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Journalism Professor on CCI Spotlight

Dr. Ed Caudill, a professor in the School of Journalism and Electronic Media was recently interviewed by Amy Blakely for a CCI Spotlight titled Faculty Trailblazers. Read the following interview for a peek at Dr. Caudill’s story and his most recent achievement of receiving a Choice Award for 2014. 

Journalism Professor Ed Caudill doesn’t believe everything he reads. And he wants the aspiring journalists he teaches to be just as skeptical. Caudill spent seven years in the newspaper business before moving into academia. He’s been at UT for thirty years.

“It’s easy to write a story that has two sides—the good guys and the bad guys. Nuance is tough to write about,” he said. As a result, he said, “the media warp the way we perceive people and ideas.” From creationism vs Darwinism to the history of Sherman’s Civil War march, Caudill has spent his career studying the way popular opinion is shaped in the media—how people’s beliefs are swayed by what’s written, whether or not it’s actually true. And he tries to teach his students that a good story isn’t always true and a true story isn’t always good. A perfect example pulled from current events is the recent Rolling Stone account of a graphic sexual assault that allegedly occurred on the University of Virginia campus. The story sparked a mighty uproar about college behavior. But now, holes in the story have made people question how much of it was investigative reporting and how much was fiction. “The failure of Rolling Stone is that they failed to disrupt the narrative. They told the story that everyone expected to hear,” he said.

In his most recent book, Intelligently Designed:How Creationists Built the Campaign against Evolution, Caudill states that evangelical Christians have built a media campaign to discredit science that runs afoul of their literal reading of scripture. One of the reasons the “intelligent design” idea gained such widespread popularity, he said, is because its proponents—evangelical Christians—tend to be really good at talking to the public and media, while scientists typically aren’t as loquacious. Intelligently Designed was selected as one of Choice magazine’s Outstanding Academic Titles for 2014. Peter Gross, director of the School of Journalism and Electronic Media, said the award underscores Caudill’s scholarship. “Being chosen by Choice is almost as good as a Pulitzer,” Gross said.

In the classroom, Caudill said he challenges his journalism students to question everything, to work hard, to embrace the digital world without losing touch. “I think today’s students are brighter than ever,” he said. “But in some ways they’re less mature.” He tries to encourage students to see the things beyond their screens. “You can live in a silo in the digital world,” he said.