CSU political science professors provide expert opinion for the media

The New York Times, the Denver Post, National Public Radio, the Washington Post and Al Jazeera descend on CSU political science professors with questions about every aspect of the state of the political climate.

“In 2008, we were kidding at one point with the public relations people that I think we had done interviews with reporters on every continent except Antarctica,” said Robert Duffy, the political science department chair.

Calls and emails inundate the political science department in the months leading up to the general election, and the requests mainly filter to three professors: John Straayer, Kyle Saunders and Duffy.

Now the professors are gearing up for what Saunders calls “political science’s World Cup:” the November election. As the race gets closer the amount of media contacts increases to a frenzy.

“There are times, especially during October and November of a presidential election year, when it can get a bit crazy …but, even then, it’s still a lot of fun to talk about these topics,” Saunders said in an email to the Collegian. “One of the main reasons I chose this career was to educate people; working with the media is just another way of providing that service to people who want to learn about politics.”

Each professor has his own area of expertise, and often refer the media to one another when contacted, according to Straayer.

The 2008 election was a phenomenon that produced a deluge of media attention in Colorado, according to Straayer, most notably because it was the site of the Democratic National Convention. Typically, election years produce a steady stream of inquiries that arrive either directly to the professors or through CSU’s Public Relations department.

Straayer likens the media’s discovery of expert sources to a chain letter.

“Pretty soon you get one, two, three, four, five reporters calling you and your name pops up in USA Today or the New York Times or public radio and other people in media look at your name and put you in their rolodex,” Straayer said. “You do what you do and if people quote you and other people need a quote you end up on their call list.”

At the height of 2008, Duffy said he and Saunders received 8 to 10 inquiries per week, and Straayer received many more. This year Duffy receives about two to three inquiries per week, although that likely will increase as the election nears.

“They still come and they’re going to keep coming,” Straayer said.

Balancing one public duty with other commitments like teaching and research can be tricky, according to Straayer. Reporters would sometimes stop by his home to get an interview in 2008, and he had to learn to avoid phone calls right before class so he could focus on teaching. This year it is more manageable.

“Reporters’ deadlines don’t always mesh with your own schedule and so you need to find a way to navigate that,” Duffy said.

Although constant media attention can prove tiresome, it is part of the job description of a professor, according to Straayer.

“I’m happy to do it. It’s my obligation to do it.  Is it some I started out looking for? No, not particularly,” Straayer said. “The world is better off, the United States is better off, if people when they engage in public activities such as voting they know what they’re doing. If we can in any way help to inform the public, I think that’s a good thing.”

Politics Beat Reporter Kate Winkle can be reached at news@collegian.com.