Ken Paulson

From MTSU:

Ken Paulson is director of the Free Speech Center, the former dean of the College of Media and Entertainment at Middle Tennessee State University and the former editor-in-chief of USA Today, where he remains a columnist writing about First Amendment and media issues.

He is also the host of “The Songwriters,” a television show on PBS television affiliates in more than 30 percent of the nation’s markets. The show features interviews with inductees into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and was selected for screening at the Nashville Film Festival in 2018. Paulson is a member of the Hall of Fame’s board. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam appointed Paulson to the Tennessee Entertainment Commission in 2017.

Paulson’s areas of expertise include:

The First Amendment

Paulson founded the Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University in 2019. He was executive director of the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University from 1997 to 2004 and president and CEO of the center from 2010 through 2018. Paulson speaks widely on First Amendment issues and has been quoted in an extensive range of news media, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA TODAY, Christian Science Monitor, ESPN, CBS Evening News and Newsweek.

Paulson has also appeared before Congress as a First Amendment expert. He has a juris doctorate and is a member of both the Illinois and Florida bars. In addition to his column for USA TODAY, Paulson also was the host of the Emmy-honored television program “Speaking Freely,” seen in more than 60 PBS markets nationwide over five seasons and the author of “Freedom Sings,” a multimedia stage show celebrating the First Amendment, which has toured the nation¹s campuses for the past 20 years. His “The Bill of Rights: The Remix” has been in residency at the Country Music Hall of Fame since 2017. Paulson teaches Mass Media Law and Free Expression, the Media and the American People at MTSU.


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. He was on the team of journalists who founded USA Today in 1982 before moving on to manage newsrooms in Westchester County, N.Y., Green Bay, Wis., Bridgewater, N.J. and at Florida Today in Brevard County, Fla., and finally USA TODAY from 2004 to 2009. He and his colleague John Seigenthaler spoke to more than 5,000 journalists and media professionals about the importance of a free press over a 12-year period.

Popular Music

Paulson has written professionally about music over a 40-year span, beginning his career at the Chicago-based Environs Magazine. He is now the host of the national public television show “The Songwriters.” He is also the host of the “Americana One” radio show and podcast. He is the creator of “Music Matters,” a radio feature that celebrates songs with impact. Paulson is a member of the Recording Industry faculty at MTSU and teaches History of the Recording Industry. Paulson is a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame Board, the Tennessee Entertainment Commission and a former member of The Mayor’s Music Council in Nashville.


Paulson has been awarded honorary doctorates from American University and Buena Vista University. 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 2010, Paulson was honored with the American Press Institute Lifetime Service Award 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.

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