Ken Paulson

Director, Free Speech Center

Ken Paulson
(615) 898-2195

Departments / Programs

Areas of Expertise

Expertise in the First Amendment, media law, journalism, media ethics and popular music.

Biography

Ken Paulson is the director of the Free Speech Center and a professor in the Recording Industry Department at Middle Tennessee State University. He is also dean emeritus of MTSU’s College of Media and Entertainment. He is also the former editor-in-chief of USA TODAY and remains a columnist on USA TODAY’s  board of contributors, writing about media and First Amendment issues.

Throughout his career, Paulson has drawn on his...

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Ken Paulson is the director of the Free Speech Center and a professor in the Recording Industry Department at Middle Tennessee State University. He is also dean emeritus of MTSU’s College of Media and Entertainment. He is also the former editor-in-chief of USA TODAY and remains a columnist on USA TODAY’s  board of contributors, writing about media and First Amendment issues.

Throughout his career, Paulson has drawn on his background as both a journalist and lawyer, serving as the editor or managing editor of newspapers in five different states. Paulson began his career as a reporter at the Fort Myers (FL) News-Press from 1978 to 1980. For the next four years, Paulson was a senior editor at the Bridgewater, NJ, Courier-News, and a member of the USA TODAY start-up staff in the Fall of 1982.

Paulson was named the editor-in-chief of the Green Bay Press-Gazette in 1984, moving to become chief of staff for Gannett Company Chairman Alan Neuharth in 1986. In that capacity, he led USA TODAY news teams on national and international projects. Paulson co-wrote two of the books emerging from those projects, Profiles in Power and Truly One Nation.

In 1988, Paulson became the executive editor of Florida Today in Melbourne, and in 1992 was named executive editor of Gannett Suburban Newspapers, a 13-newspaper group published in a three-county area outside New York City.

In 1997, Paulson was named the executive director of the First Amendment Center based at Vanderbilt University, and in 2004 was appointed editor in chief of USA TODAY. Paulson remained in that role until rejoining the Freedom Forum in 2009, serving as president of the Newseum in Washington DC and then president and CEO of the First Amendment Center over a 9-year span.  

Paulson is a former president of the American Society of News Editors, the nation’s largest organization of news-media leaders. Paulson also was the host of the Emmy-honored television program "Speaking Freely," seen in more than 60 PBS affiliate markets nationwide over five seasons, and the author of "Freedom Sings," a multimedia stage show celebrating the First Amendment that continues to tour the nation¹s campuses.

For 12 years, Paulson was a regular guest lecturer at the American Press Institute, speaking 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. In 2007, he 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. He has also been elected to the Illini Publishing Hall of Fame at the University of Illinois. In October 2012, he received the Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism. He 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 Law School.     

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Creative Activity

Member of the Nashville Songwriters Halll of Fame Board