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UNL in the national news: April 2012

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012
National media outlets featured and cited UNL sources on a number of topics in the past month. Appearances in national media included:

Eric Berger, law, was quoted by The Associated Press on April 21 following the federal government’s request that Nebraska turn over its supply of a lethal-injection drug. The story appeared in dozens of media outlets around the country.

Kristin Blankley, law, was quoted April 29 by the Baltimore Sun about the benefits of consumer arbitration, and how some aspects of the process can work in the consumer’s favor.

Jeannine Burge, career coach at the College of Business Administration, was quoted April 11 by US News & World Report about how college students can use social media platforms to attain jobs after graduation.
Beth Burkstrand-Reid, law, was quoted in an April 19 New Scientist article about a controversial technology that could mean the end of the “biological clock.”

Chris Calkins, animal science, was quoted in an April 2 story in the Christian Science Monitor about the “pink slime” backlash and what was next for beef.

Ken Cassman, agronomy and horticulture, was quoted in an April 25 Voice of America story about how most organic crops fall short on yields, and how that means feeding the world organically would require clearing more land.

The latest addition to the digital Civil War Washington project, which is headed by Kenneth Winkle, history; Kenneth Price, English; Susan Lawrence, history; and Elizabeth Lorang, English; was featured in a number of outlets in mid-April to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the Washington, D.C., Compensated Emancipation Act. Articles appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education and the Washington Post.

Wheeler Winston Dixon, film studies, was quoted in an April 3 story at E! Online about Hollywood’s recent fascination with fairy tales.

Peter Harms, management, had his research into how narcissists tend to thrive in the context of job interviews widely covered in April. Coverage included articles in Forbes, MSNBC, Nature, the Huffington Post and dozens of other media outlets around the country.

John Hibbing, political science, had his research into the genetic origins of political leanings featured in an April 7 CNN article. On April 10, his work was featured in New Scientist.

Gary Kebbel, dean of the College of Journalism and Mass Communications; and professor of practice Matthew Waite were featured in a Fast Company article on April 26 about how flying drones are the future of journalism.

Chancellor Harvey Perlman was quoted in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s April 10 coverage of efforts to reform the NCAA rulebook.

Donde Plowman, dean of the College of Business Administration, was quoted and had her research cited in an April 3 Wall Street Journal article about teaching and studying mindfulness in the business world. On April 25, she appeared in USA TODAY, discussing the benefits of differentiated tuition. On April 30, she appeared on the Fox Business Network’s Markets Now program to discuss differentiated tuition.

Joe Robine, a master of science candidate in natural resource sciences, was quoted in an April 2 story about how student applicants should weigh colleges’ various partnerships.

Robert Schopp, law, had his research cited and was quoted April 29 by The Associated Press about New York protesters’ so-called “justification defense.”

David Sellmyer, physics and astronomy, was quoted in an April story in National Geographic about how U.S. scientists are seeking alternatives amid a rare-earth dispute with China.

Mark Svoboda, School of Natural Resources, was quoted in an April 9 Wall Street Journal article about the nature of wildfires in New Jersey.

Susan Swearer, school psychology, appeared in an April 21 article by the Corpus Christi Caller-Times about school bullying.

Robert Taylor, University of Nebraska Press, was quoted in an April 2 story in the New York Times that discussed at length UNP’s national reputation for publishing high-quality baseball books.

Mike Wagner, political science, appeared on an April 17 segment of National Public Radio’s All Things Considered about Bob Kerrey’s uphill senate bid in Nebraska.

Sean Whipple of the Panhandle Research and Extension Center had his and a University of Nebraska at Kearney colleague’s research on dung beetles featured in a number of media outlets in mid-April, including National Geographic News.

Tom Winter, classics and religious studies, received wide attention in early April after a picture of him riding his skateboard to class became a top post. Media coverage included Mashable, where Winter light-heartedly critiqued the internet memes that sprung up around the Reddit post.

National media often work with University Communications to identify and connect with UNL sources for the purpose of including the university’s research, expertise and programming in published work. Faculty and administration appearances in the national media are logged here.

To offer suggestions regarding potential national news stories or sources at UNL, contact Steve Smith at or (402) 472-4226.

From Ike to Obama: UNL project studies campaign ads’ evolution

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

Every four years, presidential candidates join us – regularly and repeatedly – in our living rooms for a quick chat. They pop in, 30 seconds at a time, for virtual campaign stops in the commercial breaks of our favorite TV shows, amid the evening news, even during time outs of sporting events.

Think back, and notable campaign advertisements that have flickered across television sets may come to mind: the uncompromising Willie Horton ad that helped sink Michael Dukakis in 1988; Ronald Reagan’s nostalgic and optimistic “Morning in America” spot from 1984; and LBJ’s haunting “Daisy Girl” commercial from twenty years earlier, with its ominous countdown and nuclear blast.

But how, on the whole, have presidential campaign ads changed in their six-decade run on the airwaves? Have they addressed different issues over time? Have they begun to represent a more diverse audience? Are they more forward-looking or reflective? Do party differences matter in issue choices and messages? And what might these trends portend for the 2012 presidential race and beyond?

To find answers to those questions, a team of UNL researchers has examined the evolution of national presidential campaign ads from 1952 to the present. They have spent months analyzing, categorizing and coding hundreds of the general-election commercials over the last 60 years. Now, with an eye on the 2012 presidential race, they’re opening that work up to the public.

The University of Nebraska Campaign Ads Project — UNeCAP for short — has assembled a vigorous dataset that notes a number of consistent ad characteristics: visual images, myths, emotion, evidence, issues, demographics, and many others. The group, consisting of Dana Griffin, assistant professor of political science; Damien Smith Pfister, assistant professor of communication studies; Marty Nader, a Ph.D candidate in political science; and Jessy Ohl, a Ph.D. student in communication studies; recently published the entire dataset online.

“Our hope is that scholars across the country can draw on this dataset to further the study of political communication from an interdisciplinary vantage point,” Pfister said. “Building a dataset has long been thought of as merely a prerequisite to research, but scholarly norms now recognize that the process of constructing datasets itself is a valuable mode of research.”

Early observations of the years of data have unveiled some interesting tendencies. UNeCAP researchers recently presented a content analysis at the Midwest Political Science Association conference in Chicago showing that, over time, presidential candidates have relied on more retrospective than prospective appeals in their advertisements. Candidates also are increasingly likely to attribute blame to past events than they are to take credit, and to forecast grimly what would happen if the opponent were to win rather than describe what they themselves would do if elected.

Also, candidates are decreasing the frequency with which they take positions on issues in ads, the researchers found. Instead, they’re progressively using campaign spots as a space to attribute policy positions to their opponent.

“Historically, in any given ad, voters ran about a 60 percent chance of encountering information about a candidates’ own issue positions and about a 30 percent chance of seeing issue positions attributed to the opponent,” Griffin said. “This pattern has changed significantly in the last decade, with 2008 being the first time that position-attribution outpaced position-taking.

“This rise of ‘other-centered’ campaign ads represent an important development in American politics, and it remains to be seen what impact this has on voters,” she said.

Another early analysis from UNeCAP found that for the most part, both Democrats and Republicans have tended to talk about thesame issues with roughly the same proportions. The issues on which the parties differ in their attentiveness are social programs, health care, education and employment; Democratic candidates talk about those issues more, but Republicans still give them considerable attention – it’s merely a difference in levels of attentiveness, which varies from election cycle to election cycle.

The project is funded by a Maude Hammond Fling Faculty Research Fellowship from the UNL Research Council.

In addition to being a source for scholarly research and publishing, the group expects the dataset to provide some perspective in this year’s campaign between President Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney. The UNeCAP weblog will analyze long-term campaign ad trends in the context of the 2012 election cycle and will serve as an interactive forum to discuss this year’s ads within a larger historical framework.

“When observers ask whether the substantive content, argumentative technique, visual style or other elements of an ad go beyond those used in previous campaigns, we’ll be able to say whether it’s been done before or not,” Griffin said.

The UNeCAP team (left to right): Jessy Ohl, Damien Pfister, Dana Griffin and Marty Nader. (Photo by Matthew Morehouse)

Contacts: Dana Griffin, assistant professor of political science, (402) 472-2341 or; Damien Smith Pfister, assistant professor of communication studies, (402) 472-2069 or

Study of emancipation documents reveals rare look into slaves’ lives

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

More than eight months before the Emancipation Proclamation broke the bonds of slavery across the South, a much more singularly focused experiment in equality was playing out in the country’s capital. The Compensated Emancipation Act, signed in April 1862, ordered all slaves in the District of Columbia to be freed.

It was the first time the U.S. government had officially liberated any group of slaves — and unlike the Emancipation Proclamation, it permitted their former masters to petition the government for compensation in exchange for their slaves’ freedom.

Though controversial, the act produced exceptionally rare documentation of the era: reimbursement petitions that showed the names, ages, histories and descriptions of an entire community of 3,000 African Americans.

As the 150th anniversary of the Compensated Emancipation Act approaches, University of Nebraska-Lincoln scholars have transcribed hundreds of the petitions and have published digital versions at Civil War Washington, an interdisciplinary digital research project that studies life in the nation’s capital during the pivotal period. The documents are viewable here.

“Slaves at this time were generally anonymous,” said Kenneth Winkle, UNL’s Sorensen Professor of American History and co-director of the project. “In the 1860 Census, for example, Southerners objected to providing their slaves’ names as if it would make them more real, more human.

“Now, with these petitions, they have documented lives that we can interpret, study and share with scholars, students and the public. We can tell their story, which has been largely overlooked. And it is a remarkable story.”

Winkle will take part in an April 11 commemoration of the act’s anniversary at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. The UNL historian will speak about the importance of the petitions in elevating understanding of emancipation in real, human terms.

Winkle and UNL’s Kenneth Price, Hillegass University Professor of American Literature; Susan Lawrence, associate professor of history; Elizabeth Lorang, research assistant professor of English, and others have been poring through the documents and today have about 200 of the roughly 1,000 petitions incorporated into Civil War Washington. The act’s official 150th anniversary is April 16.

The petitions, Winkle said, paint a fuller portrait of who the District’s slaves were, how they lived and how slavery and emancipation changed their lives. They also contain difficult truths — because the forms were used to establish a slave’s value for compensation, they share physical details that often underscore the brutality of slavery.

“They can be, at points, horrible to read,” Winkle said. “And their physical descriptions are just one example of what they went through. These documents show in real, human terms what slavery did to people, and then, what freedom would mean when they were released from that inhuman servitude.”

Price, who co-directs UNL’s Center for Digital Research in the Humanities, said the addition of the petitions to Civil War Washington enriches the project by unearthing new understandings of the era’s effect on the city and Washington’s transformation into the symbolic center of the Union and the nation.

“Washington, D.C., was a laboratory of democracy, where Congress had chosen to take a more aggressive hand,” Price said. “Those who supported the radical Republican agenda of the day had the ability to push through, without the hurdle of a state legislature, experiments they wanted to see play out locally before it spread nationally. This was one of their most profound experiments.”

The petitions highlight a number of new features at Civil War Washington, which also include a refreshed design, a new mapping application, a new project database, improved and expanded content from the Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion and new newspaper content. More than 15 UNL faculty, staff and students currently contribute to the project.

The Compensated Emancipation Act project was made possible through a three-year, $220,000 National Endowment for the Humanities grant to examine how race, slavery and emancipation affected the capital during the war.

“I believe there will be an outpouring of interest and scholarship once these petitions are more accessible to the public,” Winkle said.

Contact: Ken Winkle, professor of history, (402) 472-5911 or

Coverage: Chronicle of Higher Education |

Swearer calls Gaga’s foundation launch ‘a great day’

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

Panelists featured in the Born This Way Foundation Launch, from left: Harvard President Drew Faust; Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree; Alyssa Rodemeyer; Kathleen Sebelius; Deepak Chopra; David Burtka; and UNL’s Susan Swearer.

On a typical Wednesday, Susan Swearer would be in her office in the basement of Teachers College Hall, preparing for classes and perhaps chatting with co-workers about her family or unseasonably warm weather.

Instead, on Feb. 29, she was in snowy Boston, on a Harvard University stage with Lady Gaga, asking the pop icon how best to empower young people during the kickoff of Gaga’s much-ballyhooed Born This Way Foundation.

Maybe not a typical day at the office, but for UNL’s nationally renowned anti-bullying expert, it’s starting to come with the territory.

Swearer, a professor of school psychology in the College of Education and Human Sciences, helped Gaga launch the new foundation — which addresses issues like self-confidence, well-being, anti-bullying, mentoring and career development through research, education and advocacy — by leading sessions at a morning symposium at Harvard and then by participating on a select panel with the singer and others.

Those “others” included Oprah Winfrey, author Deepak Chopra, TV personality and actor David Burtka and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.

“It was, in many ways, a surreal day,” Swearer said Thursday after arriving back in Lincoln. “But it was a great day. (Gaga’s) platform is huge — which is the attraction for me, for linking academic research and findings to her voice, which has such far reach.”

Gaga’s representatives contacted Swearer, who co-directs the Bullying Research Network that promotes and assists international collaboration among bullying and peer victimization researchers, last summer in preparation for the foundation’s launch. Over the next several months, Swearer consulted with and helped create resources for the foundation as it prepared to officially enter the national anti-bullying discussion.

On Thursday, anti-bullying’s place among the foundation’s “three pillars” was clear, Swearer said: The foundation stressed that all youth have a right to be safe, all youth need skills and all youth need opportunities to engage in positive activities.

“The message that I’m glad we were able to put out there on a large scale is that bullying is a mental health problem,” Swearer said. “The fact that (Gaga) wanted a psychologist on the panel tells me she recognizes that bullying is a complex and complicated issue.”

Also, Swearer said, she was able to emphasize during the kickoff event that it’s not just bullying victims that need help — focus, too, must be placed on children who are doing the bullying.

“That’s the program we’ve been working on for years,” Swearer said of her research. “How do we help these kids change their bullying behaviors? (Gaga) really drove that message home; it’s important to recognize that kids do both. They might be victimized at home and bully at school.

“That was the main point I wanted to get out there as a psychologist — and during the day, I felt like it did get out there,” she said.

On Thursday, she echoed Gaga’s blunt answer to a Wednesday question about BTWF’s likelihood of creating a kinder youth culture. She said progress, as always, takes time, but that events like Wednesday’s are an important way to move toward that change.

And, Swearer said, she would be happy to continue to help in any way with the mission of the foundation.

“It really is unprecedented,” she said. “During the launch I had the sense of being part of an historic moment. I was honored to be a part of it.”

UNL’s Swearer to help launch Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation

Monday, February 27th, 2012

This week, Lady Gaga and her mother, Cynthia Germanotta, will officially launch the Born This Way Foundation to promote tolerance and empowerment among youth. Susan Swearer, a UNL professor of school psychology and an anti-bullying expert, will be among a select group of scholars to help lead the kickoff event.

The pop icon’s new foundation tapped Swearer to lead one of five discussion topics during an all-day symposium on Feb. 29 as part of the foundation’s official opening event at Harvard University. Swearer will be the point person on discussions about putting research into action in the classroom to stem the effects of bullying.

“I’m incredibly honored to be a part of the official launch of the Born This Way Foundation,” Swearer said. “Lady Gaga’s voice reaches billions, and her ability to get anti-bullying messages out into the world is unparalleled. I and others involved are eager to do anything we can to help form and inform those messages.”

Lady Gaga’s representatives contacted Swearer, who co-directs the Bullying Research Network that promotes and assists international collaboration among bullying and peer victimization researchers, last summer in preparation for the foundation’s launch. She has consulted with and helped to create resources for them as the foundation has prepared to officially enter the national anti-bullying discussion. Swearer said throughout the process, she has been impressed with the singer’s involvement and engagement.

“This is much more than a celebrity giving lip service to a cause. (Lady Gaga) is thoughtfully, intellectually trying to solve the problem of bullying,” she said.

Swearer said she plans to lead discussions throughout the day about how to translate the latest research into anti-bullying action. Also, she will focus on what kind of anti-bullying curricula and programs exist for schools at all levels, where gaps exist and how to fill them, and what needs to be happening for schools to get access to effective anti-bullying curricula.

“We’ll take a good look at what barriers teachers, administrators and schools as a whole face in making this a priority,” she said.

Swearer has shared her expertise in a number of public forums. Last March, she was invited to the White House by the Obama administration to speak at and participate in a conference focused on finding solutions to the issue in conjunction with the Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools.

The Born This Way Foundation will host a kickoff event at Harvard’s Sanders Theatre. Gaga will be joined by her mother and other guests during the official unveiling. The foundation has partnered with the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The California Endowment and The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard to explore the best ways to reach youth and “create a new culture of kindness, bravery, acceptance and empowerment,” according to the foundation’s official materials.

BTWF, a nonprofit charitable organization, will address issues like self-confidence, well-being, anti-bullying, mentoring and career development through research, education and advocacy. With a focus on digital mobilization to create positive change, BTWF will lead youth into a braver new society where each individual is accepted and loved as the person they were born to be.

Pitch craft: How to develop story ideas & build media friendships

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

Recently, I was asked to write about ways to come up with story ideas that catch reporters’ eyes and help build meaningful media relationships for the long term for CURRENTS, the official magazine of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). I was flattered to get the invite, and it proved to be really good for me. A lot of what I do, I often feel, is done sort of semi-unconsciously or is more formless than it should be, really. So I was grateful for the opportunity not only to share a few thoughts with CASE’s loyal readership, but also to have a chance to provide myself a little clarity on what I do and how I do it.

If you’re interested in reading the column, the good folks at CASE have made it available to non-subscribers for the next three months. So if my meager math skills are still functioning, you should be able to see this until about mid-February.

The executive summary:

Reporters are busy and getting busier. They don’t have the time or patience to mess around with off-target pitches.

– There are two rules to landing stories: You need a good story, and you need credibility with journalists. Neither is easy to attain or maintain.

– Developing good stories requires getting out of the office and a fierce curiosity about your campus. You must know the researchers, teachers, students and administrative assistants in the colleges and departments. Deans, directors and administrators are great people, but they often have a very different idea of what news is.

Monitoring the news is time-consuming, but it is time well spent. You have to understand what’s going on in the world. Spend time on Google News and social media platforms to judge the currents flowing through the media. That’ll help you conjure up pitches based off the news.

Think like an assignment editor. When considering a national story, ask yourself how the local paper, TV or radio station might cover it. Story and source ideas will flow easily from that.

– Maintaining credibility requires a balance in your relationships with media. Don’t be the pain-in-the-butt PR person who only contacts them when you need something. Be a helpful resource, if you can, even if it doesn’t directly help your institution. And don’t be afraid to help reporters spread their influence on places like Twitter and Facebook and Google Plus.

The best pitch may just be the one you never send. If it doesn’t pass the basic news test — is it timely? Unique? Affect a broad segment of society? Have conflict? Evoke emotions? — then maybe it’s not worth risking your reputation with a journalist. Choose your battles when pitching stories.

– Last, be sure to be brutally honest with yourself, and try to think objectively about your pitches. When evaluating a pitch’s chances of landing, the best question to ask yourself is the old reliable: “Who Cares?”

I’m sure there are tips and tricks of this science/art that I’ve overlooked. Feel free to add them in the comments.

TransCanada says bill on Keystone XL rerouting is unconstitutional; law professor says they’re wrong

Monday, November 14th, 2011

Today, the Nebraska Legislature will begin debate on one of the bills currently under consideration to reroute the proposed, and now delayed, Keystone XL pipeline. Nebraska, along with many other states, lack regulations for state interest from the effects of oil pipelines. The full legislature will begin debate on LB4, which would provide state authority to approve or reject pipeline routes within Nebraska.

TransCanada has said such a state law would be unconstitutional and would be pre-empted by federal law. But in a blog post today for the Center for Progressive Reform, Sandra Zellmer, University of Nebraska professor of natural resources law, says the bill, like a similar one (LB1) before it, passes constitutional muster. She points to five main reasons why: (1) the state has a well-established authority over natural resources and water; (2) the bills are a fair expression and exercise of the public-trust doctrine; (3) state authority is not expressly or implicitly pre-empted by federal laws; (4) Delay in the environmental-impact study process does not result in a “taking”; and (5) the bills do not violate the Dormant Commerce Clause of the federal constitution, which guards against state statutes discriminating against interstate commerce either on its face or in practical effect.

Zellmer’s full argument can be found here. She can be reached at (402) 472-1245 or

Frame By Frame with Wheeler Winston Dixon

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

Check out the latest edition of Frame By Frame with Wheeler Winston Dixon, in which our very own James Ryan Professor of Film Studies discusses the masters of special effects — Willis O’ Brien, Ray Harryhaussen, and Phil Tippett — a trio whose work has had profound influence on the motion-picture industry and the special effects that it has come to rely upon.

And for a daily dose of film, TV and culture news and musings, Dixon’s blog of the same name is a must-see. Dixon shares many thoughts and perspectives on the film industry, the history of film and current cinema on his weblog. He’s a prolific blogger, so chances are good that Dixon has recently touched on something that will interest your tastes in film.

If you’re an entertainment reporter or columnist in search of a reliable source on all things cinema and pop culture, you’ll want to bookmark Dixon’s blog.

College students face challenges to social reinvention in age of Facebook

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

Going away to college — whether across town or across the country — used to offer students an opportunity to remake their social image. But in the age of Facebook that’s not always the case anymore, according to a new study compiled by University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers.

The popular social networking site tethers childhood to adulthood in a way that previous generations didn’t encounter. While it may ease homesickness and help students quickly feel a sense of belonging in their new environment, it also creates an impediment to independence and presents challenges to students who want to reinvent themselves, according to a study conducting by Jenna Stephenson-Abetz and Amanda Holman. Both are second-year graduate students pursuing Ph.Ds in interpersonal and family communication at UNL.

“I know when I went off to college, Facebook didn’t exist,” Holman said. “I left my old life in a way and no one really followed me to my new life. Now Facebook creates a way so that your old life comes with you.”

Their findings stem from in-depth interviews with 30 students who were in their first three semesters of college. The group’s makeup was evenly split between male and female and included a wide assortment of academic majors. Each participant also had an active Facebook account that was checked at least seven times a week.

The study identified three sets of tensions: the struggle between preserving their old selves and reinvention, the strain between uniqueness and conformity, and the tension between when to reveal and when to conceal.

Students want to post photos and status updates and other profile information that makes them stand out as unique, but they also feel pressured to conform, whether to fit in better with their new peers or to meet the expectations of those watching back home, according to the study.

“They have parents and extended family, old friends from high school and new friends from college all in the same space — all sort of colliding,” Stephenson-Abetz said.

When it comes to the challenge of understanding how much to reveal, the question isn’t just about how much they should post online. It’s about how to navigate offline relationships and what to reveal about what they learned on Facebook without appearing strange or obsessed.

“One student said she wanted to be friends with a girl in her English class. She knew what kind of music the girl liked because of Facebook, so she had it on in the background when the girl came over to visit … but she didn’t want to tell her she learned it on Facebook because that would be risky,” Stephenson-Abetz said.

The study also found that the college transition marked the first time most students had to negotiate different parts of themselves. While Stephenson-Abetz and Holman didn’t study older populations, they acknowledged that the findings could apply to people at other stages in their lives.

They have been selected to present their findings at the National Communication Association’s annual convention in November.

Contact: Jenna Stephenson-Abetz, (540) 220-5345 or; Amanda Holman, (218) 329-6889 or

Frame by Frame

Friday, August 12th, 2011

Wheeler Winston Dixon, UNL’s prolific film studies professor, often finds himself in the national news — as evidenced by his thoughts appearing in this national story from The Associated Press this week. But he also shares many thoughts and perspectives on the film industry, the history of film and current cinema on his weblog, Frame By Frame. The title comes from the unique UNL video series of the same name, in which Dixon stars.

If you’re an entertainment reporter or columnist in search of a reliable source on all things cinema and pop culture, you’ll want to bookmark his blog.