Obituary: Professor Jay Blumler, political academic

Professor Jay Blumler, who has died at 96 in Leeds, was an internationally recognised figure in political communication, having done much to establish the subject as a mainstream academic field in Britain during the 1960s. He published numerous books, including the 1995 work, The Crisis of Public Communication.

Prof Jay Blumler

Professor Jay Blumler, who has died at 96 in Leeds, was an internationally recognised figure in political communication, having done much to establish the subject as a mainstream academic field in Britain during the 1960s. He published numerous books, including the 1995 work, The Crisis of Public Communication.

He was both emeritus professor of public communication at Leeds University and emeritus professor of journalism at the University of Maryland, and a fellow and former president of the International Communication Association. In 2006 he was given a lifetime achievement award by the American Political Science Association.

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Born in New York in February 1924, his father remained a Marxist in the United States and his mother a strident supporter of President Roosevelt’s New Deal during the Great Depression.

He studied at Antioch College in Ohio, a liberal university which had been the first in America to receive women and blacks. He credited the institution with shaping his fundamental humanism.

He enlisted in the US army in 1944, as an interpreter in Russian. After the liberation of Berlin, he became president of the American Veterans’ Committee of the city,in which capacity he was invited to take tea with the former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who had heard of the charity work his committee had done.

He came to Britain in 1949 to teach political theory at Ruskin College, Oxford, and stayed there until 1963 when he was appointed by Leeds University as Granada Television Research Fellow. He helped pioneer the new science known as Uses and Gratifications Theory, which seeks to understand how and why consumers actively seek out specific mass media to satisfy different needs. Particularly ground-breaking was his research on how voters responded to the relatively new area of television election coverage.

In 1966 he established the Centre for Television Research and became Leeds University’s first Professor of Public Communication in 1978. He retired in 1989 but continued to publish prolifically as well as teaching for one semester each year at the University of Maryland. The annual Jay Blumler lecture was set up in his honour in 2007, attracting leading academics and practitioners from across the world.

He also continued to give lectures to students at Leeds until 2019, invariably ending them with a song delivered with a rich baritone voice.

He is survived by his sons Matthew, Mark and Luke, daughter Jackie and his grandchildren. His wife, Gina, died in 2004