MTSU Road Trip Class writes stories about real people and real communities

For nine out of the last ten years, Middle Tennessee State University’s Journalism and Strategic Media students have participated in an annual road trip across Tennessee. MTSU Professor and veteran journalist Leon Alligood gives a first-hand account of this year’s trip to Winchester, Tenn.

“The 2022 version of The Road Trip Class began like the eight that preceded it: chaos and uncertainty reigned. Prior to our arrival on May 16 in Winchester, Tennessee, I promised the editor of the Herald Chronicle, our publishing partner, that before the nine students departed on June 1 a stream of evergreen content would be delivered to his inbox. Christmas would come early for his lean staff. 

Enter the aforementioned chaos and uncertainty, two of the best tools in my toolbox of pedagogical motivators.  

On Day 1 we had zilch. By Day 3 nine stories were in progress. By Day 6 another half-dozen were in the mix. On June 1 the story count capped at 22 stories, five still image packages, one podcast and three videos including a seven-minute mini-doc about a 97-year-old WWII vet. Just in time for Memorial Day.  

What prompted such a flurry of activity? It’s simple. We weren’t in Room 111 meeting twice a week for an hour and 25 minutes. We were together 24/7, in one house, living as embedded journalists in a town where everyone was a stranger. Over meals (which the students cooked) storytelling problems were solved. Everyone heard what everyone else was doing and no one wanted to be the slacker who wasn’t pulling their weight. Double doses of encouragement were dished out along with slices of homemade cheesecake.  

Students quickly learned email wasn’t the best way to reach a subject of a story. In-person persistence worked much better. Georgia Smith aced this lesson. She heard a beloved hairdresser was retiring after 57 years of cuts and perms. Georgia asked to document the woman’s last day of work but was turned down two times. She tried again one day later, and the woman yielded to Georgia’s smile. By the end of the hairdresser’s last day, both she and Georgia shared a tearful hug.  

A community learned more about the accomplishments of one of its own; a young journalist learned the importance of telling stories where you find them.

That, along with many 12-hour days, lots of caffeine, multiple editing sessions and constantly being challenged to do your best, is how the Road Trip Class works.  

(See the student’s work at

The students were front row, from left: Kailee Shores, Elise Sandlin, Roselyn Pickens, Georgia Smith and Serena Vasudeva; back row, from left, Leon Alligood, Ethan Pickering, Case Terry and Elisha Nelson.”


Categories: News, Partnerships, Students

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