Andrea Hall joined the School of Journalism and Strategic Media in August after a whirlwind career as a journalist.
She received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee, a master’s from the University of Missouri, and her Ph.D. from the University of Florida.
She spoke to Beverly Keel about her life-changing Study Abroad experience, journalists she admires and their shared love of pop culture.
Why did you decide to join the faculty at MTSU?
I joined the faculty at MTSU because I knew I wanted to continue my career in a college that valued both the professional and research focus of its faculty. I also love entertainment (pop culture enthusiast over here) and have found that research related to it is often dismissed, so being in a college where entertainment is not just recognized but celebrated was my dream. I also was excited to come back to my home state of Tennessee. I am a proud Tennessean and it feels good to be back!
How did you pick journalism as a major?
When I was in undergrad (at another Tennessee university that has a bold color choice …), one of my professors invited the Study Abroad office director to come to class to discuss the different Study Abroad programs offered to students in the College of Communication and Information. One of those opportunities was to study in Denmark at the Danish School of Journalism. I had never thought about going to Denmark before, but I decided that day that I HAD to do it. Suddenly, I thought of nothing but going to Denmark. The catch? You had to be a journalism major. At the time, I had already changed majors from business to advertising and was contemplating changing once again because I just wasn’t sure advertising was right for me. That Study Abroad opportunity sealed the deal. I walked over to my advisor, Betty Bradley, and told her I wanted to be a journalism major. We filled out the form, and I was a journalism major within two weeks. Almost a year later, I stepped off the train in Aarhus, Denmark, for what would be one of the best experiences of my college career and made me fall in love with storytelling and journalism. Whew! It was a good thing I liked my new major. I just didn’t expect to like it three academic degrees worth. I don’t necessarily recommend picking a college major this way, but I have never regretted my decision.
What was your first job as a journalist?
My first job as a journalist was as the Lifestyles Editor for a family-owned newspaper The Greenwood Commonwealth in Mississippi. I wrote feature stories, edited columns and news stories, photographed events and designed the weekly lifestyles section. My topic specialties included the Southern trifecta: brides, babies and debutantes. It was the greatest learning experience because I had a caring boss who helped me improve my grammar, a community that was excited to let me tell its story and coworkers who became family. I think new reporters and even some universities discount small news organizations as being less prestigious than larger, flashier news organizations, but they are an opportunity to really experience all parts of news production and learn what you do and don’t like. I learned that I loved design in that job and went back for a master’s where I could study design. One of the challenges journalists at larger news organizations don’t have to worry about that you do in a small community? Sharing the pew with a source you made mad. That is a real learning experience!
What are some interesting experiences you’ve had as a journalist?
The only time I have shot guns is as a journalist! That is two more times that I had ever expected. When I went trap shooting, I remember hitting my first clay target about five or so rounds in and thought, ok, I did it. Started to walk off the mat when I was told I had about 15 more to go. My favorite part of being a journalist getting to have experiences and meet people I would not have otherwise. One of my most memorable was staying in a luxury teepee for a weekend. Another was getting to interview one of my favorite authors (John Grisham – P.S. I am still mad about the ending of The Confession). From trying new foods at fancy restaurants to riding in my first Tesla shortly after they were released, I loved how every day was different.
Why did you decide to write your dissertation on celebrities and femininity?
They always say not to pick something you love because you will hate it by the end of the dissertation. However, I couldn’t imagine not focusing something I loved. So, I knew early on I wanted to study celebrities because I had been an avid People magazine reader for over a decade at that point. I also knew that I wanted to focus on women – originally planning to study focus on women’s magazines as the primary platform. I took two classes in my Ph.D. program – one in social psychology and one in feminist theories – that set me up for thinking about the impact celebrities’ reproduction/reflection of stereotypical femininity has on us – the women who read and consume celebrity news without us realizing it. So, I decided on an exploratory study interviewing women about celebrity media – their interest in it, how they learn about celebrities and what they notice about the way these females celebrities present themselves online to better understand if they even notice stereotypical femininity (they do if it is overt) and how they think about it (third person effect – they don’t think it impacts them but they worry about their younger siblings). The majority of the women interviewed didn’t think about those subtle messages of white, Western feminine ideals. It was only overt, oversexualized that they noted and commented on. But they all noted when they upheld femininity in similar ways to the messages they consumed through celebrity media. It was an interesting disconnect that I look forward to continuing to dive into.
Talk about the “celebrification” of our culture, such as how, when and/or why it has changed. Where do you see it going in the next decade?
When I first started working on my dissertation, I wanted to define celebrity. What makes someone a celebrity? A simple question that I would soon discover had so many answers. We know at one time we had A-list and D-list celebrities. Now we have everything from music and sports celebrities to Youtube and Instagram. What about the crossovers like Justin Bieber (yes, I never miss an opportunity to recognize Justin) who rose to fame because of Youtube and could be considered a mainstream music celebrity, for lack of a better identifier? The most widely used definition for celebrity in research basically describes a celebrity as “being well-known for being well-known.” This is known as a tautology and what has led to the concept of celebrification. Anyone can be a celebrity if they are well-known enough within a certain sphere of people. I think celebrification is interesting because it doesn’t require talent like we often think of with a traditional entertainment celebrity. A group has celebrified the person by placing them on a pedestal that is a result of visibility and, the key here, intrigue. We can look to our friends in broadcast television to see the power of parasocial relations and how this is key to celebrification. It isn’t just about being well-known for something they do (play a sport, lead our country, etc). It is about us feeling like we know about them professionally and personally. Celebrification is a direct product of media access (i.e. visibility) and that insatiable hunger for information about others that has grown with the digital age because of the expectation of access to others’ lives. In the next decade, I think celebrification will mean the growth of celebrity as identifier, but that will continue to assign value still based on popularity that will mean – how far does the person’s celebrity go. It is a ripe area for those interested in celebrity status and those of us who want to study celebrity evolution. Q: Who are some journalists you admire and why? A: I have some big-name journalists I admire like Gloria Steinem and Barbara Walters because they helped to make journalism a place for women – both in the newsroom and in reporting – and Steinem, of course, was focused on shining a light on women’s issues. But I want to share some names of more local journalists and maybe lesser-known journalists that I have followed in recent years because I admire their work, dedication to helping others, and the critical lens they apply. Oh, and one fictional journalist. Marisa Kwaitkowski is a fantastic journalist, but I didn’t know her work until she helped to break the story of the abuse happening to young gymnasts by USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. I followed the Indianapolis Star’s coverage (published in USA Today) closely. The work Kwaitkowski and her team did not only in the initial reporting but as trials were underway was truly amazing investigating and storytelling. One of my favorite state political reporters is Brian Lyman of The Montgomery Advertiser (soon to be with State Newsroom as an editor). Alabama is an exciting place to live if you are interested in state politics, and I started reading his stories when I first moved to Alabama because it was shortly after a special election that I think a lot of the country was following: Roy Moore v. Doug Jones. Moore had been accused of sexual misconduct, and Doug Jones, a Democrat, won by a small margin. Brian is one of the most dedicated journalists I have known. He gets there early. He stays late. He is dedicated to keeping Alabama’s people informed of what is happening at the capitol. Democracy depends on people like Brian in every state who hold our elected officials accountable. There are so many amazing cultural and lifestyles journalists out there who I think deserve recognition because they inform while entertaining us on so many levels. One of my favorite journalists who focuses on pop culture, particularly influencer culture, is Stephanie McNeal. She writes for BuzzFeed news. I love her writing style because it is fun but often is puts a critical lens to topics that are often seen as flippant or unnewsworthy. My favorite fictional journalist, of sorts, is Miranda Priestly (played by Meryl Streep) in The Devil Wears Prada. She has made a lasting impression on us culturally and, of course, demands our best for her publication. Shouldn’t we all think deeper about the decisions we make and as well as how those decisions may have been impacted by the media around us?
Talk about your other areas of interest to research? What projects do you have in the works?
I have two projects in the works that are related to a secondary interest area of mine – politics: The first: I am studying how women in politics are covered by news organization. This will be a combination of a research paper and a creative audio piece. In the second piece, I am interested in studying influencers and how they changed from being quiet about their political beliefs to talking openly about the impact politics has on them and their community/followers. This will focus on women influencers in the lifestyles space.
What TV/streaming shows are you watching?
Great British Bake Off! I watch this together, separately, with my parents each week. We set a time, and we start our Netflix at the same time. We talk about the different bakes and, of course, our favorite (and least favorite) bakers. I am also a major fan of The Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise, so you can find me live-tweeting that on Mondays @WriteitHall. Just so you know I do watch more quality TV. I enjoy rewatching some favorites like Gilmore Girls, Pushing Daisies and The OC.
What do you do when you aren’t working?
When I am not working, I have been learning to sew! Like many people, I decided to take up a hobby I could do at home during COVID, and this was it. I took an online class and have been making clothes (and mistakes) ever since. I also enjoy listening to pop culture and crime podcasts, reading, and spending time with my family and friends.