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My participation in the Penn Undergraduate Research Mentoring (PURM) program this past summer was an interesting and meaningful experience. I worked at the Annenberg Public Policy Center on the Civility Project, which involved tracking markers of incivility across time to investigate how civility in the media and government has changed. The various components of the project focused on aspects such as the manner in which cable news talk shows cover uncivil content as well as incivility in Congress revealed through the use of particular language.
The specific aspect of the overall project that I worked on was a study on interruptions of sitting presidents by the mainstream press. The goal of my work was to gain insight into whether the relationship between reporters and presidents has become less deferential, and this was examined through an analysis of interruptions during interviews across time. My research involved comparing several aspects of the interview transcripts to decipher overall trends, utilizing both quantitative and qualitative means. The analysis used 51 transcripts of nationally aired TV or cable interviews conducted over a period of 36 years with 7 sitting presidents (Gerald Ford – Barack Obama).
Overall, the findings of my work supported the idea that the relationship between reporters and presidents has become less deferential over time. More specifically, my analysis of the transcripts indicated that interviewers have become more likely to interrupt a president’s answer to a question than they were in the past. I found that the number of interruptions per interview jumped in the 1990s during Clinton’s presidency, and it has increased during subsequent presidencies. Another finding of my study was that interruption-free interviews have become less frequent than in the past, and that with the increase in interruptions has come an increased likelihood that a president will object to being interrupted. The last component of my analysis was determining whether the location of the interview (ie. whether in the White House or on location/in studio) influenced how frequently the interviewer interrupted the interviewee, and the results indicated that the setting of the interview does not account for the change in the pattern of interruptions over time.
In addition to gaining in-depth knowledge about an area of interest, participating in PURM gave me the opportunity to develop strong research skills that will be useful in future research, academic coursework, and various careers. Through the program, I also received excellent mentoring and now have an additional resource to help guide my future endeavors in the communication and political science fields. Overall, I feel that my experience with the PURM program through CURF was invaluable, and I highly recommend the program for students seeking a way to get involved in research under the mentorship of Penn faculty.