Rich Shumate is an assistant professor in the journalism sequence at Western Kentucky University’s School of Media. Winner of the 2019 Margaret Blanchard Dissertation Prize and 2021 Rising Scholar Award, Shumate is AJHA's web editor and co-coordinator of the Joint Journalism and Communication History Conference as well as a member of the Board of Directors and Blanchard Prize Committee.
When and how did you become involved in AJHA?
I first heard about AJHA from Sonny Rhodes, when I was his research assistant in my master’s program at Arkansas-Little Rock. After I moved to Florida to pursue a Ph.D. at the University of Florida, I attended my first convention in St. Petersburg, where I had a bit of an epiphany that “these are my people.” I actually drove home from that convention through the tail end of a hurricane.
You've recently received the Rising Scholar Award for your research on "Style, Spin, and Strategy: The Kennedy Press Conferences." What led you to that topic?
I ran across a website that had been put together by a Kennedy buff that had audio and transcripts of all of the news conferences, so I investigated because I knew the research material would be accessible. The Kennedy news conferences are discussed in every biography of Kennedy and every book about the administration as a seminal development in political communication that changed the way presidents communicate. Yet, once I looked into this, I discovered that no one had published an in-depth scholarly study of them. So I thought this was a great opportunity to extend scholarly knowledge. Another interesting facet of this is that even though these news conferences were considered to be a ground-breaking innovation, no president since Kennedy has done this, which is also something I would like to explore.
How does this research tie into your overall research agenda, including your recent book (stemming from your AJHA award-winning dissertation)?
My research focuses on the news media’s coverage of American politics and how that coverage impacts audiences and political discourse. My book, Barry Goldwater, Distrust in Media, and Conservative Identity: The Perception of Liberal Bias in the News, explores why conservatives came to believe that the news media have a liberal bias, focusing on the early 1960s when conservatives coalesced as a social movement during the Barry Goldwater campaign. I posit a social identity explanation for the phenomenon – that conservatives embrace the belief that the news media have a liberal bias to reinforce their social identity as conservatives. The book was based on my doctoral dissertation that won the Blanchard award in 2019. Given all the research I’ve done about political coverage in the early 1960s, I thought the Kennedy book would be a great fit.
How does your news and editorial background--including your Chicken Fried Politics site--inform your historical research?
One of the reasons that I got interested in liberal bias as a topic is that I know, as a journalist, that the news media do not set out to produce biased content, which raises the question of why conservatives feel that way, which is what I set out to explain in my book. My years covering politics certainly give me a great background to analyze political coverage. My website ChickenFriedPolitics.com covers Southern politics, and Southern conservatives played a significant role in the development of conservatism nationally. So it all goes together.
How does your historical research inform your teaching?
In addition to direct application in teaching media history courses, it also informs media studies/media literacy classes that I teach. The perception of bias and the conservative “fake news” paradigm are topics I cover in those classes, and my research allows me to put a unique perspective on my teaching.
What are some of your hobbies or interests outside of academia?
I am an obsessive college football fan, particularly my beloved Arkansas Razorbacks. When football season is over, I take long drives in the country to fill the void. I also enjoy opera. (That’s kind of a weird combination, right?)