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Transforming Minnesota and the world

The University of Minnesota is boldly moving forward with its goal to become one of the world's top three public research universities within the next decade--an institution with "a deep and abiding cultural commitment to excellence" in education and in the advancement of knowledge for the public good, as University president Robert Bruininks said in his 2007 State of the University address. Through its pioneering communications research, the SJMC is right in step with these strategic aspirations.

By Jen Keavy

For nearly 70 years, Murphy Hall has been associated with a breadth and depth of research that distinguishes the SJMC from other journalism programs. The quality, range and rigor of its research have been hallmarks of the SJMC's program. Today, SJMC faculty and graduate students share a commitment to innovative research, scholarship and criticism. This academic year alone, faculty members have received more than $2.1 million in research grants and will publish six books. Graduate students have presented more than 30 papers at national and international conferences, including those of the International Communication Association, Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication and Association of Internet Researchers. The projects profiled in following pages represent just a sampling of the research generated in Murphy Hall.

The First Amendment and the Civil War

Published last fall, "Hated Ideas and the American Civil War Press," reveals journalists' tolerance--or intolerance--of the principles that divided the nation during one of the most tumultuous times in its history. SJMC professor Hazel Dicken-Garcia and SJMC alumna Giovanna Dell'Orto (Ph.D. '04) joined forces to pen the book, a collaboration that has evolved over the past decade.

American journalism has always valued the principle that even unpopular and controversial ideas deserve First Amendment protection. In "Hated Ideas and the American Civil War Press," Dicken-Garcia and Dell'Orto seek to understand how journalists treated abolitionism and slavery during the Civil War through an in-depth analysis of newspaper coverage. Although several books regarding the Civil War and free expression have been published, Dicken-Garcia and Dell'Orto maintain that theirs is the first book to be based entirely on freedom of expression of "hated ideas" during this period.

"We sought especially to learn whether journalists on each side of the war would tolerate the 'hated ideas' advocated on the other side during the war," says Dicken-Garcia. The authors conclude that "(T)he Civil War experience underscores the fact that marginalized ideas across history have persisted, often to become accepted as part of mainstream culture. Despite intolerance by journalists ... of certain ideas ... the First Amendment has continued to sustain civil liberties ... "

Roots of Cross-Ownership

Another media history tome authored by an SJMC scholar is assistant professor Michael Stamm's "Mixed Media: Newspaper Ownership of Radio in American Politics and Society, 1920-1952." Based on his dissertation research, the book examines newspaper ownership of radio stations in the early to mid 20th century, an influential period in American broadcasting. The book, to be published by the University of Pennsylvania Press, draws upon Stamm's study of untapped primary sources in the Federal Communications Commission archives and major radio and newspaper history archives around the country.

Stamm, who was awarded the 2007 American Journalism Historians Association Margaret A. Blanchard Doctoral Dissertation Prize for best dissertation in journalism and mass communication history, maintains that newspapers helped to create the modern media corporation as they evolved from delivering only printed information to also delivering multimedia information from a single, branded source. He also examines the response to these new multimedia corporations. In an effort to preserve adiversity of voices in the public sphere, critics and regulators fought to control the media monopolies.

Over the past year, Stamm has expanded his original project to include analysis of newspaper participation in crafting the public policy governing American broadcasting as well as Paul Lazarsfeld's studies of the relationship between newspapers and radio and his participation in the policy-making process as an academic expert.

Literary Journalism and the Law

Assistant professor Kathy Roberts Forde's new book, "Literary Journalism on Trial: Masson v. New Yorker and the First Amendment," scheduled for publication this spring by the University of Massachusetts Press, focuses on a libel suit filed by Freud scholar and archivist Jeffrey Masson against writer Janet Malcolm and The New Yorker. For more than a decade, the case bounced from one federal courtroom to another, eventually making its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In her book, Forde reveals the implications of the case within the context of American journalism and illustrates how the case marked a turning point in the long debate between the advocates of traditional and literary journalism. Forde argues that the case bridged the gap between ideas of traditional and literary journalism and orced the resolution of these differing notions of truth in the arena of constitutional libel law.

Prior to publication, the book has received praise from legal historians and literary journalism scholars alike. John Hartsock, author of "A History of American Literary Journalism," says, 'Literary Journalism on Trial' makes an important contribution to our understanding of First Amendment law, an understanding reflecting the historical tension between objective and literary journalism that plays out in the courtroom ... "

Instant Messages and Adolescents

Shayla Thiel Stern, who joined the SJMC faculty as an assistant professor last fall, has authored a book that is the first of its kind to explore millennials' use of as well as the implications for instant messaging. Published by Peter Lang last year, "Instant Identity: Adolescent Girls and the World of Instant Messaging" is a firsthand look at how adolescent girls employ instant messaging as a primary method of communication and relating to peers.

The study is the first of its kind to explore the ways that instant messaging plays into as well as transcends this generation's gender norms. Through examination of instant message conversations and interviews with girls 11 to 15 years old, Stern illustrates how they use the technology in their language and actions online to form identity and negotiate sexuality, as they move between childhood and adulthood.

Harnessing Information Tools

The eighth title in the Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) Beat Book series, "Computer-Assisted Research: Information Strategies and Tools for Journalists," offers journalists a guide to the vast range of tools and resources available on the Internet to support their research and reporting efforts. Co-authored by Nora Paul, director of the Instiute for New Media Studies, and Kathleen Hansen, professor and director of the Minnesota Journalism Center, the book covers the five R's of computer-assisted journalism--reporting, research, reference, reconnaissance and rendezvous. It also examines primary and secondary Web-based resources and how to recognize, navigate and evaluate useful information on the Internet. Published last fall, the book has been praised by investigative reporters and computer-assisted reporters.

Paul and Hansen presented a computer-assisted research session at October's IRE workshop in Minneapolis based on the book, as well as one at the Pioneer Press. This spring, they'll visit the Star Tribune newsroom to share their methods for computer-assisted research, and Paul will give a workshop on the topic at the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting conference.

Playing the News

Last summer, Nora Paul and Kathleen Hansen were awarded a $250,000 grant from the Knight News Challenge. Supported by the Knight Foundation, the competition funds innovative ideas using digital experiments to transform community news.  In 2007, thousands of proposals were submitted, but only 26 were funded. Paul and Hansen's grant was one of just a dozen six-figure awards.

"Playing the News" will create a prototype of a news scenario-building program that will allow citizens to "play" through a news story, interacting with the stakeholders involved in the issue and, hopefully, gaining a more in-depth understanding of complex and ongoing issues.

In any ongoing news story, there are sequential individual reports, and readers have difficulty developing a complete understanding of the issues at hand. Paul and Hansen seek to present the issues in a way that will make people want to take in all the information and become more knowledgeable about the big picture.

By creating an interactive online game to accompany the headlines, Paul and Hansen hope to engage newspaper readers and involve them with many aspects of the topic. With the help of colleagues from the Johnson Center for Virtual Reality at Pine Technical College, in Pine City, Minn., the pair will develop a user-friendly tool- set for journalists to create these games on an ongoing basis. It is a "dual challenge," says Paul, since it must have real game aspects but must also be something that a news organization could deploy quickly. Paul explains that the developers at the Johnson Center have added their "gamer mentality" as well as technical expertise to the project. "They know those things that are so engrained in gaming culture--what makes a game addictive. A lot of the games that have been created for news organizations are not very 'gamey' or fun--we want to change that."

Even in its early stages of development, journalists have expressed interest. Star Tribune staff have weighed in on the practicality of the toolset and will participate in the testing phase. Testing won't be left just to journalists, however. Paul and Hansen say that they will involve a variety of news consumers of varying ages and backgrounds, given the project's mission to engage and inform citizens of all stripes.

Communication and Social Responsibility

Adjunct instructor Stacey Kanihan and professor Kathleen Hansen have been awarded a $7,000 grant from the Page Center at Penn State University to conduct research for a project titled "Commitment to Social Responsibility and the Role of Communications Managers in the Executive Elite." As part of their research, they will survey S&P 500 corporations to examine the relationship between an organization's power structure and its social responsibility efforts.

Kanihan and Hansen describe the project as a study about formal vs. informal power in decision making. Organizational theorists claim that informal power is most effective, regardless of where a person is placed on an organizational chart. The person's likability and respect are directly tied to how much power he/she holds within the organization. Kanihan and Hansen assert that if a top communications manager is in the dominant coalition--or the group of individuals having the greatest influence on the organization's goals and strategies--that individual can influence high-level decision making. "We want to look at features of organizations and their commitment to corporate social responsibility," says Kanihan. "We want to see if those two factors could suggest whether or not the top communications professional is in the dominant coalition."

While they don't anticipate that their research findings could change the face of corporate culture, they do believe it might change the way communications managers themselves influence corporate culture. "Perhaps we'll be able to put together a model or a framework of what it means to be an ethical organization," says Kanihan. Adds Hansen, "If an organization wants to claim it is socially responsible, one of the things that might have to be in place is that your top communications professional would have a role in the dominant coalition."

After conducting the survey and analyzing the data, the researchers plan to disseminate their findings to communication professionals at a conference hosted by the Minnesota Journalism Center.

Charting the Course for Online News

Nora Paul, along with her colleague Sauman Chu of the University of Minnesota College of Design, received a $31,000 grant from the Digital Technology Center. The grant will fund the latest round of Digital Storytelling Effects Lab (DiSEL) eyetracking research as it relates to online news design.

For the past two years, DiSEL, in conjunction with University of North Carolina assistant professor Laura Ruel, has conducted research aimed at evaluating how multimedia news design decisions affect user behavior, information retention, and attitudes toward a news organization. Leading news organizations Time, USA Today, Yahoo!, the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Star Tribune, among others, signed on to participate in the agenda-setting consortium.

Brain Waves and Anti-Drug Messages

Examining how adolescents and young adults process anti-marijuana messages is the focus of a study conducted by assistant professor Marco Yzer (co-principal investigator) and professor Ron Faber (co-investigator). The research team, which includes co-principal investigator Angus MacDonald (psychology) and co-investigators Bruce Cuthbert and Monica Luciana (psychology) and Kathleen Vohs (marketing), will receive up to $1.1 million from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) for their project titled, "The Neuroanatomical Basis of Anti-Drug Media Messages: the Impact of Effectiveness and Risk Factors." The University of Minnesota study was one of only three projects to be funded by NIDA.

Just a handful of studies have attempted to use brain imaging to explain communication processes. According to Yzer, "This project is a pioneering study in its integrative approach. We will identify and then correlate brain activity in certain regions with communication measures to advance our understanding of why public service announcements have the effects (or non-effects) they do." The project will encompass four experimental studies, focusing on adolescents 15 to 19 years old. The emphasis is on testing whether perceptions of effectiveness correlate with predisposition for marijuana use--in other words, the way that risk factors play a role in adolescents' responses to anti-drug messages.

"From a communications perspective, we are tying pencil and paper measures to more physiological measures," says Faber. The research team will look at individual differences in terms of how people respond to messages. Most neuroscientific research deals with simple tasks that are done in labs. Now, there is a movement to figure out how to conduct neuroscientific research with more complex stimuli. Faber adds, "The ability to link this to something as complex as television ads is, to me, the really exciting part. It's a huge theoretical development that will create a long-term marriage between the two disciplines."

Although both Yzer and Faber emphasize that this is a new area of research, they are excited about the groundbreaking insights that could lead to practical implications for the field. "Neuroscience has begun to determine brain regions and pathways that nvolve cognition and emotion," says Faber. "This will, in turn, allow mass communication researchers to begin to figure out the roles of emotion and cognition in decision making and messagry action--which is extremely important in determining effective messages and how to communicate with people."

Indoor Tanning and Adolescent Health Behaviors

Another SJMC faculty member's research will focus on adolescent health behaviors. Brian Southwell, assistant professor and director of graduate studies, along with two of his colleagues in the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, DeAnn Lazovich and Jean Forster, have been awarded a $300,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health for a project titled "Development of Effective Interventions to Reduce Adolescent Use of Indoor Tanning."

The goal of the project is to develop a communication-based intervention, targeted specifically at families, that will help to curb indoor tanning among teens. By delivering targeted messages to families, Southwell and his colleagues hope to explain the dynamics of communication between parents (especially those who engage in indoor tanning themselves) and teens about indoor tanning. He says that little is known about how parents communicate the risks associated with indoor tanning or discuss health-related materials with their children. This issue has special significance for Minnesota, since skin cancer rates are disproportionately high in the Upper Midwest. The research team will work with HealthPartners over the first two years of the project on a series of studies that will help them better understand the interpersonal dynamics between parents and children as they discuss health- related media.

In addition to its importance in addressing an unsafe health behavior, the study will illustrate how mass communication and interpersonal communication intersect. A goal is to develop health-related materials and products that other health organizations can distribute to consumers.

SJMC Graduate Students Contribute to Research

In addition to faculty research, graduate student research continues to flourish in Murphy Hall. SJMC graduate students come from a wide range of backgrounds and have an equally wide range of interests. Not only do graduate students collaborate with their faculty advisers on research projects, but they also work in partnership with their peers. Numerous graduate students team up with classmates-- uniting forces and bringing their own individual strengths to the table--to investigate the structure, function, and processes involved in mass communication.

Because of the large number of students presenting papers at national and regional conferences, the SJMC now spends more on graduate student travel than ever before. Ph.D. candidates Julie Jones and Itai Himelboim say that the support they have received from the SJMC has been instrumental in their success as graduate students. Himelboim says, "I've talked to a lot of professors and graduate students at other schools about travel funding for conferences. It's rare for a school to support its students like the SJMC does. It's amazing!" Both Himelboim and Jones agree that the SJMC supports graduate students with more than just financial resources. "As a grad student in the SJMC, we know that the SJMC stands behind us," says Jones. "That's very clear from the beginning." Himelboim concurs: "If you come to Murphy Hall with a research idea, the School will find a way to support you and help get you out there to share your ideas."

In addition to travel funds, the SJMC has recently dedicated $2.5 million in endowment funds to support year-round fellowship opportunities for incoming doctoral candidates as well as increased support for current graduate students. Director of graduate studies Brian Southwell says of the initiative, "With this new source of graduate student support, we will be able to facilitate year-round opportunities for scholarship, meaning that our graduates will be even better job candidates down the road. Through these new strategies, we will maintain our international reputation for excellence in graduate education."