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Whitworth journalism professor chosen as finalist for prestigious research award

July 29, 2009
Jim McPherson, associate professor of communication studies at Whitworth, was recently selected as one of six finalists for the esteemed 2008 Frank Luther Mott/Kappa Tau Alpha Research Award for his book, The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media's Role in the Rise of the Right (Northwestern University Press, 2008). Named in honor of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Mott, the annual award is given for the best book on journalism and mass communication based on original research published that year.

Kappa Tau Alpha, the national college honor society, founded in 1910, for scholarship in journalism and mass communication, has recognized research contributions to the field since the inauguration of the award in 1944. The winning author receives a $1,000 prize. Entries are judged by a panel of university professors of journalism and mass communication and national officers of Kappa Tau Alpha.

"Kappa Tau Alpha has been giving the Mott award for 65 years, and it has a great reputation, so that makes the recognition even more gratifying," McPherson says. "Of course, at Whitworth our primary concern is teaching, but I was able to incorporate much of what I learned in writing the book into my classes. I'm pleased that the judges found it to be meaningful research."

In his book, McPherson asserts that while conservative talk radio and Fox News were credited with Republican political gains over the past 30 years, direct mail and strong, nationwide political organization did more to contribute to the Republican resurgence that began with Ronald Reagan in 1980 and continued in 1994 with Republicans taking control of Congress for the first time in 40 years. McPherson also recognizes the parallels between Reagan's and President Barack Obama's rise to popularity through stirring convention speeches and compelling campaign rhetoric.

McPherson began writing the book while working on the seventh and final volume in a history of journalism in America: Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965 to the Present (Praeger Publishers, 2006). His research identified several trends that call into question media's inclination and ability to continue playing the traditional roles of government watchdog and reformer. A former journalist and editor, McPherson argues in his book that mainstream media have failed to cover the resurgence of conservatism adequately and, in many ways, have also become more conservative. He calls on the press to focus greater attention and resources on its role in helping Americans govern themselves.

The winner of the 2008 Mott Award was Kathy Roberts Forde, author of Literary Journalism on Trial: Masson v. 'New Yorker' and the First Amendment. Steven Casey took second place for Selling the Korean War: Propaganda, Politics and Public Opinion 1950-1953. Other finalists were Janice Peck for The Age of Oprah: Cultural Icon for the Neoliberal Era; Loren Ghiglione for CBS's Don Hollenbeck: An Honest Reporter in the Age of McCarthyism; and Jan Whitt for Women in American Journalism: A New History.

McPherson teaches mass-media history, media criticism and journalism skills at Whitworth. He holds an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science from Washington State University and has written on a variety of topics, focusing primarily on American journalism since 1960.

Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private liberal arts university affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). The university enrolls 2,600 students in more than 50 undergraduate and graduate programs.


Jim McPherson, associate professor of communication studies, Whitworth University, (509) 777-4429 or

Emily Proffitt, public information officer, Whitworth University, (509) 777-4703 or