Betty Houchin Winfield has earned a reputation for her fascinating and illuminating research, whether it concerns the roles that the media play in the reputations of such public personas as presidential candidates’ wives or those individuals who undertook the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery expedition. As a University Curators’ Professor, based in the School of Journalism, she also looks at the media’s building of “social capital” in the United States, that is, people actively participating in the democratic process. In contrast to those naysayers who claim there has been a decline in social capital in the U.S., Winfield examines how the internet may reverse this trend. In fact, many internet sites actually stimulate “bridging and bonding” of like-minded individuals that seems to result in people becoming more politically involved.
Winfield’s current book project on public perception before the advent of public opinion polls and the national media. Reputation-building and the development of the hero designation in nineteenth-century U.S. as revealed by the media coverage of the Corps of Discovery expedition along with other public references, such as textbooks, maps, trail guides, histories, and children’s books.
Winfield discusses differences in the processes of celebrity hero-ification today.