About the Chair
John Seigenthaler believed in journalism of integrity. Throughout his nationally renowned career, he championed the underdog, shed light on dark places and looked out for the community he served. Seigenthaler passed away on July 11, 2014, but his legacy lives on in the form of the John Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies at Middle Tennessee State University.
The Chair was instituted in 1986 to honor Seigenthaler’s lifelong commitment to free expression values. Seigenthaler, longtime president, editor and publisher of The Nashville Tennessean, remained chairman emeritus of that newspaper until his death at age 86. He also was the first editorial director of USA TODAY and the first chairman of the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University.
The mission of the chair is to promote awareness and understanding of the First Amendment and to support quality journalism in the state through deepening the experiences of students and partnerships with the community. Its main programs include:
The Pulitzer Prize lecture series
Each semester, the chair brings in Pulitzer Prize winners to discuss their work. Recent speakers have included:
- South Florida Sun Sentinel managing editor Dana Banker, data reporter Aric Chokey and education reporter Scott Travis, winners of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Public Service for Unprepared and Overwhelmed, a series of stories about the 2019 shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
- Reporter Laura Gomez, project manager Annette Meade, and interactive graphics editor Mitchell Thorson with the USA Today Network, winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in Explanatory Reporting for The Wall.
- C.J. Chivers, a former Marine and winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Feature Writing for The New York Times.
- Eric Eyre, Charleston, reporter with (W.V) Gazette-Mail and winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting for investigative reporting on the opioid crisis.
- David Fallis, deputy investigative editor for The Washington Post, and part of the team that won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in National Reporting for Fatal Force, an unprecedented national police shooting database and yearlong reporting on police shootings.
- Bill Adair, founder of PolitiFact, presented “A fact-checker’s tales from the 2016 election". Adair and staff at the St. Petersburg Times won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize in National Reporting for its then-new fact-checking website.
The First Amendment Encyclopedia
The Seigenthaler Chair in September 2017 launched an online, searchable encyclopedia with more than 1,500 essays and entries written by scholars covering court decisions and doctrines; people, laws and events; and issues and organizations. The chair, with the help of students and contributions by scholars, continues to update the encyclopedia with new entries. It serves as a resource to students and the general public about First Amendment rights. Read more about the encylopedia.
First Amendment and free press series
Regular panel discussions and events focusing on First Amendment issues, the press and our democracy.
Recent events have included:
- Future of Journalism Education Roundtable, a daylong event in which 20 industry leaders and academicians discussed the state of journalism schools, needs and challenges, and positioning for a new generation. Read the report / download PDF.
- Free Speech on Campus. A panel discussion focusing free speech, academic freedom and hate speech, featuring Laura Kipnis, a cultural critic and Northwestern University communications professor whose essay in The Chronicle of Education prompted a Title IX investigation; Joe Cohn, legislative and policy director for Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and Ken Paulson, dean of the College of Media and Entertainment, and president of the First Amendment Center.
- From the Front Lines of Ferguson. A panel of journalists, including St. Louis Post-Dispatch photographer / videographer David Carson and USA Today reporter Yamiche Alcindor.
- Establishing Justice: The New Supreme Court with Nina Totenber, National Public Radio legal affairs correspondent
- First Amendment and Beyond: An Editorial Cartoonist’s Life with cartoonist Daryl Cagle.
Part of the chair's mission is to support learning environments in which students can produce work for news media outlets. One of its signature programs is the funding of a summer road class in which students earn college credit while traveling in Tennessee to work at community newspapers. The feature writing class was created and is led by associate professor and veteran journalist Leon Alligood. Students get hands-on journalism experience, college credit and a chance to explore parts of Tennessee they may have never seen.