Napoli returns to Rutgers with passion for audience research

By Nyasa Jackson

Dr. Philip Napoli Photo by Nyasa Jackson
Dr. Philip Napoli
Photo by Nyasa Jackson

Dr. Philip Napoli isn’t a Rutgers graduate. Yet he is a figure poised to make a difference in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies as its newest faculty member. He joined the department in January as a full-time professor teaching Mass Media Management and Communications Law.

Napoli’s scholarship is in audience research, and he has published three books to date. The most recent is Audience Evolution: New Technologies and the Transformation of Media Audiences (2011).

He often shares his knowledge in formal and informal testimonies in front of the U.S. Senate, the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commiss­ion.

“Those can get you nervous,” he said with a chuckle. “You get invited to come down to D.C., and they ask you a bunch of questions, and you offer the best answers you can. You’re only picked to be the expert if someone has vetted you and decided they think what you say is going to be okay.”

Most of Napoli’s expertise was developed at the Fordham University School of Business, where he taught for the last 15 years. But actually, this isn’t his first gig at Rutgers. In 1997, Napoli joined SC&I as an assistant professor in the Communication Department. It was his first teaching position after earning his doctorate from Northwestern University. Napoli wasn’t sure if he’d find any job after graduation, and the opportunity to join the Rutgers community “was fantastic,” he said. “To be near New York, to be at a really good school with good faculty, very strong research orientation. All those things were just what I was looking for.”

What made him return to Rutgers after all these years? For Napoli, it was aligning himself with people who shared the same interests as he. At Fordham he was teaching courses such as Issues in Information Policy and Mass Media in America.

“It was okay for a while,” recalled Napoli.

However, Napoli continued, “It became really important to be somewhere that had a Ph.D. program, because I didn’t have a chance to teach and work with doctoral students. I was in a business school, and so there weren’t a lot of colleagues who shared my interests. And that got old after a while. I wanted to be around people who do the kinds of things that I do and think the kind of things that I think are interesting.”

It feels as though he never left. Sure, some of the infrastructure has changed since he was last here, but Napoli appreciates Rutgers’ welcoming him back with open arms.

“Oh yes!” he said enthus­iastically. “It’s just so neat to see people whom I was pals with my first go around — Steve Miller, Jack Grasso (professor of Communications), Jon Oliver (assistant dean for IT). It’s like going back home in some ways.”

He added that sometimes people leave places and “bridges get burned. But they didn’t get too upset at me for leaving, and they were nice enough to have me back.”

In the classroom, his passion for teaching is very evident.

His Mass Media Management course focuses on “issues with business models and strategy and how different industry sectors adapt to new technologies and monetize content,” Napoli explained. “It is very practical stuff, I think.”

The subject matter is similar to the material he taught at Fordham. His research is grounded in media regulation and policy. He also delves into audiences and “how media industries deal with audiences, how audiences are measured, how audiences are bought and sold, how they are valued.”

Although Napoli is the professor, he learns just as much from the students as they do from him.

He said, “It’s much more of an exchange. It ends being a natural outgrowth of my research, and I can tell people things that I am learning and get their feedback.”

It wasn’t until Napoli com­ple­ted his undergraduate work at UC Berkeley that he decided wanted to be a college professor. He has always loved writing. So he studied film and rhetoric in hopes of becoming a screenwriter. He then realized, “I don’t have any ideas about movies, but I had ideas for four books, 10 articles. These ideas just keep coming.”

Many people aren’t lucky enough to do what they love. Napoli isn’t one of those people.

“To be honest, I can’t imagine doing anything else,” he said. “You do exactly what interests you. It barely feels like work.”

He is currently in the process of developing two books. The first idea is “to do a book on the politics of policy research,” he disclosed. “I’ve seen how research gets used and sort of misused, exploited, stifled. It’s interesting to see all the ways and how politicized our policy process has become.”

His second book idea may explore “the implications of these new tools that have been developed to sort of predict audience media production.”

With such a busy life, what does Napoli do in his free time?

“Racquetball,” he said.

He doesn’t have much time for extracurricular activities with his career, wife and son Donovan, but he is faithful to racquetball.

He wakes up at 5 a.m. every day to play and even won the Rutgers tournament at the Werblin Recreation Center this winter.