Bradley S. Greenberg: advancing communication research, making a difference.

Author:Gantz, Walter

Bradley S. Greenberg retired from teaching at Michigan State University in May 2004 after a career of four decades. His impact on the field of communication has been wide-reaching. The numbers alone stretch the imagination: More than 200 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters, 10 books, 32 official doctoral advisees, and countless other students on whose committee he gladly served. Yet the numbers alone do not do justice to the career of this scholar: This is a man who cared about underrepresented groups and how they were portrayed in the mass media, whose concerns about the social consequences of media use drove his agenda, and who used social science to give policy makers something on which to build a case for social change.

Greenberg earned a B.S. in Journalism in 1956 from Bowling Green State University and an M.S. in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin a year later. In 1961, he completed his Ph.D. in Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin. After completing postdoctoral work at Stanford University, Greenberg joined the Department of Communication at Michigan State University as an assistant professor in 1964. He quickly earned tenure and rose to full professor in 1971. Greenberg may be one of the few who chaired two departments in the same university: He served as chair of Communication from 1978-1983 and then as c hair of Telecommunication from 1984-1990. In 1990, he earned the title of University Distinguished Professor. Although Michigan State served as his home base throughout his career as a professor, Greenberg also served as a visiting professor at universities across the world and worked as a consultant for--as well as garnered research funds from--a host of major corporations and state and federal government entities.

During the course of his career, Greenberg earned many awards, including the National Association of Broadcasters' Lifetime Achievement Award for Audience Research in 1997. He was elected a Fellow of the International Communication Association (ICA) in 1983, served as president of ICA in 1994-1995, became an ICA Aubrey Fisher Mentorship award winner in 1998, and in 2003, he was honored with ICA's Steve Chaffee Career Productivity Award.

Greenberg's productivity is both admirable and astonishing. Whereas most scholars' careers are characterized by a spike in activity before tenure, and even exceptional researchers undergo fits and spurts of productivity marked by periods of silence, Greenberg continued to produce--without falter--quality research that has informed policy makers, stimulated research activity, and changed the way we think about the mass media. Greenberg did not invest his career pursuing innovative methods for their own sake. Instead, his research was grounded and thoughtful, expertly crafted, carefully analyzed, and easily digested. Greenberg is a skillful writer whose work is accessible to many audiences. His books feature introductory and summary chapters with enough meat to stimulate social scientists and graduate students and, at the same time, be appreciated by undergraduates and the general public.

In addition to being a prolific scholar of the first rank, Greenberg was an accessible mentor who also had a strong competitive streak. Former graduate students recall analyzing data with Greenberg at his home on weekend mornings as well as sharing holiday meals with Greenberg and his family. Those who worked with Greenberg got to know him as a scholar and a man deeply committed to his wife, daughters, and grandchildren. He--and his family--made his students feel welcomed at his home. Greenberg would also meet students on the playing field, where he honed his skills in paddle and racket ball, tennis, and other sports. He took lessons and won his share of trophies. Greenberg had a passion for tennis and a deep appreciation of good theater. On a number of occasions, Greenberg served as faculty coordinator for Michigan State's mass media summer program in London. In addition to working closely with MSU's undergraduates, those trips gave him an opportunity to catch a match or two at Wimbledon and, with his wife, see the best the London stage had to offer.

Combined with his undergraduate and master's degrees in journalism, Greenberg's journalism roots included a stint as a reporter for the Bowling Green Daily Sentinel-Tribune. (Decades later, as a full professor at Michigan State, he served as a television columnist for the Towne Courier in East Lansing, Michigan.) Perhaps as a result, Greenberg's first series of published articles addressed issues salient to journalists, journalism educators, and journalism scholars. It was not long, however, before Greenberg branched out, beginning with his seminal work on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (Greenberg, 1964; Greenberg & Parker, 1965).

In an essay of this length, we cannot even hope to summarize or capture Greenberg's contributions in each of the areas he worked. Instead, we have chosen to highlight four areas in which he made programmatic and substantive contributions: minorities in the media, uses and gratifications, sex and the media, and the diffusion of news. Not all are equal, as Greenberg would admit. Yet they capture a wide range of his interests, skills, and contributions to our field. Without further ado and, mindful of page constraints, we present a sketch of his activity in each of those areas.

The authors thank Charles Atkin, Jane Brown, Jeffrey Brand, Carolyn Lin, and John Sherry for the experiences and insights they shared at an International Communication Association special session in 2004 devoted to Greenberg's career and research contributions.

Minorities and the Mass Media

Greenberg's first significant foray into this area appears to have been in response to a nexus of forces and events that transpired in the 1960s, including the civil rights movement and civil disorder in cities across America. By the 1960s, television was a pervasive component of everyday life. Yet there was almost no solid, empirical evidence examining mass communication and poverty. With colleagues and students, Greenberg gathered data on communication among the urban poor between 1967 and 1969. (Incidentally, Greenberg had a fondness for acronyms. He liked them, and he coined them. This was Project CUP--Communication among the Urban Poor.) Research conducted during that period resulted in a series of journal articles and his first book on the topic: Use of the Mass Media by the Urban Poor (Greenberg & Dervin, 1970). The book was deliberately descriptive, one that would fill a critical void and help poverty program practitioners reach the poor and modify their behaviors. In that sense--at least in 1970--Greenberg had taken a top-down, social action approach. That is, change would come front an external change agent who needed to learn more about the target.

The importance Greenberg placed on conducting research with relevant samples is seen in this book, where in a series of studies, Greenberg and his colleagues directed face-to-face interviews with those in poverty areas, phone interviews with the general population, and self-administered surveys among children and adolescents.

Although this work was primarily descriptive, it also was hypothesis driven. For example, Greenberg predicted and found that low-income Whites and Blacks would have more similar media behaviors with one another than with those living above antipoverty program standards. The poor spent more time with television, were more like to view television as true to life, and compared to other mass media, felt television was the most credible.

As with so much of his work, Use of the Mass Media by the Urban Poor was designed to be a stepping stone on which others would build. The book featured an extensive annotated bibliography as well as a call for more work in the area, including studies on social learning associated with television's portrayal of minorities. It was a call Greenberg would repeatedly make.

Nearly a decade later, again in response to an absence of solid empirical data, Greenberg and MSU colleagues Michael Burgoon, Judee Burgoon, and Felipe Korzenny, sought to examine the mass media and Hispanic Americans. Mexican Americans and the Mass Media (Greenberg, Burgoon, Burgoon, & Korzenny, 1983) reflects a...

To continue reading