As I pulled a grain cart across the fields in a 1981 4640 John Deere tractor to meet the combines loaded with wheat, snot ran down my face and my eyes constantly leaked, mixing with the torrents of sweat and causing the dust swirling in the cab to stick to my skin. Even though there was no air conditioning, the windows were closed to try to keep the dirt out and save me from my allergies.
To help pass the time, I listened to music on my phone, but when my phone died, I turned to the radio. The built-in radio had quit working some years back, but there was a portable, battery-operated stereo in the cab. I snapped it on and twisted the dial around. I was greeted with country music and the voices of conservative talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh, and not much else.
Even though it happened in 2013, this experience stuck with me because I found it fascinating.
What’s interesting about talk radio is that though there have been both conservative and liberal talk radio, conservative talk radio succeeded, and liberal talk radio has, essentially, died.
Although, now with podcasts, one might argue that liberal commentators have a platform of their own.
Regardless, though, that’s always been interesting to me. Why did that work? Why did conservative talk radio work and liberal talk radio didn’t? After all, both sides of the political spectrum have television channels and printed products, but, in this one medium, there was this difference.
In the Fall of 2020, I started pursuing my Ph.D. in Leadership Communication at Kansas State University, and now I am working on my dissertation research project that will allow me to earn my degree. In planning my research, I knew I wanted to study journalism and media, and I wanted to focus on Kansas because it feels like the state is often ignored in research, either because people view it as being the middle of nowhere or due to some other perception.
The same can be said for rural areas in general. They get ignored because that’s not where, perhaps, some of these people doing the research or doing the reporting, if they’re a journalist, are at, and it seems they don’t make a good effort to get out to those parts.
I haven’t forgotten about my stint as a farmer, and I wanted my research to focus on rural individuals and how they interact with the news and the media.
After all, think about the 2016 election. The media had all but called the election in favor of Hillary Clinton before a single vote had been cast, but they hadn’t really got out there and talked to rural individuals, who seemed to be one of the driving forces behind Donald Trump’s win.
As someone who pays close attention to the world of journalism, I wonder about the news consumption habits of rural individuals, especially as they relate to political beliefs.
Do their beliefs stem from the news they consume? Or do they consume certain types of news because of their beliefs? It’s a “chicken or egg” question.
Then factor in the spread of misinformation — inaccurate and unreliable information — permeating society, and a whole new wrinkle is added. How do people know or decide what information they can trust? Are partisan media outlets seeding the fields of information that create a news diet lacking nutritional value?
I’m trying to answer these questions and more with my research, which I’m calling “Cultivating Misinformation.”
As I hope to graduate this spring, I’m at the stage in my research where I’m trying to wrap up data collection, which I’m doing through two methods: an online survey and interviews.
Currently, I desperately need more people to take my survey. As of this writing, I still need 230 survey respondents to make it valid. So, I could use your help.
If you are reading this and would be willing to complete my survey, please visit https://cultivatingmisinformation.com/survey/.
The survey is completely anonymous, and, at the end of the survey, you can enter a drawing for one of two $50 Amazon gift cards. Just complete the survey by March 12 to be eligible.
You can also sign up to be interviewed if you are so inclined. I could really use more female representation in my interview data.
I hope you’ll consider participating, but even if you don’t, I hope you see the value in this topic and the importance of making rural voices heard.
Todd Vogts is a native of Canton, a resident of McPherson County, and an assistant professor of media at Sterling College. He can be contacted with questions or comments via his website at www.toddvogts.com.