Matt Hendley encouraged by journalism school to reach beyond boundaries
Matthew Hendley is always looking for new ways to tell stories – whether that means researching and reporting, being an activist or fronting his band, Happy Landing.
He credited the University of Mississippi’s School of Journalism and New Media for helping him hone his passion for storytelling and new adventures into a skill he’s able to use today.
“Matthew was one of those students who was incredibly bright and talented the day he walked in the door,” said Debora Wenger, interim dean of the journalism school. “I think that more than anything, we tried to give him opportunities and put opportunities in his path that let him grow into the extraordinarily talented journalist and scholar he is today.”
Hendley spent the last four years jumping on every new opportunity the journalism school put in front of him. He provided play-by-play coverage for UM sports on Rebel Radio and reported for NewsWatch.
The Madison native also amassed some impressive internships, including one with CBS News. While interning at “6o Minutes,” Hendley wrote a “Religion Unplugged” profile on a small religious group that believes humans were created by visiting extraterrestrials.
The summer before his senior year, Hendley covered the juvenile justice system as a News21 fellow at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. That reporting fellowship inspired him to explore the school-to-prison pipeline in his Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College thesis – specifically, solutions that keep students out of the criminal justice system.
“Matthew is one of those rare students who absolutely thrives when you push him beyond his boundaries and out of his comfort zone,” said R.J. Morgan, instructional associate professor in the journalism school and director of the Mississippi Scholastic Press Association.
“That same work ethic and fearless pursuit of excellence has now led to him chasing stories all across the country, and I always love hearing from him about his latest adventures. He’s truly an exceptional talent and an even better person.”
New Stories to Tell
After graduation, Hendley is moving to Nashville to explore a different form of storytelling – telling stories through his music.
Hendley said he was inspired by New York City while interning at “60 Minutes” and attending The King’s College in 2019. The songs he wrote there evolved from solo acoustic numbers he played alone in his small New York apartment to indie-folk ballads filled with stomps, shouts and joyful harmonies that he’s taken on the road with his band, Happy Landing.
“I think a lot of people limit themselves, and what the J-school has done is toss me all these opportunities to expand my horizons – as cliché as that sounds,” Hendley said.
To him, this opportunity is simply another chance to tell new stories on a new stage.
The band played its first show at Proud Larry’s in April and had to schedule a second night to safely accommodate the number of fans after immediately selling out the first night.
Stories That Help
While establishing his band in a new town and new scene, Hendley will also be joining the nonprofit ShowerUp to help tell its story. He first learned about the nonprofit in 2019, while reporting on the organization and the people it helps for WKRN-TV.
Hendley said he’s excited to work for the nonprofit because of its focus on finding and fixing problems.
His Honors College thesis was a reported piece that he calls “solutions journalism.”
“As journalists, we’re experts at identifying problems,” Hendley said. “But one of the industry’s flaws is that we aren’t solutions focused. After coming off a whole summer of ‘This is what’s wrong with America,’ I wanted to know what we can do about it.”
Whether he’s sharing stories from behind an anchor desk, from a nonprofit organization or from the stage, Hendley knows he’ll be telling stories.
“I was already a storyteller, but the journalism school has helped me grow that craft,” Hendley said. “And no matter what, I’ll always do it through music, reporting and performance.”
Story by JB Clark/University Marketing & Communications