Staying Connected to Media and Information Policy in the States
I may have left the USA and Michigan State University (MSU) to return to my home in the UK, but my days at MSU’s Quello Center have left me with a continuing interest in following developments in media and information policy worldwide, and in the US, in particular. With that in mind, I have been so pleased to have been invited to participate in two networks that are key to my interests:
I helped build the Advisory Board of the Quello Center while Director from 2014-2018, so I am very pleased to have the opportunity to joining as a member of the Board. The Center has put together a very strong network of individuals from academia, business and industry, and government to keep the James H. Quello Center alerted to the key issues on the horizon. My education on the Board will hopefully be one unintended consequence.
The TPRC Board of Directors
TPRC stands for the Telecommunications Policy Research Conference, which puts together an annual conference, more recently entitled ‘Research Conference on Communication, Information and Internet Policy’. The conference has been held for over 45 years, and needless to say, it has successfully evolved with the times and the issues around media, information, and communication technology and associated issues of public policy and regulation. The Board is a virtual wish-list of people to stay in touch with about new developments, and I look forward to participating in its meetings both remotely and at their annual conference.
I would not have been invited to join either group had I not directed the Quello Center for four years. So I’m grateful to my colleagues at the Center and MSU for that opportunity, and I’ll do my best to actively stay in touch with initiatives at the Center, where Johannes Bauer is Director, and Laleah Fernandez is Assistant Director, and also follow initiatives across the US communication and technology and policy arena more generally.
My thanks to the members of both organizations for these invitations.
I had the good fortune of attending the 2018 graduation ceremony at MSU. I always find these occasions to be a reminder of the importance and responsibility of an academic career. However, this celebration on 4 May 2018 was particularly significant to me. First, it was my last, before I head off to Britain for whatever awaits me there. Secondly, I was proud to be asked to hood one of our graduating doctoral students, Ruth Shillair, who I’ve been working with since my arrival in 2014. Ruth participated in the Oxford Internet Institute’s summer doctoral programme, and has helped me with several papers in collaboration with the Oxford Martin Cyber Security Capacity Center. Ruth has many more academic achievements to look forward to.
Finally, I was inspired by the wonderful set of honorary degree recipients. Every year, MSU is able to bring in distinguished individuals, many with close ties to MSU, but during a year of troubles for the university, this year’s honorees were particularly welcome and inspiring. They included:
Marcia McNutt, who gave the commencement speech at the advanced degree ceremonies, is President of the National Academy of Sciences, and former editor-in-chief of the Science journals. She spoke about her role with the U.S. Geological Survey in helping to contain the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
After the ceremony, at an event for the honorary degree recepients, who spoke at other commencement ceremonies, I was able to hear from others, including:
Akinwumi Adesina, an agricultural economist, who is president of the African Development Bank Group, and former Nigerian Minister of Agriculture;
Bethany Beardslee, a soprano, who rode her bike to MSU, where she majored in music in the early 1940s, when MSU was the Michigan Agriculture College [that is the origin of M.A.C. Street]. She is widely acclaimed, receiving the Laurel Leaf Award for ‘fostering and encouraging American music’ from the American Composers Alliance;
Wanda Herndon, who has held senior-level positions at a number of major companies, including vice president of Global Communications for Starbucks Coffee Company. She now has her own consulting firm, W Communications. Ms Herndon has been named one of the top 12 African-Americans in public relations as well as one of the ‘Top 100 Black Professionals in Corporate America’.
Albert “Albie” Sachs, a judge and legal scholar, who was appointed to the Constitutional Court by Nelson Mandela in 1994, after devoting much of his life since 1952 as a human rights advocate in South Africa.
My thanks to all of those who organized the 2018 graduation ceremonies for bringing such brilliant people to the attention of our students and faculty.
I met for the last time with my last class at MSU in the Department of Media and Information. In a university with over 50,000 students, I am still able to teach a small class with three students – a virtual small tutorial. This one was on media and information policy with students doing papers on the moral panic over fake news (or is it warranted), whether there is a knowledge gap in understanding search algorithms that is shaped by socioeconomic factors, and a study of how to bridge broadband divides in Michigan.
So thanks to the Department and the College as well as the students for such an enjoyable way to conclude my teaching at MSU. I began as an undergraduate at the University of Missouri by tutoring the athletes in political science. I think I’ve always learned more than the students in my classes, but they always humor me. Thank you.
Mystery Solved: The Spartan Who Named Michigan State University’s Spartans: Stephen George Scofes
After the second world war, Stephen George Scofes ran a restaurant in Lansing, Michigan, called ‘The Famous Grill’, where he became friends with coaches and athletes at Michigan State University. He came up with the nickname for MSU – the Spartans. Here is the story, as told to me.
Originally, MSU was established as Michigan Agricultural College, and then Michigan State College, before becoming MSU. With its tradition in agriculture, the College originally had a common nickname – the ‘Aggies’. But as the college transitioned to a more general-purpose university and became more serious about college sports, its promoters in the athletic department and the city began searching for a more promising nickname and mascot to represent the university.
George S. Alderton, the Sports Editor of the Lansing State Journal, sponsored a contest to find a name to replace the Aggies. In today’s terminology, he crowd sourced a solution. It remains unclear who picked the winner of the contest, but the contest led to MSU ever so briefly being called the Michigan ‘Staters’. The name did not resonate well with many fans, including George Alderton. A local restauranteur, Stephen George Scofes, asked Alderton if he had seen his letter – his submission to the contest, which suggested the name ‘Spartans’. Alderton did not remember the letter, but thought it had promise and researched it with his colleagues.
Initially, in his columns, Alderton misspelled Spartans, using an ‘o’ for ‘Sportans’. Stephen Scofes corrected his spelling, and Alderton started to routinely use ‘Spartans’ in his columns. The name caught on, and the rest is history – or it should have been history but was, in fact, totally forgotten and clouded over time. Much later, neither Alderton or anyone else could remember the name of the person who came up with the Spartan name, which we now know was Stephen Scofes.*
Stephen’s son, George Stephen Scofes, himself of a serious age – 89 – today, told me the story of his father coming up with the Spartan name. This came up when I was driving him and our mutual friend, who introduced us, Dimitri Stathopoulos, to an MSU basketball game. Stephen came to the United States from an area near the town of Sparta, Greece. His son George, was born in the USA, but lived in Sparta from the age of two until the end of the second world war, when he moved back to the US at the age of seventeen. His friend Dimitri was also from Sparta. So the Spartan name did not pop out of thin air or the classics, but from real life.
Because Mr. Scofes had a restaurant, The Famous Grill, George’s father knew all the coaches and many of the athletes and sports writers that covered MSU. One of the great coaches, Biggie Munn, liked to bring his players in his restaurant, The Famous Grill and sit in The Big Ten Room. Munn became athletic director at MSU from 1953-71 and invited Stephen Scofes to award the annual ‘sportsmanship’ trophy to the football team.
The Scofes family remain closely attached to MSU, such as through the basketball trophy under the Scofes name, for example. And later, in the 1990s, when Nick Saban was the football coach at MSU, the coach argued that there were many awards for sportsmanship, so why not give an award to an academic who helps the players academically. Since then, Stephen’s son, George, and George’s son Stephen Scofes (that’s the traditional way Greek families recognize their family heritage) give an award to an MSU academic who helps the players, titled ‘The George Stephen Scofes Outstanding Faculty Award’ at MSU. There were twelve recipients in 2017.
For decades, the person who came up with the name that is central to MSU’s identity was forgotten in the folklore of the university. But the mystery is solved: He was Stephen George Scofes, arguably, the first Spartan.
Months after this blog, Judy Putnam of the Lansing State Journal covered the story of the Spartan name, with the title, “How Sparty Got His Name’.** She came to the same conclusion as I did, but added a number of interesting aspects to the story. Wonderful to have this story covered in the local paper.
*A published narrative of the naming of the Spartans is provided in Constantine S. Demos and Steven S. Demos, M.D. ((2008), The Tradition Continues: Spartan Football. East Lansing: Michigan State University Football Players Association, pages 56-57. Their version differs in important ways from my narrative, such as only alluding to the friendship of the Scofes brothers and Alderton, but with no acknowledgement of Stephen Scofes’ role. You will have to reach your own conclusion about who named the Spartans, but I find my interview with George Scofes, his son, to be most credible.
A report we just completed for the Quello Center on ‘Search and Politics‘ concluded that most people are not fooled by fake news, or trapped by filter bubbles or echo chambers. For example, those interested in politics and with some ability in using the Internet and search, generally consult multiple sources for political information, and use search very often to check information they suspect to be wrong. It is a detailed report, so I hope you can read it to draw your own conclusions. But the responses I’ve received from readers are very appreciate of the report, yet then go on to suggest people remain in somewhat of a panic. Our findings have not assuaged their fears.
First, these threats tied to the Internet and social media appeal to common fears about technology being out of control. Langdon Winner’s book comes to mind. This is an enduring theme of technology studies, and you can see it being played out in this area. And it is coupled with underestimating the role users actually play online. You really can’t fool most of Internet users most of the time, but most people worry that way too many are fooled.
This suggests that there might also be a role played by a third person effect, with many people believing that they themselves are not fooled by these threats, but that others are. I’m not fooled by fake news, for example, but others are. This may lead people to over-estimate the impact of these problems.
And, finally, there is a tendency for communication and technology scholars to believe that political conflicts can be solved simply by improving information and communication. I remember a quote from Ambassador Walter Annenberg at the Annenberg School, where I taught, to the effect that all problems can be solved by communication. However, many political conflicts result from real differences of opinions and interests, which will not be resolved by better communication. In fact, communication can sometimes clarify the deep differences and divisions that are at the heart of conflicts. So perhaps many of those focused on filter bubbles, echo chambers and fake news are from the communication and the technical communities rather than political science, for example. If only technologies of communication could be improved, we would all agree on … That is the myth.
I am working with two of my masters students on a study of the issues that arose over whiteboards in the dormitories at MSU. The students presented their conclusions yesterday, and today they finish their paper. I’ll then work with their paper to develop a working paper that we might blog or disseminate in various ways. It was a fascinating and fun project is several ways. It was for a course on media and information policy, so this led us to quickly see the whiteboard as a media for communication and information. It is simple – everyone understands it, but it raises many of the same issues that are raised by social media and the Internet on college campuses. It also fits into the rising debate over speech on college campuses. Can’t wait to share our findings, which I believe to demonstrate the value of research in contrast to journalistic coverage of events such as the whiteboard controversy at MSU. It also really does speak to the issues of freedom of communication and civility in the university context.
Most importantly, it was a delight working with Irem Gokce Yildirim, an international student from Turkey, and Bingzhe Li, an international student from China, on this study of communication on an American campus. This is the kind of experience that makes teaching so enjoyable and rewarding.
[We are all laughing about my clumsy efforts to take this with my selfie stick.]
At a previous university, I called the university’s press officer with the exciting news that we had just hired a new chaired professor. She responded immediately, saying: “Bill. ‘University hires a new faculty member’ is not news.” Granted, that is indeed what we do.
But hiring twenty-eight to thirty new faculty – yes, 28-30, depending on whether some early hires are counted – is really news in my opinion. Certainly in my career. All are joining departments of the College of Communication Arts & Sciences at Michigan State University this Fall. This caps an incredible year of recruitment that is certain to move the College and its departments up the ranks of their respective fields.
And this is not simply a story about numbers. They are an amazingly diverse set of strong academics joining the College. I will list them below. But take just a few stellar examples of faculty joining my Department of Media and Information – major, senior faculty, who on their own terms will lift our department in stature and impact: Keith Hampton, Natascha Just, and David Ewoldsen.
Keith N. Hampton joined the Department of Media and Information from Rutgers University, where he was the Endowed Professor in Communication and Public Policy and Co-Chair of the Social Media & Society Cluster in the School of Communication and Information, and an affiliate member of the graduate faculty in the Department of Sociology. Keith received his Ph.D. and M.A. in sociology from the University of Toronto, and a B.A. in sociology from the University of Calgary. Before joining the faculty at Rutgers, he was an assistant professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, and Assistant Professor of Technology, Urban and Community Sociology & Class of ’43 Chair in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. From his doctoral thesis onward, he has done seminal work on the role of new communication technologies in shaping community.
Natascha Just, an economist, whose research centers on innovation-induced media change, such as on changing governance structures, competition policy, market power control, algorithms and platforms in the communication sector. She will join us from the University of Zurich, Switzerland, where Mag. Dr. Natascha Just has been a Senior Research and Teaching Associate in the Division on Media Change & Innovation, Institute of Mass Communication and Media Research (IPMZ) at the University of Zurich. She holds a Ph.D. in Communication Science (2001) from the University of Vienna. She was the recipient of a three year Hertha Firnberg Grant from the Austrian National Science Fund and worked as Hertha Firnberg Scholar at the Department of Communication, University of Vienna, Austria (2005-2008). She has also held visiting appointments at a number of US institutions, including Stanford Law School (2007), the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California (2004-2005), among other appointments.
David R. Ewoldsen joins the Department of Media and Information at MSU from The Ohio State University, where he was also a Professor in the School of Communication and Department of Psychology (courtesy appoint). He was serving as the Associate Director of the School of Communication and Director of Undergraduate Studies (since 2012). David received a joint Ph.D. in psychology and speech communication at Indiana University in 1990. After completing his Ph.D., he was a postdoctoral fellow in the cognitive sciences program at Vanderbilt University (1990-1991). He brings several research programs with him, including a long-standing program of research on ‘attitude accessibility’, for which he is clearly among the leading researchers. His work is focused primarily on the study of attitude and behavior change in the areas of health and race.
Also from OSU’s School of Communication, but joining the College’s Department of Advertising + Public Relations, is Associate Professor Nancy Rhodes. Nancy has a background in social psychology and is focused on health behavioral research, one of the College’s strategic areas for development. For example, she was the principal investigator on a recent large-scale ($700K plus) study of communication initiatives designed to reduce risky driving behavior.
Internationally, in addition to Professor Just, in the Department of Media and Information, as noted above, take Dr Tai-Quan (Winson) Peng, who has joined the Communication Department as an Associate Professor. I have frequently cited his work with Jonathan Zhu and others in the Web Mining Lab at the City University of Hong Kong, as being among the most insightful uses of data analytics to document the burgeoning growth of social science research on the Internet.
But please take a look at the full list (with apologies for anyone I’ve neglected to note):
Advertising and Public Relations
Bree Holtz coming from MSU; Nancy Rhodes coming from Ohio State University; Kjerstin Thorson coming from University of Southern California; Morgan Ellithorpe coming from University of Pennsylvania; Joseph Steinhardt coming from Cornell University; plus three Professors of Practice, focused on teaching roles, Ross Chowles, Louis Schiavone, and Gregory Taucher.
Department of Communication
Ralf Schmaelzle coming from University of Pennsylvania; Allison Eden coming from MSU; and Winson Peng coming from Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
Department of Journalism
Brendan Watson coming from University of Minnesota; Esther Thorson coming from University of Missouri; Rachel Mourao coming from University of Texas at Austin; and three Professors of Practice, Amy Haimerl, Michael Castellucci, and Richard Epps.
Department of Media & Information
Keith Hampton coming from Rutgers University; Natascha Just coming from University of Zurich, Switzerland; Elizabeth LaPensée coming from University of Minnesota; David Ewoldsen coming from Ohio State University; and four Professors of Practice, Jeremy Bond, John Valadez, Carleen Hsu, Ricardo Guimares.
Also, in the Quello Center, which is a center within the Department of Media and Information, our Post-Doctoral Fellow, Dr Bianca Reisdorf, has been recruited to stay at MSU as the Assistant Director of the Quello Center and an Assistant Professor in the Department. More on Professor Reisdorf and all of our faculty in due course.
So, this caps a very remarkable year for recruitment in MSU’s College of Communication Arts & Sciences. Thanks to Dean Prabu David and the leadership within the departments, the College was able to create an initiative to make a step jump in its faculty ranks. In academia, this must be one of those developments that promises to move the needle for the College and our field and in my opinion, be newsworthy!
Delighted to be on the Advisory Board of a new ESRC Project, entitled ‘Ways of Being in a Digital Age: A Systematic Review’.
The project is led by the Institute of Cultural Capital at the University of Liverpool in collaboration with 17 other partner Universities and organizations. It is a scoping review designed to inform potential future ESRC initiatives in this area.
This scoping review will focus on how digital technology mediates our lives, and of the way technological and social change co-evolve and impact on each other. The project will undertake: a Delphi review of expert opinion; a systematic literature review; and an overall synthesis to identify gaps in current research. The project will also run a programme of events to build and extend networks among the academic community, other stakeholders and potential funding partners. The project pulls together an impressive interdisciplinary research team with experience in running digital projects with partners across the social sciences, arts and humanities, engineering, physical sciences and health, representing 16 universities from the UK, EU, USA and Singapore. The core team of co-investigators from eight UK universities will provide expertise across a range of social science, arts, engineering and science backgrounds. The team also includes a broader international steering group, of which I am a member.
Its initial plans are to focus on seven domains:
Citizenship and politics
Communities and identities
Communication and relationships
Health and wellbeing
Economy and sustainability
Data and representation
Governance and security
For each domain the project will undertake:
A Delphi panel review of international experts’ opinions on the state of the art in digital facing social research.
A ‘concept mapping’ of identified literature using digital humanities tools
A systematic review of a sample of the literature
Engagement events with non-academic stakeholders from the public and private sectors
An assessment of the theory and methods applied in each domain
The project will also conduct a feedback questionnaire on the findings, run workshops throughout, and hold sessions at a number of international conferences. The project will conclude with a symposium to feedback the findings and to discuss the future of digital research in the social sciences.
Attending an awards ceremony at MSU I discovered to my surprise and delight that every member of my class this semester was a recipient for an award for their academic achievements. True, I have a small seminar, of 5 students, three MA and 2 PhD students in a seminar on Media and Information Policy. But all five had received awards, along with other students of mine from the past semester.
Needless to say, of course, I had nothing to do with their accomplishments, as my course is still in progress. Nevertheless I feel very proud of ‘my’ students.
Doctoral students, Ruth Shillair and Whisnu Triwibowo, received graduate student fellowships, with only three being awarded. Ruth was chosen as well for the Outstanding Doctoral Student ‘Triple-Threat’ award, for her achievements in research, teaching, and citizenship.
MA students, Menglei Cheng and Shenzi Su, received Academic Merit Awards, for their performance in course work, along with my student from last semester, Michael Nelson, who also received the Thomas F. Baldwin Endowed Fellowship. Along with these A students, Thomas Potron, received recognition in being chosen as one of our Academic Exchange Semester Students, visiting us from France.
It is little wonder that I have been enjoying discussions over the semester. I should add that in a university of 50,000 students, with hundreds in our Department of Media and Information, it is a seriously remarkable accomplishment to be among the top. Congratulations to all of the students who received awards, and to my all-star class. I must add that for all of my students to receive such recognition, it goes down as a record for me as well!
Here is a photo of me along with my students and a Visiting Professor, Jingwei Cheng, Communication University of China.
Here is another photograph of some of the students, along with faculty, at the awards ceremony set in the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University.
This fall semester at MSU, I’ll be teaching a new course MI 401, which is right at the center of my work over the last decade, if not my entire career. It is entitled ‘Social Dynamics of the Internet’ – the latest incarnation of a course I designed in 1980 on the social dynamics of communication technology. The course is anchored around my edited book, with Mark Graham, entitled Society and the Internet (OUP 2014). I hope to get students discussing, tweeting, writing and worrying about one of the central issues of our digital age.
The draft syllabus is at Social Dynamics of the Internet, but I will keep refining it, so comments are invited. The course is designed for upper-division undergraduates, and graduate students.