In the Eye of the Media Storm
Now that the South Carolina Republican and Democratic primaries have come and gone, there are three members of Furman’s political science department who can finally take a breather.
In addition to their regular duties of teaching classes and meeting with students, Drs. Jim Guth, Brent Nelsen and Danielle Vinson spent much of February talking to the media about the all-important South Carolina primaries. They talked about everything from which candidate might win the primary to who could attract the evangelical vote to the role that African-American voters would play in the elections. They talked to the local, regional and national media, and they found themselves talking pretty much all day, including the weekends, for three consecutive weeks.
“It did seem somewhat more hectic than usual, in part because both parties had hotly contested presidential primaries in the same year,” said Guth, one of the nation’s top experts on religion and politics. “The proliferation of media sources and outlets also played a major role. I probably didn’t talk to many more journalists than in 2008, but that was because I was dividing the work with Brent and Danielle.”
And there was plenty of work to go around. In addition to handling the customary demands of local and statewide media, Guth, Nelsen and Vinson also spent a good deal of their time answering questions for the national media.
Between them, the professors were quoted in staff-written stories in The New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, Dallas Morning News, Washington Times, USA Today, The Economist, and Associated Press. There were also interviews with National Public Radio, Voice of America, CNN, PBS NewsHour, CBS Evening News, C-SPAN, and Sirius XM radio.
In all, counting the stories that were circulated to other media through the news cooperatives, the professors’ comments appeared in more than 500 media outlets in the U.S., Canada and Europe during the past three weeks.
According to Guth, Nelsen and Vinson, the additional work with the media is good for both them and Furman. It helps the professors to stay current in their areas of teaching and research, and their quotes help spread Furman’s name through the far reaching channels of the media.
“It’s an extension of teaching,” Vinson said. “Instead of students in the classroom, it’s teaching reporters and their audiences. I study media and politics, so interacting with reporters helps inform my research and teaching on political communication.”
Guth agrees. “I’ve always regarded it as part of my job to educate journalists on the role of religion in politics, as this is quite a blind spot in the press,” he said. “And the coverage is good for Furman. Over the years, I’ve had quite a few students whose first contact with the institution was through these news channels.”
Having Guth, Nelsen and Vinson and their media expertise in Furman’s political science department at the same time is certainly the university’s good fortune. While it’s not unusual for a school of Furman’s size to have qualified professors serve as experts for local and regional media, it is extraordinary to have three professors from a single department who can also satisfy the demands of the national media.
“It’s actually quite fun to have three of us working with the local and national media,” said Nelsen. “We bring the latest news into the department hallways, often debating our views of current political developments with each other and with students. I also think the students get a big kick out of seeing their professors on TV.”
The three professors should enjoy their rest while they can. In a few more months, the Republicans and Democrats will have chosen their nominees for President of the United States and it will be time to get really serious.