Nashville music scene.

“Ken Paulson certainly will raise the bar for the college in relevance to content providers and research to help those industries discover and develop solutions and innovation for the 21st century,” Bartel said.

Paulson also referenced the “technological and cultural changes” buffeting the music and news industries, which have prompted some to “reduce resources, rather than expand horizons.”

“There’s an opportunity for innovative communication colleges to craft new and bold approaches, fueling these professions with fresh perspectives and insights – and graduates with the skills to maximize both,” he said.

Paulson led the First Amendment Center, an arm of the Freedom Forum, from 1997 to 2004. After his stint at USA Today, he served as president of the Newseum, the interactive museum of news and journalism opened by the Freedom Forum in Washington, D.C., from 2009 to 2010.

He is also founder of 1 for All, an unprecedented national campaign on behalf of the First Amendment, launched on July 1, 2010, with support from more than 1,100 news, arts and religious organizations.

Paulson returned to the First Amendment Center in 2010. As dean of the MTSU college, he will continue to write, speak and consult with the center on free expression issues.

For 12 years, Paulson was a regular guest lecturer at the American Press Institute, teaming with First Amendment Center founder John Seigenthaler to speak to more than 5,000 journalists about First Amendment issues. He was honored with the API Lifetime Service Award. In 2010 and 2011, he served as chair of the PBS Editorial Standards Review Committee.


He is past president of the American Society of News Editors, the nation’s largest organization of news media leaders.

In 2007, Paulson was named fellow of the Society of Professional Journalists, “the highest honor SPJ bestows upon a journalist for extraordinary contributions to the profession.” In 2008, he received the Robert S. Abbott Memorial Award for Meritorious Service in Mass Communications from the Southern Regional Press Institute.

Paulson is a graduate of the University of Illinois College of Law and the University of Missouri School of Journalism. He also has served as an adjunct professor at Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt’s Law School. In 2008, he received an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters from American University.

He has also been elected to the Illini Publishing Hall of Fame at the University of Illinois and, in October 2012, he received the Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism.

About MTSU

Founded in 1911 as one of three state normal schools for teacher training, MTSU is now the oldest and largest public university in Middle Tennessee. With an enrollment of more than 25,000 students, MTSU is the largest undergraduate university in Tennessee and the No. 1 producer of bachelor’s degree graduates in the Tennessee Board of Regents system.

MTSU remains committed to providing individualized service in an exciting and nurturing atmosphere where student success is the top priority. With a wide variety of nationally recognized academic degree programs at the baccalaureate, master's and doctoral levels, MTSU takes pride in educating the best and the brightest students from Tennessee and around the world.


Jimmy Hart, MTSU
Director, News & Media Relations

Read more from:
Ken Paulson, MTSU News, Murfreesboro news, WGNS
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