Students cover Bonnaroo for fifth straight year

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MTSU students Andrew Stephens (left), senior, and Austin Forsberg, junior, both video film production majors in the College of Media and Entertainment, prepare a camera Thursday, June 7, for use on the Who Stage at the 2018 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee. (MTSU photo by Andrew Oppmann)

Students in the College of Media and Entertainment celebrated their fifth year of multimedia coverage at the 2018 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival.

Thirty-five students, majoring in photography, journalism, audio engineering and video production, experienced a four-day, hands-on immersion at the international festival held in nearby Manchester, Tennessee. Aspiring journalists wrote feature news stories, photography students documented day-to-day musical acts, and student production teams captured performances on The Who Stage using the college’s $1.7 million Mobile Production Lab.

Receiving class credit for their work, participants arrived Thursday, June 7, and worked through the weekend on the 700-acre farm that Dean Ken Paulson calls “the Bonnaroo campus.”

“There’s a special vibrancy to teaching professional skills when the classroom is the Bonnaroo festival,” Paulson said. “Each year students have a singular learning experience that they’ll never forget.”

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Val Hoeppner (left) and Jessie Scott of WMOT Roots Radio, the MTSU Americana public radio station, broadcasting live Friday, June 8, at the 2018 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee. (MTSU photo by Andrew Oppmann)

One such student is Megan Cole, a sophomore double majoring in journalism and political science, who joined the team tapped by MTSU’s Seigenthaler News Service to file artist interviews and music reviews for a media client list that includes USA Today Network-Tennessee.

“I’d never been to a festival like this before, so it was a first experience for me,” she said. “And just getting to cover some of the artists that I listen to personally was something I really looked forward to (doing).”

Students delivered content throughout the weekend using multiple platforms, including terrestrial radio. WMTS, the student-run radio station, joined WMOT Roots Radio, the college’s 100,000-watt Americana public radio station, in prepping taped packages for the farm’s “Radio Roo.” WMTS recently moved from the status of a student club to part of the academic programs within the college, which means it will get more MTSU support and resources. The student station has a limited broadcast on 88.3 FM but has found a home on WMOT’s third HD channel and can also be heard via livestream on its website,

“Bonnaroo is a fantastic experience for our student radio team at WMTS. They learn to create vibrant content for both the web and on air,” said Val Hoeppner, director of MTSU’s Center for Innovation in Media, which houses both WMTS and WMOT. “While they don’t have the ability to be live on the radio, they offer their audience a unique look into festival culture through mobile and social stories.”

Melissa Summitt, a music business senior who has worked for WMTS for four years, said she has loved being able to experience Bonnaroo as a radio reporter.

It’s been great, she said, “getting to experience everything at the festival, sit in this air-conditioned (studio), which is really nice, and talk to some of the artists who have played and see what it is like from their perspective.” Click here for a short video featuring Summitt.

Meanwhile, WMOT, which has grown from 44th in the Nashville market to 25th thanks to the change to Americana format in 2016, broadcasted live from Radio Roo with program director Jessie Scott and Hoeppner during Scott’s afternoon drive-time show.

“WMOT is always looking for ways to promote Americana artists and serve our community,” Hoeppner said. “Our broadcasts from Bonnaroo allow our listeners to experience the festival through the eyes of Americana artists performing at one of the best festivals in the country.”

One tent over from Radio Roo were eight student journalists making up this year’s MTSU Seigenthaler News Service team at Bonnaroo. They supplied more than two dozen bylined reports, along with multiple sets of photos and any number of social media posts, for media partners The Tennessean and its USA Today Network affiliates, as well as the digital entertainment guide, an initiative of The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.

Andrew Wigdor, a multimedia journalism senior, submitted overnight coverage of Bonnaroo that ran on The Tennessean’s website.

“The night life at Bonnaroo really exploded this year, with so many new opportunities in the campgrounds, so it was awesome to be able to cover all of it firsthand,” Wigdor said.

Helping keep students like Wigdor on focus and on task was Leon Alligood, a former Tennessean reporter turned associate professor in MTSU’s School of Journalism and Strategic Media. “Working at Bonnaroo puts our students in a real-world, real-deadline situation,” he said. “Getting them out of the classroom so they can put into practice what they’ve been taught in the classroom is a valuable experience.”

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Students and faculty from MTSU’s College of Media and Entertainment gather for a group photo in front of The Who Stage at the 2018 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee. About 35 MTSU students worked at this year’s festival. (MTSU Photo by Kimi Conro)

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Categories: Events, Faculty, News, Students

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