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Archive for June, 2010

Conference realignment and long-term pitches

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Well, the earthquake that was supposedly going to shatter the landscape of intercollegiate athletics turned out to be merely a decently sized early-June temblor. But though it wasn’t as cataclysmic as some pundits had predicted, realignment did cause things to be altered pretty decently in the world of college sports. In sum, Colorado started the fireworks when it announced it would be leaving the Big 12 for the Pac-10. A day later, Nebraska then bolted the Big 12 for the much more stable environs of the Big Ten Conference.

Those moves prompted Texas and its four Big 12 South underlings — Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M — to weigh an invite to join Colorado in the Pac-10, but ultimately deciding to carry forward with a 10-team conference minus NU and CU. Meantime, Utah jumped from the Mountain West Conference to the Pac-10 to bring that league up to 12 members. Fellow perennial BCS Buster Boise State of the Western Athletic Conference filled Utah’s spot in the MWC to leave us where we stand today.

It will be endlessly debated by bloggers, commentators, journalists and college sports fans as to which teams benefited the most from the latest round of conference reshuffling, and which ones lost out the most. Meanwhile, a relatively quiet debate has begun about the academic ramifications of the new shape of things. On a regional level, the Omaha World-Herald has done a nice job spelling out some of the potential ripple effects of UNL’s move to the Big Ten on a number of fronts.

Immediately after UNL’s move to the Big Ten became official, we began pitching stories to our friends in the national media to see if they were interested in taking a closer look at how Nebraska was able to even get into the conversation for Big Ten membership — and, now that UNL is the conference’s 12th member, what it means for our school, which in 2000 was actually the subject of a World-Herald series titled “Confronting Mediocrity.”

So we’ve framed the story thusly: Just 10 years ago, this move to the Big Ten wouldn’t have been academically possible. But UNL has spent the last 10 years on a steady upward trajectory; its national reputation has risen, its federal research haul has more than doubled, it’s hired strong faculty, it’s gone on a building boom, attracted better students and brought in more out-of-state students. Chancellor Perlman has said bluntly that if it were not for the marked improvements in the past decade, he doubts the Big Ten move would have been possible.

So, as June comes to an end, most people around the country have just begun to adjust to the notion of Nebraska as a Big Ten school — while to many in Lincoln, Neb., it doesn’t feel like as big as a leap as the conventional national wisdom might suggest. No matter how well the Huskers do on the Big Ten’s playing fields, one thing is certain: UNL’s academic clout and capacity will benefit from all of the conference movement, and stands to see its progress accelerate as it takes advantage of the various collaborative dynamics of the Big Ten. That’s what we’re telling reporters from USA TODAY and The Chronicle of Higher Education in our telephone conversations with them this month.

These pitches are long-term and take a while to gestate. They’re usually not something that appears a week after you plant the seeds at media outlets around the country. So we’re continuing to water them and tend to them, and we expect that UNL’s role in this story (with its status as an academic “winner” after the realignment dust has settled) will begin to bubble up nationally in the months — and certainly years — to come.

The week, in a nutshell

Friday, June 25th, 2010

One of the most festive stories of the week with a UNL connection was this one from USA TODAY. In essence, it discusses the increasing prevalence of roundabouts and notes that some drivers, well, they have a heck of a time figuring them out. Aemal Khattak, one of our civil engineering researchers, was quoted about his and his colleagues’ study of driver confusion regarding roundabouts. “Drivers are conditioned that drivers on the right have the right of way, but in a roundabout, it’s the other way around,” he told the nation’s second-largest newspaper.

From the Shot Heard Round The World to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, history is rife with examples of how wars begin. Little attention, though, is paid to how they end — and how their ends often affect the formulation of new conflicts down the road. UNL military historian Peter Maslowski was part of a 14-historian panel at West Point, NY, early last week that discussed the outcomes and effects of America’s wars. Maslowski has a reputation of being a student favorite, and it’s great to see him get some well-deserved recognition by The Associated Press in a story that distributed nationally and globally.

In case you missed it:

Chancellor Perlman’s op-ed on UNL joining the Big Ten Conference appeared in a number of daily newspapers in the upper Midwest.

Susan Swearer co-authored a Newsweek op-ed on how to curb school bullying in Massachusetts (and anywhere, really).

(Sorry, now we can’t get Ratt’s “Round and Round” out of our heads …)

Bully for UNL

Friday, June 25th, 2010

Susan Swearer is an expert on bullying. Or, more precisely, she’s an expert in root causes of bullying and in the steps schools can take to create a culture that minimizes bullying. As a faculty member in UNL’s College of Education, Swearer studies the relationship between internalizing factors (depression, anxiety, and anger) and outward behavior (bullying/victimization, school failure, and conduct problems). Her research is, by nature, very relevant to many people today, so we like to keep a close eye on what she’s up to.

Over the years, Swearer has had little trouble finding her way into national news stories on the topic of bullying. But her visibility has reached a new level since January, when the so-called Phoebe Prince story made national headlines.

Since then, her inbox has been active with queries from media outlets around the country, whether it’s print, online or broadcast. This week, she appears in Newsweek as co-author of a short op-ed piece on school bullying, as well.

It should be noted that Swearer has done a great job representing the university in those interviews … and in doing so, has reached that rare status of being what we in the business call a “Perpetual Placement” — someone who is top-of-mind on a particular topic for reporters around the country. Think Tim Gay on the physics of sport or Wheeler Winston Dixon on the history of film or Dean Sicking when it comes to roadside barrier safety.

From a University Communications standpoint, this is a big deal. For the professor, it can be time-consuming and patience-testing, but in the end, very good for them, the college and the university.

We’re working with Prof. Swearer on a new project geared toward the start of school that should allow her to get her thoughts across in a clear and broad manner. Hopefully we’ll see some results in August from the seeds we’re planting today. Of course, we’ll keep you posted.

The art and science of the op-ed

Monday, June 21st, 2010

Chancellor Perlman made the rounds in Big Ten Country this weekend. Well, not physically. But his thoughts and sentiments did show up in a number of daily newspapers in cities that cover the Big Ten Conference. The chancellor’s opinion-editorial piece, in sum, noted UNL’s pride in being asked to join the prestigious league of universities; it assured readers in Big Ten land that the Huskers will compete hard in their new conference; and it mentioned that the Huskers are looking forward to mixing it up on the courts and playing fields with our new conference brethren in 2011.

Moreover, the chancellor spoke of the academic and cultural fit for the Big Ten in adding the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This has been one of our key talking points since the rumors began to swirl several weeks ago about UNL possibly bolting the Big 12 for the Big Ten, and it’s gratifying to see that message get out loud and clear. Inclusion in the new conference — and the Committee for Institutional Cooperation that accompanies the invite — will have profound effects on the academic side of the university for years to come.

Early last week, we approached the chancellor to see if he would be up for jotting down a few thoughts about the Big Red joining the Big Ten, now that the realignment dust had settled. He agreed it would be a good time to reinforce his belief that our university was a natural fit for the Big Ten, put down a few paragraphs and sent them our way. Over the next few days, we worked with the chancellor to rework, expand and massage his thoughts and began pushing the op-ed to a number of papers in Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Pennsylvania. After working the phones, it was clear there was some enthusiasm on these media outlets’ behalf to use what the chancellor had written. We were pleased in the exposure the op-ed received over the weekend, and expect it to land in a few more places before it’s done.

There are a few tricks to placing op-eds, tricks that applied to this op-ed as they do all others:

First of all, it has to be in the run of play. It has to be newsy. Check; lots of people across the United States — and especially in the upper Midwest — were talking about Harvey Perlman last week. He was, bluntly, a big newsmaker. That part was easy.

The article was about 550 words long. For op-eds, anything over 700 words is practically ruled out on sight, unless it’s from the Unabomber.

The piece made a small number of points — well. The chancellor didn’t try to solve all of the world’s problems in 550 words; he simply reaffirmed his steadfast belief that the University of Nebraska-Lincoln shares Big Ten culture, values and tradition, and expanded from there.

He used short sentences and paragraphs. While not overwhelmingly conversational, the chancellor’s op-ed was short, blunt and to the point. He used direct language and didn’t overdo it. He struck a nice balance between honoring what the Big Ten has accomplished up to this point, and politely suggested that with the addition of his school, it was about to get even better.

He acknowledged some criticism in the conference realignment shuffle, without creating a tiring rebuttal and rehashing of old arguments. Op-eds tend to look more credible, and certainly more appealing, if the author doesn’t engage in tit-for-tat that has no end. The chancellor focused on the future and, again, kept things positive.

Last, we thought long and hard about where to submit the article. Sure, the New York Times would be great, with the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post as fallbacks. But we also knew that there would be significant interest in Perlman’s thoughts in the epicenters of Big Ten fandom. That led us to mid-sized papers in places like Iowa City and Lafayette and Harrisburg and East Lansing as well as larger metros like Indianapolis and Columbus.

You don’t have to be at the epicenter of a tectonic shift in college football conference alignment to place an op-ed. UNL authors have appeared in nearly every media market, and have fared best with arguments and discussions that are focused, provocative, witty or surprising. If you’ve got an idea for an op-ed on a topic in which you have expertise, let us know. We can help your thoughts and opinions get onto the page, and then get some local, regional or even national exposure.

News vs. microtargeting

Monday, June 21st, 2010

The central tenet of placing a UNL story nationally is having and exercising solid news judgment in everything we see come across our desks. Basically, we try to think like reporters do — they get a lot of junk, and the goal is to stand out with a story idea that has all the classic elements of news in it.

Still, on some days, “news” can be a difficult thing to define. One man’s breaking news (This just in: Utah has joined the Pac-10) is another man’s yawner (Why do I care? I’m not from Utah and don’t follow college football. I’d rather know about this). Or, it can depend on your state of mind; listen to someone’s pitch long enough, and you might actually start thinking that yeah, you might just be able to get that news release about an associate dean being appointed to a bi-state academic consortium on left-handed student achievement into the New York Times.

When evaluating research, news and other happenings coming from our colleges, faculty, students and departments, it’s our job to evaluate if they are of broad, national interest to mainstream audiences, to research and frame the story as simply and clearly as possible, and then to identify and pitch it to several targets in the national media. Clearly, if you read this blog or have kept track of our placement list here, you know that that approach has been very successful over the years. Faculty, administrators and staff have landed in national media outlets ranging from USA TODAY to CNN to the New York Times to Fox News this way.

There’s a second tenet to our national news efforts, as well. We call it microtargeting. That is, we may be presented with a story that has a few strong news elements, but only for a specific, limited audience. Key word here is audience:  For example, long after bullying faded out of the headlines of the popular press, UNL bullying expert Susan Swearer was showing up in Education Week, a publication primarily read by K-12 educators and administrators, as an expert source in continuing coverage on the subject. In 2009, Shane Farritor’s research into developing a sensor that analyzes and predicts weak spots on railways made placements in magazines about trains, several weeks and months after we got it to go coast-to-coast via The Associated Press’ national wire. You get the idea.

Blogs, too, are a great place to microtarget and only stand to become better venues for the tactic. Many blogs are tightly focused on a single subject, like a vast, interactive digital magazine rack catering to even the most obscure interests. One could work 24/7/365 on microtargeting, given the ever-evolving, ever-emerging information outlets that create niches of interest online.

But in many ways, microtargeting runs counter to a communicator’s instincts when it comes to news judgment. A key element of news judgment is discrimination; if that’s removed from the equation, then all items are created equal and everything is potentially news. You can see the conundrum.

This is all on our mind because recently, a series of events led to UNL’s Digital Commons being prominently featured in the latest edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Nearly a year ago, we were approached about perhaps finding a way to promote the Digital Commons, which at that point was among the top three in size in the United States. After some preliminary research, we decided to pass on making a concerted round of pitches because it was difficult to determine if there was a lot of news involved. In short, at the time the Digital Commons story idea didn’t pass our “first-best-only” test, and until it created news of its own, it seemed that any pitch would have come from an institutional perspective, and in looking at the media landscape at the time, it seemed there were very few entry points for such a story. So, the potential Digital Commons pitch essentially died for a lack of a second.

Then, a few months ago, we learned that The Chronicle was planning to talk with Paul Royster, who oversees the Digital Commons at UNL, as part of a story on how institutional repositories are approached at universities across the United States. The reporter, Jennifer Howard, often focuses on information technology and used our university’s digital efforts as the centerpiece of her story. It appeared on page A12 of the current edition of The Chronicle. If you have a subscription, you can read it here.

The etymology of this story — how it came to grace the Chronicle’s pages — is a good example of how microtargeting for an enterprise as large as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln just can’t be done by one person. University Libraries fashioned a short press release and sent it to a pair of library/open access organizations — the Association of Research Libraries & SPARC — which eventually reached a blogger in that professional field by the name of Dorothea Salo. From there, it caught Jennifer Howard’s eye at the Chronicle. The microtarget worked.

It’s entirely likely that this could be seen as a miss on University Communications’ part to promote UNL’s Digital Commons. We don’t really see it that way, though. This placement reflects a clear reality in our ongoing efforts to promote and educate the nation about UNL: We can’t be everywhere all the time. And, if we must make a choice between news and microtargeting, we’ll probably choose news almost every time.

We can afford to make that decision, frankly, because it’s our good fortune at UNL to work with many competent communicators across different departments, who often suggest good stories and story ideas for us to investigate. Most importantly, they also can be effective and relentless microtargeters. In this case, the single-minded persistence of our communicators at University Libraries paid off well for the university.

Congratulations are in order to them, and we’ll be sure to keep an eye on our Digital Commons’ progress as it continues to grow and thrive.

It all adds up to 10

Monday, June 14th, 2010

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past two weeks, you know already about UNL being speculated about, being given ultimatums regarding, and finally being introduced as the 12th and latest member of the Big Ten Conference. It’s exciting news on all sorts of levels — athletically, the conference has a long, storied tradition that goes back more than a century and conjures up images of Duffy Daugherty, Bo Schembechler, Woody Hayes, the Rose Bowl, and more rivalry trophies than you can shake a bronze pig at.

Nebraska’s athletic culture fits the Big Ten like a glove — that was never a question. We clap for our opponents, even when they win. Football is king, but volleyball and wrestling aren’t exactly court jesters. We’re a big, Midwestern, land-grant state university with a funny mascot that will blend right in alongside Herky Hawk, Bucky Badger, Brutus Buckeye and Purdue Pete.

That’s always been the easy part to envision. It’s long been said, almost to the point of being a cliche, that academics would keep the Big Ten from considering Nebraska for membership, if it ever asked. Well, that myth has been sufficiently busted. Big Ten presidents voted unanimously to welcome UNL into the conference just 3 1/2 hours after Chancellor Perlman asked for and gained the NU Board of Regents’ approval to apply for Big Ten membership.

From University Communications’ standpoint, we knew this story was going to be the likes of which we’d never see again in our lifetimes. The national media interest in UNL’s conference alignment deliberations were so white-hot and intense that it was quite fruitless to push talking points, work the phones or to blast out a few dozen targeted pitches via e-mail. We knew — everyone knew — that the only legitimate opportunity for UNL to effectively tell its side of the story was out in the open with the cameras rolling. Of course, we all know how well Chancellor Perlman and Dr. Tom carried UNL’s message to the masses. To call their work on Friday a “home run” doesn’t do it justice. They were both masterful.

For those of us who work to shepherd UNL’s message on a daily basis, much of Friday was about logistics for press conferences — yes, we knew a good deal in advance that the Regents’ meeting would merely be good theater but really only a prelude to the main event at  5 p.m. — making sure the UNL home page was updated and handling waves of national media requests. The calls from Sports Illustrated, ESPN and the major metros in the Big Ten area began to trickle in Thursday afternoon and Friday morning. When we hit Send and circulated our press release at 10 before 5, and this broke across the wires …

Date: 6/11/2010 4:50 PM
Big Ten Conference approves Nebraska’s application for membership

Lincoln, Neb. (AP) — Big Ten Conference approves Nebraska’s application for membership, effective July 1, 2011.

… things really started to heat up. Calls from Des Moines, Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh and all points in between began coming in. We knew the nation’s eye would turn to the 5 p.m. press conference to hear Perlman, Osborne and Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany talk about NU’s future in their new conference. And for the record, everyone involved did a great job. The event was jam-packed with reporters from all across the region and the country, and it went off without a hitch.

But our work didn’t end when the last question was finally answered at the Van Brunt Visitor’s Center. That’s because beyond being a gigantic sports story with multiple layers of narratives and intrigue, moving to the Big Ten also is an opportunity to further cement UNL’s academic reputation for local and regional audiences, and to have a coming-out party for national ones.

On the local front, it’s been a great success. The Omaha World-Herald framed UNL’s push into the Big Ten as a comeback story, the culmination of a decade’s worth of work to lift UNL from so-called mediocrity to the status of a powerful Midwestern research university. On the national level, we helped lock in interviews touting the university’s elite AAU member status — a must for Big Ten consideration — and also its “academic fit” among other Big Ten universities. Chancellor Perlman graciously gave up large portions of his weekend to fulfill a number of interview requests from around the country that focused on academics.

By Monday, after the torrent of media requests had relatively died down, we began pushing the academic side of the equation much more aggressively with a number of national pitches. Our main message: While much of the country is focusing on athletics, there’s a lot of fertile ground to plow on the academic side of the coin, and Nebraska has a lot to offer the Big Ten in that regard.

The trick, of course, is to not make it sound like we’re too giddy, and our pitches too much like rah-rah advertisements. That, of course, would turn reporters off. Instead, we’ve worked to frame this part of the story as a way to examine what big changes will take shape nationally when the conference realignment dust settles. In that regard, we’ve posited, Nebraska will truly be a “winner” in the area of academics; and more importantly its upward momentum will only accelerate with the inclusion into the Big Ten’s collaborative academic network. National reporters were pretty receptive to this notion Monday, mainly because they see academic realignment as a real and wide-reaching effect of conference realignment that perhaps hasn’t been fully explored yet.

Hopefully, our frame holds, a few of our pitches will bear fruit, and we’ll be seeing more stories of that nature in the days and weeks to come. I’d be surprised if we didn’t.

Think Tank postmortem

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

For those of you who attended Think Tank 2010, be sure to fill out the postmortem survey. It should only take a few minutes — though there are open spaces for elaborating about what you liked and didn’t like about this year’s sessions (if you need help with any adjectives when describing the Best Practices in Social Media session, here are a few suggestions: “insightful,” “rollicking,” “fun,” “informative,” and, “made of awesomesauce”).

In all seriousness, we take the responses to the survey very seriously. So if you have a couple of free moments, please do give us your thoughts so we can continue to improve Think Tank for everyone involved. And thanks again for the great turnout and questions in our social-media session — it’s clear there’s a hunger for sharing best practices when it comes to communicating in today’s networked world. Hopefully we were able to share some insights that will lead to some practical applications for those in attendance.


Does studying economics make you more Republican?

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

Here’s an interesting tidbit that got some play today in the New York Times. In a new study conducted for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, UNL associate professor of economics Sam Allgood and three fellow economists concluded that how much economics people study can influence their political activity and how they spend their spare time.

The study compared the behavior of economics majors with those of business majors and other graduates at four schools: Purdue, North Carolina, Florida Atlantic and UNL. Those in the study attended school in either 1976, 1986 or 1996. Its finding? The more economics classes someone took, the more likely they were to be a Republican and donate money to a political candidate or a cause.

“In sum,” the study said, “those taking more economics classes favored less regulation or government intervention affecting prices for specific goods and services, including wages and salaries.”

Becoming a direct content provider

Monday, June 7th, 2010

A recent study by the University of California, Davis finds that newspapers will have to (drumroll, please) change if they wish to survive. More specifically, it says newsrooms must move away from the repetitive, mechanical patterns that have driven the industry over the last century and embrace innovation, online networking and new business models. While many people think of newspapers as flexible and technology-driven, the study says, newspapers are actually more like a factory assembly line — strict, deadline-driven and trapped by archaic systems and processes. And that makes it almost impossible to innovate.

As a 15-year veteran of newspapering who left the industry in 2008, I think that last part rings especially true. When it comes to innovation, newspapers have always been several steps behind. That’s because they didn’t need to, really; they often were able to remain the staid, unchanging monoliths in their community because there were really no other viable options for local advertisers and readers. Then that pesky Internet thing took over, and the rest is history.

As has been well-documented in the last 10 years, technology has pulled the rug out from under traditional newsrooms, and many a newspaper has been forced to confront this sobering reality: An inflexible, obsolete way of doing things contributes to a flawed business model, which means less revenue, which means fewer newsgathering resources, which means newspapers become less and less relevant in today’s digital information marketplace. It’s happening all over the country. When the Houston Chronicle lays off their space beat reporter – Houston! — it’s a sign that newspapers have begun to cede their role as the authoritative collective of knowledge in their communities.

I could go on about how sad that is, waxing nostalgic and lamenting how publishers’ divestment in newsgathering resources is not a sustainable long-term (or mid- or even short-term) strategy for the newspaper industry. I could even probably come up with my suggestions for newsrooms to work to change course. But that’s been done ad nauseum, and besides, it’s really not the point of this blog.

Instead, here’s my point: As professional communicators, it’s our job to do more than just bemoan the slow, tragic decline of the once-mighty dailies, and fret about where our next clip is going to come from if there aren’t any writers to produce the clips. It’s our job to maximize our organization’s exposure in today’s rapidly changing media environment, using whatever means necessary.

And, for better or for worse, here’s what the situation is right now: The changes the media is undergoing have clearly increased our capacity to be direct content providers — and by this, I mean using the media as a vessel, not a filter, to push out our message. We do this regularly, with increasing success and reach. You can, too.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you go down this road:

Frame the story for the reporter, and take advantage of new entry points. Almost without exception in the last five years, newspaper staffs have gotten a good deal smaller. For those who have survived the cuts, life is much different than before. Reporters who once had to worry about writing just a few stories a week have now become full-time beast-feeders. They’re serving multiple audiences (print, online, mobile, social media, even broadcast) and therefore need a steady stream of content to fill their pages. Whether those pages are on newsprint, computer screens or smart phones doesn’t matter any more.

The continued expansion of multiple news platforms has changed the threshold for what constitutes news — and so you are more likely to get a kinder ear to your story ideas than you may have in the past. Can you put together a six- to seven-paragraph story in a news format on some research in your department? If so, that exact backgrounder could turn up in any number of national media outlets if you frame and pitch it correctly. Last week’s story about UNL’s research into childhood obesity found its way into the Post almost word-for-word as we sent it. The point is, reporters’ story radars are turned way up, because their current landscape requires it to be. Take advantage of that and pitch accordingly.

Maximize partnerships to get national play. From a national perspective, this is huge. We all took notice — and got a little bit worried —  in late 2008 when CNN eliminated its entire science team. Similar cuts have occurred at US News and World Report and a few other places around the country. Smartly, the National Science Foundation snapped up many of the laid-off journalists and added them to a site called LiveScience. LiveScience feeds a number of partner sites, such as USNWR, Fox News and several name-brand others. The Kiewra cheating study is another great, recent example of us flexing these partnerships to get the most exposure we could for UNL research. Again, we basically became a direct-content provider, as the basic version of our story spilled onto dozens if not hundreds of online sites and onto broadcast channels.

A hit is a hit is a hit. To become a successful direct content provider, you’ve got to be platform agnostic. That is, you have to put equal weight on an online “hit” that mentions your school’s work as you would its counterpart that shows up in the ink-and-paper outlets. The days of the “print clip” as a relevant metric are ending; it’s an outdated, incomplete measurement that only shows a slice of your news placement strategies. If a national media member with thousands of followers on Twitter and Facebook or her blog writes about your story or photo or video there, that can be just as good as a print clip — and many times, even better.

Think, and act, like a journalist. This one probably goes without saying, but: If you’re pushing out your words practically verbatim through the media, be sure that you perform due diligence on your own work. Be sure it’s clearly written for general audiences, presented in Associated Press style for quick transfer onto media outlets’ pages, and — most important of all — factually accurate. It’s important to remember that journalists, though they are under constant pressure to update blogs and websites along with feeding their traditional print editions with new content, still are the final gatekeepers as to what goes onto their pages. If they trust your work, you’ll have little trouble. If they have to run a correction because you didn’t double-check a fact or two, they’ll be leery of your e-mail or news release or offered-up video the next time it graces their inbox.

It’s all lined up: The entry points are growing, along with the hunger for new content. For communicators, it’s a matter of providing timely, well-written/well-produced, relevant news that has an impact on people in profound ways. Working at a major research university, there are no shortage of such items, and so we’re well-positioned to take advantage of the current media landscape.

Maybe someday, media companies will be fully converged, will again be flush with money and will re-invest in their newsgathering resources. At that point, perhaps their appetite for new, relevant content might be abated. But in the meantime, the next time you see a story about UNL, look closely. There’s a good chance the words you read or the photos and video you see may very well have been produced in the Canfield Administration Building.

Junk food, church attendance and political puffery

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

With its typically warm weather making the flowers, plants and grass grow and finally bloom in full, Memorial Day is often a time where one begins to see the fruits of his labor earlier in the season begin to pay off.  At the risk of exercising a bad metaphor, that’s sort of what happened with a trio of national placements involving UNL faculty over the long holiday weekend.

First, the Providence Journal tapped political scientist Michael Wagner to discuss why political discourse has seemed to have gotten so coarse in recent years. Wagner, who is very good with communicating with the media and who is someone we often offer up as a potential source to national reporters seeking analysis and commentary on current political events, posits that conservatives and liberals tend to differ in native temperament. “Conservatives seem to prefer a black and white, right-versus-wrong way of looking at the world,” Wagner told the Journal, “whereas liberals seem to prefer seeking out the shades of gray. It’s hard to be vituperative about the shades of gray and it is hard to place ‘right and wrong’ into a softer rhetorical context.”

The recession, Wagner continued, influences political ideology: “When the economy was strong in the late 1990s,” he says, “70 percent of Democrats wanted to maintain government spending — but so did nearly 50 percent of Republicans. Now, about 70 percent of Democrats still want to maintain government spending — but only 30 percent of Republicans want to do the same. In other words, a lot of this has to do with which party is in the majority in Congress and which party holds the White House.”

Next, we continue to see echoes of national coverage from April’s work on promoting sociologist Philip Schwadel’s study on U.S. church attendance rates. You may remember that Schwadel used a new multi-level analysis on more than 41,000 survey responses over 35 years to determine whether or not Americans have begun to empty out of churches. His finding: Not really. Aside from a slight dip in the 1990s, church attendance rates have remained steady. But (and there’s always a but) the traditionally influential groups that typically affect the rate — Catholics, women and Southerners — are seeing their influence begin to steadily wane. It saw a wave of coverage when we released his findings in April, including The Associated Press, MSNBC, and CNN, and his work continues to be cited in stories examining American religiosity. This weekend, his work appeared in the Austin American-Statesman.

Finally: We mentioned last week we were pushing new UNL research about school lunch policies, and findings that showed schools who banned a la carte junk food items at lunch time had an 18 percent lighter student body than those that didn’t. We targeted a number of national reporters, including Valerie Strauss at The Washington Post, with pitches highlighting our professors’ USDA-sponsored research. Valerie featured the research on Sunday.

All in all, a pretty good holiday weekend and a nice way to start the week — and summer.