Michael Wagner is Professor and Louis A. Maier Faculty Development Fellow at the University of Wisconsin Madison’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication. In terms of teaching at the graduate level, Wagner teaches seminars in Political Communication and the Physiological Foundations of Political Behavior. He also teaches an “approaches and issues” style seminar called Mass Communication and the Individual. His recent graduate students accept tenure-track positions at Indiana University (in the Media School), Virginia Tech, Virginia Commonwealth University and Hong Kong Baptist University. At the undergraduate level, he teaches Media and Political Behavior, Media Bias in U.S. Politics, Fact-Checking Journalism, In-Depth Reporting, and Communication & Public Opinion. His fact-checking class feeds into the fact-checking news site he publishes called The Observatory. They have published more than 50 fact-checks on Wisconsin lawmakers and have been featured by PBS and Wisconsin Public Television and Wisconsin Public Radio. In 2019, Wagner won the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award at UW. According to Wagner, “I believe teaching can also serve as an act of public service, so I give a great number of talks across Wisconsin and the nation.” To this end, he has given talks to alumni groups in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Austin, San Antonio, Seattle, Portland, Milwaukee, Green Bay, and other smaller towns in Wisconsin. In recognition of those efforts, he was awarded the Ken and Linda Ciriacks Alumni Outreach Award in 2018.
When it comes to his research agenda, Wagner is engaged in five major lines of research: First, he is completing a book manuscript with IU Professor Ted Carmines and Mike Ensley called Beyond the Left-Right Divide: How the Multidimensional Character of Mass Policy Preferences Affects American Politics. In addition to the manuscript that they are wrapping up, the project has produced three articles and three book chapters in edited volumes. Second, with faculty and graduate student members of the Civic Culture and Contentious Political group at UW-Madison, Wagner is studying the dynamics of the Wisconsin media ecology in the 21st century in order to understand how Wisconsin politics has arrived at the contentious, polarized state in which it currently finds itself. To date, the project has produced publications in Journal of Communication, Human Communication Research and The Good Society. They have also published two articles in Vox and op-eds in local papers in Wisconsin with data from our project. Notably, the project has raised nearly $800,000 in grant support. Third, he is studying framing and information flow at the national level with a former student, and current professor in the IU Media School, Mike Gruszczynski. They have articles in Journalism and Communication Monographs, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, and Mass Communication and Society. Fourth, he is the antecedent to news coverage via survey experiments of American journalists who cover politics. Wagner gave a keynote lecture in 2017 at the Chicago Area Behavior Workshop (CAB) at Northwestern last year to debut the project. Finally, he is studying how partisanship influences the acceptance of fact-checking journalism and news credibility more generally. With former students Mike Mirer, Megan Duncan and Mallory Perryman and current students Jordan Foley and Jianing Li, we have published work in Newspaper Research Journal and have several papers at advanced stages of review – with Perryman, we have a book, Mediated Democracy: Communication and Citizenship in the 21st Century, forthcoming at CQ Press.
Wagner strongly feels that his time at IU prepared him well for his academic career. He notes “seminars with Ted Carmines, Margie Hershey and Jerry Wright taught me about the field while simultaneously teaching me how to approach building my own research agenda so that I could meaningfully contribute to knowledge.” He also feels that the graduate program’s allowance of a more creative outside minor enabled him to learn from fields like journalism and social psychology – areas that are crucially important to his work.
Wagner adds, “Ted, Margie and Jerry, along with Jeff Isaac, Eileen Braman, Lauren Morris MacLean and others were absolutely central to helping me think about what kind of professor I wanted to be, how I would approach teaching and service, collaboration, mentoring, departmental citizenship and public outreach. Ted really taught me how to turn a literature on its head, which continues to inspire my more creative theoretical and empirical impulses. He also continues to teach me about the joys of collaborating. Margie taught me about the importance of depth and connections, both within and between literatures, and how to give strong feedback in affirming ways. Jerry made sure I learned how to think about data, how evidence without theory does not last and that managing big, collaborative projects can be really fun. Jeff and Margie showed me how my work could have many audiences. Ted, Margie, Eileen and Lauren showed me a variety of effective ways to mentor – all rooted in caring about the welfare of the student. I steal regularly from each of their toolkits to the benefit of my students. While I cannot repay what IU has given me, I can pay it forward, which is what I try to do every day of my life.”