Dr. Madeleine Liseblad is an assistant professor at MTSU. Before joining MTSU’s School of Journalism and Strategic Media, she taught journalism and public relations at Arizona State’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. In addition to MTSU and ASU, she has taught at Oregon State University, Point Loma Nazarene University and Ashford University. She earned a Ph.D. in journalism and mass communication from Arizona State University, a master’s degree in communication studies from California State University-Sacramento, and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Point Loma Nazarene University.
She worked in public relations for 15 years, including serving as a corporate spokesperson for Volvo Cars at its world headquarters in Sweden, as well as a media events manager for Volvo Cars of North America. She has also been a corporate communications director for an American portable hot tub manufacturer. Before that, she was a journalist who worked in television, radio, newspapers, magazines and online media. She is originally from Sweden and has worked extensively in Europe, as well as the U.S. Liseblad is involved with the American Journalism Historians Association, the Broadcast Education Association and the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. She is the current membership co-chair for AEJMC’s history division, on the Fulbright Specialists roster,as well as being a PhDigital Bootcamp Fellow, MTSU Academy of Teaching Excellence Faculty Fellow, and a Kopenhaver Center Fellow.
She spoke with Beverly Keel about being raised on Swedish TV news, her research of television news in the United Kingdom, and utilizing the Center for Popular Music’s archives.
Your area of research is centered on television news. Tell me your early memories of watching television news and how that captured your curiosity.
I was born and raised in Sweden, so growing up I only had access to two channels of public service television–—Swedish Television’s (SVT) Channel 1 and Channel 2. My parents watched the evening news every night and most nights they would watch both Aktuellt and Rapport—SVT’s main newscasts. As a child, I watched television news with my family and read the newspaper every morning. My parents believed in the value of journalism and that’s where I think I got my love for journalism. I knew from the time I was 6 that I wanted to be a journalist, but my fascination doesn’t really come from watching television news; it comes from the notion of storytelling and providing information more than anything
: When and why did you decide to pursue this area of research?
: I am sort of a weird contradiction. I like history because the methodology reminds me of being an investigative reporter. I get to tell forgotten stories, based on primary sources and interviews; it’s storytelling which is what I love. But, I’m also fascinated by new media and technology. For me, research is really about what interests me—the opportunities I find—and if I can fit it into what I already know in terms of methodologies or theories. And if I don’t have the expertise to pursue a topic, then I find someone who has the expertise and work with them.
What are some new topics you are considering researching?
I am working on too many projects right now, so I am trying to avoid looking at new topics. However, I am hoping to continue my research on American television news consultants in Europe in the 1990s. And one of my research partners and I have some ideas for follow-up research projects, based on what we’re doing now, looking at social media and television news anchors and reporters.
You have a book that has been accepted into production. What can you tell us about it? What are some themes or topics that you address?
The book—based on my dissertation—is going to be a part of Peter Lang’s “Mediating American History” series. It focuses on television news changes in the United Kingdom in the 1990s and how it became similar to American news. In the 1990s, privatization swept Europe and countries allowed private, commercial television stations which meant public television stations now had competition. In the UK, the situation was slightly different as they had commercial television—called Independent Television (ITV)—back in the 1950s already, but it wasn’t commercial television as we know it; it was too heavily regulated by the government. In 1991, the UK government saw an opportunity to make money. Instead of writing a report and getting your regional ITV broadcasting license renewed, the government held an auction where financial bids became the main criteria, although there was a quality threshold too. The franchise auction was competitive and watched by industry folks around the world. But not many know that American news consultants from Frank N. Magid Associates were active in 11 of the 16 ITV regions at the time of the auction. Traditionally the work of the television news consultants was kept secret because much of what they did was proprietary. In the UK, there was an added layer of secrecy because the consultants were Americans. Leading up to the franchise auction, meetings rooms were often swept for listening devices and code names were used; it was that hush hush. In addition to ITV companies, Magid was even inside the BBC—inside what’s considered the gold standard for public service broadcasting—because the BBC needed to become better aligned with the demands of the marketplace. I used exclusive archival material from Magid and added interviews with both Magid staff and UK journalists. I looked at all aspects of the newscast and how it changed to become more aligned with our traditional television news format. I also examined the forces in society that helped push it towards a more commercial format. In the end, it was about what was considered better television storytelling by Magid staff and UK journalists.
What has the process of writing that book been like?
It has been personally rewarding, but also incredibly exhausting. I was fortunate enough that I pitched just one publisher and had a contract a week later. While I had the bulk of the material already, I needed to do significant additional research. It put pressure on me because I had to write most of it during my first year at MTSU. Basically last year my weekends were spent either writing or doing research. I also found that while I certainly love the topic, because I had just done it as my dissertation, I was definitely ready to move on to something new once I finished the manuscript. I am very fortunate when it comes to mentors. Not only had my dissertation committee provided manuscript input, but I also relied heavily on Dr. Mike Conway, a broadcast historian at Indiana University, and Dr. Greg Pitts here at MTSU. All my mentors were good at pointing out areas that I needed to strengthen which made the manuscript approval process easier.
I was thrilled to see that you utilized our Center for Popular Music archives to write "Breaking the Billboard Magazine Mold: The Barbra Streisand, Michael Jackson and Julio Iglesias Super Specials." You will present this project conducted with Dr. Greg Pitts at the Joint Journalism and Communications History Conference. What can you tell us about this research? How did you discover this topic? What does your research explore?
Looking at the Lee Zhito archival material was Dr. Pitts’ idea. He reached out to Olivia Beaudry and she was a great help in terms of pulling the material we needed. This particular topic was discovered by just looking through the files. Traditionally, Billboard had a very text heavy front page with not many photos, but in the early 1980s that changed. The Dec. 10, 1983 issue—“The Legend of Barbra Streisand” —had a full photo of Streisand on the cover and it was a great success. The issue brought Billboard advertising revenue and it was a significant sales tool in the marketing campaign of Streisand, her movie Yentl and its accompanying soundtrack. Two other super special issues followed—“The Saga of Michael Jackson” on July 21, 1984, and “The World of Julio Iglesias” on Aug. 11, 1984. Jackson personally approved his photos and copy, timed with the beginning of the Victory Tour, featuring all Jackson brothers. The Iglesias issue dropped at the same time as his new album—performed mostly in English and considered his breakthrough in English-speaking markets—and the subsequent tour. These super issues were sent to subscribers and sold on newsstands and they changed the style of the Billboard covers.
You also partnered with Dr. Pitts to create “Shaping Billboard Magazine: Lee Zhito’s Rise from Part-time Writer to Vice President, 1945 to 1993,” based on the Center for Popular Music archives. How did you pick this topic? What have you discovered?
This was our first Billboard topic because there is a lot of material in the archives that tells us who Lee Zhito was as a person, as a journalist, and as a Billboard boss. In this research paper we trace Zhito’s start at Billboard as a part-time writer till the end when he became an independent contractor. We also look at his ethics and journalistic values. He was really a journalist but learned to understand the business side as he grew in the Billboard ranks.
Additional research includes “’We Find Ourselves Struggling Again:’ Examining Framing of Athletes and Domestic Violence in The Athletic,” with Dr. Matt Taylor. What can you tell us about this research? What made you want to delve into this subject?
Dr. Taylor and I have been trying to figure out a research project that we could do together, looking at something either PR- or sports-related. This research is an exploratory case study using framing theory to examine coverage of domestic violence in The Athletic between 2017 and 2019. We found the topic interesting and could use a methodology and theory we were both comfortable with. Before 2014, no major sports league had a policy that addressed domestic violence. In 1997, the O.J. Simpson case brought attention to domestic violence and professional athletes, but it really wasn’t till the 2014 Ray Rice incident that we began seeing domestic violence policies. Dr. Taylor and I are looking at how discourse may vary between professional sports leagues based on their respective policies or lack thereof. The NFL, MLB and the NBA have a policy, but the NHL doesn’t.
You will present “Controlling Personal Narratives While Balancing Professional Branding: Decisions and Motivations Behind Broadcast Journalists’ Health Disclosures,” at the upcoming BEA conference. What can you tell us about this project that is done in conjunction with University of South Carolina Prof. Kirstin Pellizzaro?
For this study, we’re conducting qualitative interviews to add to social media data from Dr. Pellizzaro’s dissertation. We’re examining why TV anchors and reporters decide to disclose health or hardship issues online and what goes into the decision to disclose, how much to disclose etc. We’re also looking at this in terms of the traditional role of a journalist and how that role has changed with social media.
You are working on research with Leslie-Jean Thornton (Arizona State) centered on former NBC anchor Brian Williams. He has had an interesting career trajectory, to say the least. What can you tell us about your research? What have you learned about Brian?
This goes back to the 2015 admission that Brian Williams had not been in a military helicopter that was hit by enemy fire during the Iraq invasion. Williams said he had not remembered the events correctly and was subsequently removed from NBC Nightly News. The incident resulted in memes and various hashtags on Instagram and Twitter, for example, #BrianWilliamsMemories and #BrianWilliamsMisremembers. Even today whenever there is a big incident, Brian Williams memes and hashtags pop up. Dr. Thornton and I are using journalism boundary work to examine what these memes tell us about what the audience thinks a journalist should be and how they should act.
You clearly are a master at collaborating with others on research. What advice do you have for faculty who would like to do that? Are there do's and don'ts? How do you come up with a system that works in terms of equity in workload, quality, etc?
I wouldn’t call myself a master at collaboration, but I think the key is to be open and honest right from the start about who is doing what. You want to play to the key strengths of each researcher. I have been fortunate enough in my collaborations that it’s been easy to divide the workload. I would say that you need to figure out who the first author is going to be early because that person should carry the bulk of the workload.
In addition to your book, you also are writing a chapter for a Routledge book and an article in American Journalism. What can you tell us about them?
The book chapter is in the Routledge Companion to Local Media and Journalism (https://www.routledge.com/The-Routledge-Companion-to-Local-Media-and-Journalism-1st-Edition/Gulyas-Baines/p/book/9780815375364) that will be published this April. My chapter focuses on the development of the American local television news format with Eyewitness News and Action News in the 1960s and 1970s. For American Journalism, my article focuses on the driving and restraining forces in the UK that helped or hindered the development of television news in the 1990s. It will be published this summer and some of the information is also in a section of my book.
What changes do you see coming in TV news that we should know about?
I mainly look at history, so I am not a good person to answer a question about where the industry is going. But it will be interesting to see what transpires as appointment viewing (sitting down to watch a newscast at a particular time) becomes obsolete. The TV news audience is still large, but it’s the older demographic. At some point soon we’ll see the switch where most people no longer get their news from television.
What advice do you have for us in terms of finding time to research and write, and/or pitching your research to various publications?
I think the key is to have a regular set time and day that you devote to research and writing. It will help ensure that you actually do it.
What do you do when you aren't working?
I try to get outside as much as I can, either to walk or ride my bike. I also tend to travel a lot.
What television journalists do you most admire and why? Can you now watch TV like the rest of us, or are you always analyzing the whys and hows of what they do?
Network journalists tend to get all the glory, but I admire local television reporters. For example, my former colleague Deirdre Fitzpatrick at KCRA-TV in Sacramento. She is an anchor, a reporter, a podcaster and she has really embraced social media and uses it well. I think the demands on local television journalists have increased tremendously and she is someone who navigates that environment really well. I actually don’t have a television and watch everything on my laptop. I am not as bad as I used to be after getting out of broadcasting, but every now and then I still yell to “drop the CG” because something is misspelled or “you’re hot” to a reporter who doesn’t know he or she is live. That’s the producer in me and that will probably always be there.