Distinguished scholar lecture explores communication and new media

Global leaders use stories to explain their successes and failures, but in an age of social media and cell phones, that’s no longer easy to do. For Laura Roselle, who shared her work Monday in Elon University’s annual Distinguished Scholar Award Lecture, understanding this change is crucial for researchers who study how and why political messages help people make sense of their world.

An overflow crowd filled McKinnon Hall for the lecture, with students, faculty, staff and dozens of local community members listening to Roselle share her work in a talk titled “Constructing a New World Order: Strategic Narratives and International Communication in the Post-Cold War Era.”

Roselle received the 2009 Distinguished Scholar Award for her contributions in the academic world. The award was established in 2000 to recognize a faculty member whose research has earned peer commendation and respect and who has made significant contribution to his or her field of study.

Roselle, a political science professor, reviewed current work in the field of political communications. Narrative storytelling, she said, helps people explain past events and predict future happenings.

“It helps us have a context for understanding political leaders, for perhaps the votes we may choose to cast for political candidates, for policies in our own communities that we may or may not support,” she said. “More than anything this means we must learn to understand media messages across a range of platforms, and we must understand issues of credibility and judgment as different political actors attempt to communicate strategically with particular goals in mind.”

Forty years ago, American political leaders relied primarily on three television networks and newspapers. Today, Roselle said, there are countless ways for people to communicate and to receive messages – social media web sites, cable news, cell phones – on top of traditional media.

“A speech by a political leader can now take on a life of its own in a way unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before as messages are edited, filtered, framed around the world in blogs, on cable news and in tweets,” she said. “This challenges of the ability of political elites to construct our understanding of the international system in some ways while also allowing them more messages.”

Roselle pointed to President Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008 as one example of the way messaging has changed. She said that Obama’s opponents are also using new communication methods to express their views and to rally others.

This type of communication is where Roselle said her scholarship is focused. “The new media environment focuses our attention on all kinds of new research questions,” she said. “For example, the new media environment contains a greater number of messages, to be sure, but you can see it’s a tidal wave of information.

“I’ve always found this area of political communication fascinating.”

Having studied the role of the media in politics for more than two decades, Roselle specializes in international political communication. She earned undergraduate degrees in math, computer science and Russian from Emory University where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.

She worked as an intern at the Carter Center during her undergraduate studies, and later continued her work with the Carter Center as assistant director of the program on Soviet Media and International Communication. Roselle holds a master’s degree and doctorate in political science from Stanford University, where she served as a teaching assistant to Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. Secretary of State.

Roselle is a major figure among international scholars of political communication, having recently completed a term as president of the International Communication Section of the International Studies Association. She is currently the program chair for the Political Communication Section of the American Political Science Association’s annual Political Communication Conference to be held in Washington, D.C., in September.

Roselle has published articles and book reviews in leading journals, including the Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics, and in the American Behavioral Scientist. Her edited volumes include books on media and democracy and media and elections.

In 2006, she published Media and the Politics of Failure: Great Powers, Communication Strategies, and Military Defeats. In 2007, she collaborated with fellow Elon professor Sharon Spray to publish Research and Writing in International Relations, a supplementary text for students studying international relations and comparative politics.