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February 6, 2004
Volume 41, No. 7


Office politics: UI experts help media navigate presidential caucuses
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Office Politics:
UI experts help media navigate presidential caucuses

Television on table with copies of the Gazette and the New York Times.
Peverill Squire, professor of political science, appeared live on CNN’s Inside Politics with host Judy Woodruff on Jan. 12 via a studio in Lindquist Center. The UI political expert granted about 75 interview requests in the days leading up to the Iowa caucuses. Photo by Tom Jorgensen.

In January 2003, University News Services registered six “hits”—articles or broadcasts in local, regional, national, or international news media—that specifically had to do with politics and the University. But this past January, the University was cited in more than 250 newspapers, radio programs, television programs, and web news accounts around the world.

The eyes of the media were fastened on Iowa’s Democratic Party caucuses, and UNS and UI political experts raced to keep up with hundreds of requests for interviews. While many University employees enjoyed the winter break, these experts talked with journalists and broadcasters from all over the world.

“We were blown away—not only by the volume of attention, but also our professors’ willingness to help. They were eager to share their expertise,” says Mary Geraghty Kenyon, who with George McCrory and UNS director Linda Kettner handled inquiries for University News Services. “I think it shows the depth of their commitment not only to teaching and research but also to service.

“We had tremendous assets to offer in our faculty members, and they were willing to do what it took.”

Assets from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences included Peverill Squire, David Redlawsk, and Gary Segura, political science; Basil Talbott and Jane Singer, journalism and mass communication; Doug Jones, computer science; Bruce Gronbeck, communication studies; and Fred Antczak, rhetoric. Also frequently called upon were the codirectors of the Iowa Electronic Markets: Bob Forsythe, Joyce Berg, Tom Rietz, George Neumann, and Forrest Nelson in the Tippie College of Business.

Redlawsk had planned ahead—his winter session class on the Iowa caucuses, which had just ended when the caucuses drew near, meant that he was up-to-date on all aspects of the caucuses, he says. Sitting in an office covered with student caucus posters and papers, he was keyed up several days after the caucuses were over.

“It wasn’t just the requests from the journalists and keeping up with my class that kept me busy,” he says. “Just before the caucuses, I unexpectedly became acting chair of the Johnson County Democratic Party when the previous chair resigned.”

Squire, who for years has been a popular source of expertise for the media, says caucus-related inquiries started coming in last year as early as late summer. Although he doesn’t know how many interview requests he granted, UNS tallied 18 interviews that were published on Jan. 20 alone—in such newspapers as The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Newsday, and the Los Angeles Times, among others. Squire’s media appearances before the caucuses included CNN and National Public Radio, and on caucus night he was interviewed on CBS News.

“My guess is that in the five or six days leading up to the caucuses, I did 75 interviews,” he says. “There were so many different kinds of media outlets—from the direct marketing newspaper Investors Business Daily to Education Week, for example. My days were packed.”

While some of the “hits” were media with limited reach, McCrory adds, CNN’s Crossfire broadcast live from campus Jan. 14 and interviewed George Neumann, George Daly Professor of Economics, about the Iowa Electronic Markets.

Basil Talbott, John F. Murray Lecturer in Journalism, was interviewed by Al-Jazeera, the Arabic news service based in Qatar, reaching its estimated 40 million viewers in several Mideast countries. Talbott, a former political editor for the Chicago Sun-Times and a 35-year veteran of newspaper journalism, covered political campaigns back to 1968.

“I enjoyed seeing my colleagues from those days, such as (CBS News’ chief Washington correspondent) Bob Schieffer and Morton Kondracke (executive editor and columnist for Roll Call, Capitol Hill independent newspaper), who were here covering the caucuses,” he says.

Talbott also was asked by the State Department to brief 115 representatives of foreign news outlets who were among the 1,000 media representatives certified to cover the caucuses.

When the caucuses ended and journalists flew out from Iowa, these professors faced their paper-strewn desks and prepared for the first day of a new semester. UNS, meanwhile, began to gather statistics on the intense coverage.

Kenyon believes the flood of attention the University received was the result of planning that began last summer. For the 2000 caucuses, UNS had prepared a 10-page media guide with information on all of the University’s relevant experts, which she believes was “somewhat helpful” but perhaps too hefty for journalists to carry around.

This year, UNS distributed a laminated wallet-size list of experts willing to give out their home or cell phone numbers and take calls whenever they came in. Reporters could carry the card in their wallets or backpacks. Additional information, including names of other experts, was posted on the UNS web page. That tactic worked well, Kenyon says.

In addition, Kenyon and McCrory traveled to Des Moines to seek out reporters.

“We took 900 copies of a flier that George had developed, listing our experts, to go into the press kits given to accredited media,” Kenyon says. “We went to the hotels where reporters were registered, to the debates, and to other places where we could meet reporters. We went to the Associated Press office in Des Moines, and the next day a story quoting Fred Antczak was in at least 50 newspapers nationwide. It was great to see the effort pay off.”

Overall, she says, the caucus coverage created or perpetuated a positive impression of the University’s responsiveness and professors’ knowledge and accessibility. The resulting goodwill suggests that news media are likely to come back to the University for further information.

“It’s a fascinating process,” Squire says. “I think some of this will carry over into a good impression of Iowa. Now, I’m back to teaching and research, what I normally do, having finished a period of service. It’s fun, and we have useful information to convey that is good for our department and the University.”

by Anne Tanner


Published by University Relations Publications. Copyright the University of Iowa 2003. All rights reserved.


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