Where student journalism meets Tennessee’s roads

For the second year in a row, a group of journalism students took to the road in Associate Professor Leon Alligood’s summer feature writing class. The Road Trip, as the students call the class, toured the state, spending a week each in Milan, Jonesborough and Dayton, Tennessee. They wrote features and provided multimedia content to newspaper partners in Milan and Jonesborough and conducted interviews for a multimedia project that will debut next summer as Dayton recognizes the 90th anniversary of the Scopes Trial.

Alex Beecher edits a story while on The Road Trip.

Alex Beecher edits a story while on The Road Trip.

“My vision for The Road Trip is to give students the chance to experience the kinds of reporting and storytelling challenges that I faced as a reporter for 30 years,” Alligood said. “There is something invigorating about parachuting into a town where you know no one and you have to talk to people to find stories.”

In a traditional class setting, students are only able to glean so much sitting in one place. Alligood noted that students in his feature writing course were too often defaulting to “low hanging fruit” in their pursuit for a feature story. That was when he first began making efforts to get students out of the classroom and into the world where good stories were waiting to be uncovered. Before long The Road Trip was born, providing the opportunity to work with papers and interview people in places they may have never been before.

“When you are in a strange town and you have a real deadline for a real newspaper, the creative juices kick in,” Alligood explained. “It’s the equivalent of being thrown into the deep end of the pool and determining whether you are going to sink or swim.”

John Connor Coulston and Meagan White edit video and stories while on the 2014 version of The Road Trip.

John Connor Coulston and Meagan White edit video and stories while on the 2014 version of The Road Trip.

While the students learned a great deal about the craft, many found they had done much more than complete a college course: they had a life experience filled with moments they would not soon forget.

“I wish everyone could go to a college where every class could be an immersive experience like this,” Max Smith, a senior journalism major, said.

“You can spend 16 weeks in a classroom, but there’s something about going out with a reporter’s notebook. … When you put a group of students together like this, something magical is going to happen,” Dylan Aycock, a sophomore journalism major, added.

“My favorite road trip moment occurred in Dayton, the second night,” Alligood recalled. “We had a lovely meal prepared by students. Class was on the deck before this panoramic view, and the story we were dissecting is one of my favorites, Barry Siegel’s story, A Father’s Pain, A Judge’s Duty. The discussion was lively and engaging. I felt connected to the students and that we were all connected to the story’s message.”

He continued, “I will spend the remainder of my teaching career trying to recreate that moment.”

Members of the 2014 TRT gang were: Dylan Aycock, Alex Beecgher, Anais Briggs, John Connor Coulston, Cecilia Sinkala, Max Smith, David Taylor and Meagan White. TRT was funded by a grant by the Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies at MTSU.

This story was written by Meagan White, an EMC Management student and assistant features editor for Sidelines.

Amber Hansen, whose best friend disappeared when both were in junior high, talks to TRT reporters, from left: Dylan Aycock, Anais Briggs and Meagan White.

Amber Hansen, whose best friend disappeared when both were in junior high, talks to TRT reporters, from left: Dylan Aycock, Anais Briggs and Meagan White.

 

 

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Categories: Faculty, Partnerships, Students

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