Media Coverage of War

Dr. Scott Althaus
Associate Professor; jointly appointed in Political Science
Joined the department in 1996

Did you know professors can “double major”? Well, Dr. Althaus isn’t exactly double majoring, but he does have a joint appointment in the Department of Communication and the Department of Political Science. From this unique position, Dr. Althaus is able to pursue research interests in multiple fields, such as the effects of advertising in presidential elections. We sat down with Dr. Althaus to get an insider’s look at his work and the advantages of a joint appointment that bridges academic disciplines.

1. How did you become interested in war, media coverage, and public opinion?
After graduating from high school and before attending college, I enlisted in the Army and served for three years. Some experiences during that time led me to become interested in the disjuncture between what the news reports and what actually happens in the world, and that interest eventually led me to pursue graduate studies in political communication. My current research on media coverage and public opinion brings me back to the topics that first led me to become a professor.

2. You have analyzed news coverage about war spanning the past 100 years (from World War I to the Iraqi War). What implications can be drawn from your findings?
Although the circumstances of these major wars are unique, all of them have been reported in similar ways through the news. The kind of war reporting we get from Iraq and Afghanistan today is in many ways quite like the kind of war reporting we got during the two world wars. And even though we have television today, they had newsreels back then. The newsreels showed moving images of war that are just as graphic and compelling as the most dramatic combat footage we see on television today.

3. What are the benefits of your joint appointment with the Department of Communication and the Department of Political Science? What advice do you have for how students interested in both can get the best of both departments?
The main benefit is that I get to interact with exceptionally talented faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate students from two departments instead of just one. For undergraduate students, getting the best of both departments often involves getting into the high-demand classes at the 300 and 400 levels. Those who double major will have an easier time enrolling into these high-demand classes. Majoring in one and minoring in the other is another way to improve your chances of getting in to the classes you especially want to takes.

4.What is one thing you would like undergraduates to know about your research, your findings, or your role as a professor?
Like most professors, I love what I do for a living. Teaching, research, and public engagement are all part of the reason why I became a professor. So undergraduates should know that getting a chance to meet them during office hours is something I look forward to. Even though our university is a large and potentially impersonal institution, make the most of your time at Illinois and meet with your professors outside of the classroom. When I was an undergraduate, meeting with my favorite professors in office hours was one of the factors that led me to pursue academics as a career.