Upcoming speaker at Davidson will explain lure of the media

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One of the nation’s leading scholars in media and communication studies, Jennings F. Bryant, will present the annual McGaw Lecture at his alma mater, Davidson College, on Tuesday evening, April 13.

There is no charge to attend the talk, titled “Why Did I Just Watch That?” which begins at 7 p.m. in Duke Family Performance Hall. For more information call 704-894-2445.

Bryant is the Distinguished Research Professor and Associate Dean of the College of Communication and Information Sciences at the University of Alabama, and Director of its Institute for Communication Research.

In his talk at Davidson, Bryant will combine research findings with theoretical concepts from Aristotle, Freud and recent communication and cognitive psychology to explain the appeal of traditional and new types of media. He will also indicate some relatively unknown rationales for “guilty pleasures” in the entertainment arena.

Bryant, a 1967 Davidson graduate, earned a Master of Divinity degree in Communications and Counseling summa cum laude from the Louisville Theological Seminary. He received his Ph.D. in Mass Communication, again summa cum laude, from Indiana University.

A prolific and distinguished scholar who has published more than 200 articles in leading journals, he was instrumental in the formative stages of the Children’s Television Workshop and Sesame Street. He served as President of the International Communication Association and has been named a Distinguished Scholar of the Broadcast Education Association. A superb and lively public speaker, he has won several teaching awards, including this year’s Burnum Distinguished Faculty Award from the University of Alabama.

His varied background allows him to bring valuable professional experience into the classroom. In his younger years, he was a Spencer Fellow at Children’s Television Workshop (now Sesame Workshop) where he worked on Sesame Street and The Electric Company. He wrote for children’s television programs throughout the 1970s and 1980s. He also founded and sold two companies that produced specialty television programs, and through the years served as a consultant to more than 45 major media companies.
From 1990 through August 2004, under Bryant’s leadership the University of Alabama’s Institute for Communication Research worked with federal and state agencies, foundations, and more than 60 corporate clients and performed about $8 million in studies to help them address a wide range of communication issues and problems. The institute presented more than 200 reports to clients including the United States Department of Education on the TI-IN United Star Network, to Lawrence Erlbaum Associates on textbook curriculum analysis, to the Children’s Television Workshop on television violence issues, to Nick Jr. on the effects of viewing particular programs, and to Southern Progress Corporation on readership studies.

He conducted a major research project in 1989 funded by the National Association of Broadcasters about the effects of TV violence on young viewers, and continues to research on this topic, as well as the effects of the use of entertainment in educational television. He has also researched and provided commentary on the commercialization of children’s television and the use of children’s programming to sell goods.

Bryant’s contributions in terms of media effects include coediting with Dolf Zillmann the 2002 volume Media Effects: Advances in Theory and Research, which is used in mass communication theory classes worldwide. His 1983 book with Dan Anderson titled Children’s Understanding of Television: Research on Attention and Comprehension is still one of the most frequently cited books on media and children. In 2001 Bryant and his daughter Alison wrote the second edition of Television and the American Family. He continues to be among the most prolific of scholars, publishing four books during the first half of 2006 alone.

He also coedits a series of scholarly books and advanced textbooks for the publishing firm of Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, many of which have won major awards.

His visit to Davidson, which will include a workshop for faculty about how digital media has altered the way young people think and act, is sponsored by the college’s Public Lectures Committee.

Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,800 students located 20 minutes north of Charlotte in Davidson, N.C. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently regarded as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Through The Davidson Trust, the college became the first liberal arts institution in the nation to replace loans with grants in all financial aid packages, giving all students the opportunity to graduate debt-free. Davidson competes in NCAA athletics at the Division I level, and a longstanding Honor Code is central to student life at the college.

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