CCTT and Page Center partner to advance student research in digital ethics and crisis communication

The Crisis Communication Think Tank (CCTT), housed at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, is partnering with Pennsylvania State University’s Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communication to support collaborative student research. Through the partnership, CCTT’s Crisis Insights & Analytics (CIA) Lab will join with the Page Center’s Graduate Student Lab Group to produce innovative and timely research on topics within the areas of ethics, digital technology and crisis communication. The partnership will support two student-led research projects annually, one by UGA students and the other by Penn State students. 

“Organizational leaders and communication professionals are confronted by crisis issues becoming more complex than ever,” said Yan Jin, CCTT director. “Emerging technology has disrupted crisis management across organizational, health and disaster arenas. Effective and ethical crisis communication leadership is more critical than ever.” 

“This UGA and Penn State collaboration synergizes the thought leaderships from the CCTT and Page Center, both supported by leaders and experts across academia and industry,” she added. “Together, we will explore digital ethics and leadership integrity as a next-generation crisis communication challenge to be tackled by scholars and practitioners. We look forward to mentoring our cross-institutional student teams, advancing excellence in collaborative research that matters to public communication theory and practice.” 

Selected students will be mentored and trained by researchers from both universities. Potential research topics include handling ethical dilemmas involving artificial intelligence (AI), responding to analytic data misuse, AI’s effect on public relations ethics and other crises caused by changing technologies in the industry. 

“This partnership inspires important work and delivers practical results for the profession,” said Denise Bortree, Page Center director. “And best yet, it provides a forum of collaboration for our amazing graduate students. We are so happy to join Georgia’s Crisis Communication Think Tank in strengthening graduate work at our universities.”

The projects are expected to lead to conference and publication submissions, a panel discussion at a future conference, and summaries of the research published on the CCTT and Page Center websites. The Page Center and CCTT will host an inaugural project team kick-off meeting in August 2023 at the annual Association for Education in Journalism & Mass Communication (AEJMC) conference in Washington, D.C.

The CCTT’s CIA Lab is co-directed by Grady College faculty members Yan Jin, C. Richard Yarbrough Professor in Crisis Communication Leadership, and Bryan Reber, professor emeritus of public relations and former Yarbrough Professor, as well as CCTT practitioner member Kate LaVail, executive vice president of Ketchum. 

The Page Center lab is co-directed by Penn State faculty members Denise Bortree, professor of advertising/public relations and associate dean at the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications, and Holly Overton, associate professor of advertising/public relations and the Page Center’s research director. The Page Center is located in Penn State’s Bellisario College of Communications. 

Happening this week, on Thursday, April 13, is the CCTT annual gathering. Crisis communication researchers, practitioners and experts will meet at Grady College to explore current challenges in crisis communication and develop insights that arise from discourse and collaborative research. More information is available on the CCTT website


2022 in Review: Faculty Honors

Editor’s Note: This is part of our six-part series highlighting stories produced by Grady College in 2022. The features include stories in each of the following subjects:

  • Student Successes
  • Faculty Honors
  • College Headlines
  • Research & Expertise
  • Service & Partnerships
  • Alumni Spotlight

This is not intended to be a comprehensive list, but instead highlight a sample of just a few of the hundreds of stories about accomplishments by our students, faculty/staff and alumni. We invite you to visit our Grady College News page for a full list of features posted in 2022.

  • Vicki Michaelis received Association for Women in Sports Media award.

Our faculty continue to inspire students, motivate each other and impact the industries they serve. Below are just a few of the many faculty highlights from 2022:

Vicki Michaelis received Association for Women in Sports Media award: Vicki Michaelis, the John Huland Carmical Chair in Sports Journalism and Society and director of the John Huland Carmical Sports Media Institute, is the recipient of the 2022 Ann Miller Service Award by the Association for Women in Sports Media. It is presented annually to an individual who has made significant contributions to the organization. Michaelis is the faculty adviser for the AWSM student chapter at the University of Georgia, and she regularly participates in conventions as a moderator or panelist. Michaelis is a former president and chair of the board who has played a role in several AWSM endeavors. She was a regional coordinator, helping plan and host events in the Denver area, and took on treasurer responsibilities during her time as chair.

Janice Hume earned Lifetime Achievement Award: Dr. Janice Hume, the associate dean for academic affairs and Carolyn McKenzie and Don E. Carter Chair for Excellence in Journalism, is the recipient of the 2022 Sidney Kobre Award for Lifetime Achievement by the American Journalism Historians Association (AJHA). It is AJHA’s highest honor. Over her career, Hume has earned more than 15 awards and recognitions, including AJHA’s President’s Award for Service, National Award for Excellence in Teaching, the McKerns Research Grant, and multiple top paper or article awards from both AJHA and the AEJMC History Division.

Yan Jin was named C. Richard Yarbrough Professor in Crisis Communication Leadership: Dr. Yan Jin, a professor of public relations, director of the Crisis Communication Think Tank and assistant head of the Department of Advertising and Public Relations, has been named the C. Richard Yarbrough Professor in Crisis Communication Leadership. Yarbrough, a 1959 alumnus of Grady College, established the professorship in 2013 as one of several gifts to the College over the years.

Yan Jin named C. Richard Yarbrough Professor in Crisis Communication Leadership

Yan Jin, a professor of public relations, director of the Crisis Communication Think Tank and assistant head of the Department of Advertising and Public Relations, has been named the C. Richard Yarbrough Professor in Crisis Communication Leadership.

“I congratulate and welcome Dr. Yan Jin as the new C. Richard Yarbrough Professor in Crisis Communication Leadership at Grady College,” Yarbrough said. “She is imminently qualified to carry on the work begun by her predecessor, Dr. Bryan Reber, with whom she worked closely in establishing the Grady College as a leader in the study of crisis communications.”

Yarbrough, a 1959 alumnus of Grady College, established the professorship in 2013 as one of several gifts to the college over the years.

Jin’s work serves as a framework for crisis and risk communication in a rapidly evolving media landscape and amidst emotionally charged conflict situations, ranging from organizational crises to disasters and public health emergencies. Jin’s prolific research in crisis communication, conflict management, and health risk communication contributes to the advancement of strategic communication theory and provide insights for public relations practice.

Dick Yarbrough and Yan Jin
Dick Yarbrough and Yan Jin at the Grady Salutes in April 2019. (Photo: courtesy of Yan Jin)

“Being named the Yarbrough Crisis Communication Professor is a huge honor,” said Jin. “The professorship presents an exciting opportunity to advance working with scholars and practitioners in concert with Dick’s vision.”

Jin continued by saying what an influence Yarbrough has been on her research endeavors. She recalled when she was studying with Glen T. Cameron as a graduate student at the University of Missouri, the first crisis communication article she read was co-written by Yarbrough and Cameron.

“To have the professorship bearing Dick’s name is so special to me personally,” Jin continued.  “I have been inspired by his work throughout my career and this is a full circle moment.”

Jin has authored more than 100 peer-reviewed journal articles and more than 30 book chapters. Most recently, she served as the lead-editor of the Routledge books Advancing Crisis Communication Effectiveness: Integrating Public Relations Scholarship with Practice (2021) and Social Media and Crisis Communication (2nd edition) (2022). She was also named a Top 27 “Most Cited Public Relations Author” according to a 2019 refereed article in ”Journal of Public Relations Research,” as well as a Top 6 “Most Published Author” and Top 16 “Most Cited Author” in ”Public Relations Review” articles according to a 2021 refereed article in “Public Relations Review.”

Jin teaches courses in Crisis Communication, ADPR Theory and Mass Communication Theory, PR Research, PR Management, PR Campaigns, and ADPR Health.

Jin, Reber and Glen Nowak co-founded the Crisis Communication Think Tank in 2018. The Think Tank aims to advance crisis communication effectiveness through dialogue and collaboration among leading public relations scholars and practitioners on emerging and complex crisis issues in the U.S. and internationally.

Among her honors, Jin is the 2019 recipient of the Kitty O. Locker Outstanding Researcher Award, a top honor by the Association for Business Communication.

Yarbrough retired from BellSouth Corporation as vice president in 1993 and served with the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games as managing director. PR Week named him one of “The 100 Most Influential Public Relations Practitioners of the 20th Century,” and today, he writes the most widely weekly syndicated column in the state of Georgia, reaching more than a million readers every week. He also served as president of the University of Georgia National Alumni Association from 1994 to 1996, and was inducted into the Grady Fellowship in 2008.


New book ‘Social Media and Crisis Communication’ (2nd edition) bridges gap between theory and practice

Yan Jin, the Georgia Athletic Association Professor and a professor of public relations at Grady College, has released a second edition of her book “Social Media and Crisis Communication.”

Co-edited by Lucinda Austin, an associate professor and the Ph.D. program director at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media, the book integrates theory, research and application to orient readers to the latest thinking about the role of social media in the field. 

“This book offers the most updated research insights in the field of social media and crisis communication,” explained Jin. 

 It features chapters written by dozens of researchers and professionals from around the world, including many Grady College faculty members, graduate students and alumni. 

“For this edition, we have a really strong UGA presence,” said Jin. 

Jonathan Peters, an associate professor of journalism, Bryan Reber, the C. Richard Yarbrough Professor in Crisis Communication Leadership and Joseph Watson, Jr.,  the Carolyn Caudell Tieger Professor of Public Affairs Communications, Advertising and Public Relations, all contributed to the book. So did Grady graduate students Marilyn Broggi, W. Scott Guthrie, Xuerong Lu and Taylor Voges and alumni LaShonda Eaddy (PhD ’17), Yen-I Lee (PhD ’17) and Logan White (MA ’21). 

The mission of the book, which Jin describes as one of a kind, is to bridge the gap between theory and practice. The book takes a deep look at specific crisis arenas, including health, corporate, nonprofit, religious, political and disaster, as well as emerging social media platforms and newer technology. It provides a fresh view of the role of visual communication in social media and a more global review of social media and crisis communication literature. 

“We want to connect research and practice,” said Jin. “You learn theory and insights, but also there are tangible cases and ongoing dialogues from practitioners shining light on what is important for the industry.” 

With an emphasis on ethics and global perspective, a brief overview of social media research in crisis communication and case studies for each area of application, the lessons in the book, Jin explained, are useful for scholars, advanced students and practitioners who wish to stay on the edge of research. It will appeal to those who are in public relations, strategic communications, government and NGO communications, corporate communications and emergency and disaster response, among others. 

The first edition of “Social Media and Crisis Communication” was published in 2017. Austin served as the lead editor of the first edition, while Jin co-edited the book. 

UGA and UMD researchers partner to explore strategies for combatting misinformation during health crises

Yan Jin and Brooke Fisher Liu lead FDA sponsored research to gather evidence to guide future messaging.

In the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, researchers at the University of Maryland (UMD) and the University of Georgia (UGA) are collaborating with researchers at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) Office of Communications to develop and test messaging strategies that can help overcome misinformation that arises during public health emergencies.

Brooke Fisher Liu, professor in UMD’s Department of Communication, and Yan Jin, professor of public relations and Georgia Athletic Association Professor at UGA’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, will develop and test message strategies concerning vital health information that can help keep people safe.

“Past research found a clear link between COVID-19 misinformation exposure and vaccine hesitancy,” said Liu, the project’s principal investigator. “Research also connects misinformation exposure to lower compliance with government health and safety guidance. In short, misinformation is just as great of a threat to public health as the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease, but our knowledge is limited on how to combat misinformation.”

Through two large-scale experiments on how messages containing misinformation and various types of responses are interpreted by U.S. adults, the researchers will be among the first to explore how public health misinformation can be corrected through strategic risk communication and what methods work best in thwarting misinformation.

“This project exemplifies the importance and promising future for more collaborative risk and crisis communication research across universities and with the government to provide theory-driven, evidenced-based insights to protect public health and safety,” said Jin, the project’s co-principal investigator.

The FDA is investing nearly $225,000 to fund the three-year project, which began in October 2021. The research team will  recommend best practices for how public health agencies can combat health misinformation for the COVID-19 pandemic and future threats.

The team defines misinformation as a claim of fact that is false due to a lack of scientific evidence or conflicting scientific evidence. The researchers will conduct online experiments gathering information on how adults respond to medical and health misinformation. The research team will also provide a targeted deep-dive analysis of previous research to identify best communication practices that promote safety during public health crises.

Liu and Jin are two of the leading risk and crisis communication scholars in the world. Their collaborative work dates back to 2001, when they both studied in the graduate program at the Missouri School of Journalism. They are joined by Tori McDermott, graduate research assistant from the UMD, and Xuerong Lu, graduate research assistant from the UGA.

“It is a great opportunity for me, as a young scholar in crisis communication, to collaborate with Dr. Liu and Dr. Jin to significantly advance research and practice in misinformation management,” said Lu.

The research findings will provide an opportunity to address real-time challenges, and the lessons learned from them, to guide future leadership decisions in health communication. The mission behind this research is to equip authorities with communication to respond to misinformation in a way that protects public health and safety.

“As an emerging scholar, I am so grateful to work on a project of this magnitude not only to help mitigate the negative effects of infodemics, but also to learn from Dr. Liu and Dr. Jin how scholarship can inform and change practice and policy to better society,” said McDermott.


New crisis communication book melds scholarly research with practitioner experience

The intersection of professional experience in crisis communication and theoretical research of the complexities of the topic are highlighted in a new book, “Advancing Crisis Communication Effectiveness.”

Edited by three Grady College professors, this book is an education in navigating the challenges that communicators face to protect public health and safety and shield organizational reputations from crisis-inflicted damage.

Crisis communication quote
One insight of many from the new book, “Advancing Crisis Communication Effectiveness.”

The book is edited by Yan Jin, Bryan Reber and Glen Nowak and includes submitted chapters from numerous academic and professional crisis communication thought leaders.  Among the subjects covered are crisis communication for corporations and non-profits, the benefits and pitfalls of using social media to cover natural disasters, dealing with misinformation, navigating media relations during governmental and public affairs crisis and examining situational theories helpful in dealing with crisis.

“This book is very translational because it brings together different theories and a diversity of voices,” said Jin, the UGA Athletic Association Professor in Grady College. “We are able to talk about theory and how it can help our practitioners better explain and predict outcomes, making their work more effective. The academics bring value of theory-based insights and the practitioners bring fresh, current challenges to help scholars identify the next research frontiers.”

One topic covered in the book that is especially relevant today is the discussion of crisis and healthcare. Nowak, the director of the Grady Center for Health and Risk Communication, says health communications is an ever-evolving area as the recent COVID-19 outbreak has proven.

“A lot of the assumptions that we have in the health communications space need to be revisited because it’s hard to come up with a simple formula for how to respond,” Nowak said. “Every single day something happens that you didn’t anticipate. As this book illustrates, we need a lot more sophistication both among practitioners and among academics who are trying to do research that will help practitioners.”

The intersection of an academic approach together with a practical approach by professional communicators is unique and made possible through the collaboration of the Crisis Communication Think Tank. The CCTT is a group of invited scholars and practitioners who are experts on the subject of crisis communication. The group builds domestic and international collaborations to advance crisis communication science and practice on emerging topics.

“This book is one more example of how UGA is at the leading edge of the conversation around crisis communication and research,” added Bryan Reber, the C. Richard Yarbrough Professor in Crisis Communication Leadership. “Between the CCTT and the Center for Health and Risk Communication, we are positioned really well to facilitate these discussions and collaborations.”  

The subjects covered in the book are based on discussions of the group and are authored by several CCTT members including scholars from University of Maryland, University of North Carolina and the University of Amsterdam along with professionals from UPS, and Imagem Corporativa (Brazil), as well as CCTT-affiliated partners such as the Museum of Public Relations, among others. Several additional Grady College faculty and alumni also collaborated on chapters for the book.

Grady College alumnus Dick Yarbrough (ABJ ’59) wrote the forward to the book and discussed how important it is for communicators to be involved with strategic conversation and the decision-making process. Yarbrough was the managing director of communications and government relations for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games and gained a wealth of crisis communication experience with the Centennial Olympic Park Bombing.

“This book is a perfect blend of the expertise of highly-qualified academicians and the experiences of communications professionals who have dealt successfully with a variety of crises in their own organizations,” Yarbrough said. “I am encouraged that it will be available to current and future generations of communicators.”


When companies are attacked by misinformation, employees may be their best defense

For companies facing a crisis, misinformation—especially on social media—can abound. These days, it’s not enough for a company to simply deny a claim. A team of researchers from the University of Georgia, in collaboration with scholars in the University of Amsterdam and Washington State University, found two ways to combat inaccurate statements and convince a skeptical public. It starts by addressing the misinformation head on and explaining why it is false. And companies can be bolstered by employees publicly backing their employer.

The study, “The Effects of Corrective Communication and Employee Backup on the Effectiveness of Fighting Crisis Misinformation” was led by Yan Jin, the UGA Athletic Association Professor in Grady College and associate director of the Center for Health and Risk Communication at Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

“Employees’ authentic and supportive words worked really well to significantly strengthen their company’s argument and credibility in debunking misinformation and correcting misperception about a crisis situation,” Jin said, summarizing the research. “To have this, the company has to have healthy, strong relationships with their employees. Strong organization-employee relationships can serve as an effective cushion for a crisis-stricken company to crash land more safely and bounce back more quickly.”

The study examined a fictional scenario where a pet food company was accused of selling contaminated food that made pets sick, and the product was recalled. While there was evidence that the company was not responsible for the contamination, there were social media posts that accused the company of negligence.

Study participants who own pets were presented with the scenario of the pet food recall and the accusations of negligence. They were then shown a variety of responses. From the company, they were shown two types of rebuttals: one that was a simple rebuttal of the claim and a second that offered a rebuttal plus an explanation of why the information was incorrect.

Then approximately half of the study participants were further presented with a response made by employees of the fictitious company, voicing support of the company’s rebuttals, and the other half of the study participants were not presented with any employee response. The study found that the employee statement on their personal social media channels in support of the company significantly strengthened the company’s argument and credibility in combatting the false accusation spread on social media.

The most effective step in refuting inaccurate claims according to the research is for the company to explain that the claims are false and why. More elaboration about why the claims are wrong led to increased credibility for the company through stronger messages and reduced reputation damage for the company.

Jin explains that this research is important in communication theory building and practice because crisis misinformation leads to crisis misperception. This study is one of the first communication research studies to define crisis misinformation as incorrect information about any part of the situation or the organization, including disinformation or misinformation, that is spread to harm the organization if not corrected or refuted. It is also one of the first public relations studies to examine the joint effects of debunking strategies and the presence of employee support on people’s crisis responses to crisis misinformation and a company’s corrective communication.

Co-authors on the study include Toni G.L.A. van der Meer of the University of Amsterdam, Netherlands; Yen-I Lee (Ph.D. ’19) of Washington State University and Xuerong Lu, a current Ph.D. student at Grady College.

The study was published in the Sept. 2020 issue of Public Relations Review.

Yan Jin named Kitty O. Locker Outstanding Researcher Award Recipient

Yan Jin, assistant department head of the Department of Advertising and Public Relations, has been named the recipient of the Kitty O. Locker Outstanding Researcher Award, presented at the annual international Association for Business Communication (ABC) conference October 25, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan.

Jin is also associate director of the Center for Health & Risk Communication, Athletic Association Professor and professor of public relations at Grady College.

“As a public relations scholar, I am honored to receive this international research award in business communication,” said Jin. “It is a rewarding experience to contribute to such a richly interdisciplinary field and the collective commitment to advancing business communication research, education and practice.”

The award, sponsored by McGraw-Hill Education, honors and promotes excellence in business communication research.

“Dr. Jin is richly deserving of this international research award,” said Bryan Reber, department head of Advertising and Public Relations. “She is a leader in the field of public relations research generally and of crisis communication research specifically.  I feel fortunate to have her as a colleague and our students are fortunate to have her as a teacher, mentor and role model.”

Jin’s work serves as a framework for crisis and risk communication in a rapidly evolving media landscape and amidst emotionally charged conflict situations, ranging from organizational crises to disasters and public health emergencies. Jin’s research program in crisis communication, conflict management, and health risk communication contribute to the advancement of strategic communication theory and provide insights for public relations practice.

Jin has authored more than 80 peer-reviewed journal articles and over 20 book chapters.  She is the co-editor of the scholarly book Social Media and Crisis Communication. She has presented over 100 refereed papers at leading domestic and international conferences. Jin was named a Top 2 “Most Productive Scholar” in crisis communication research, according to a 2014 refereed article in International Journal of Strategic Communication. She was recently named a Top 27 “Most Cited Public Relations Author” according to a 2019 refereed article in Journal of Public Relations Research.

Jin teaches PR Research, PR Administration, PR Campaigns, AdPR Health, Crisis Communication and Mass Communication Theory. Her PR Campaigns class has collaborated with The Home Depot and eBay, while her AdPR Health class has worked on strategic health communication projects with Amgen and Publicis Health. She also served as faculty advisor for Grady PRSSA Chapter’s Bateman Team from 2016-2018.

Yan Jin selected for membership in the Arthur W. Page Society

Yan Jin, an associate professor of public relations at Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, has joined the ranks of world-class senior public relations and corporate communications executives and educators as a member of the prestigious Arthur W. Page Society.

“It is a huge honor to join such a premier group,” said Jin, who is also associate director of the UGA Center for Health & Risk Communication. “As an academic member, I look forward to contributing research insights for corporate communications practice and to the mission of training future leaders in our field.”

Membership in the Page Society consists primarily of chief communication officers of Fortune 500 companies and leading nonprofit organizations, as well as CEOs of top agencies. Only a small percentage of educators are extended an invitation for membership; yet Grady College now boasts two members, as Jin joins Bryan H. Reber, who was inducted in 2015.

“This is a top honor reserved for top educators in the field,” said Tom Reichert, head of the Department of Advertising and Public Relations. “Dr. Jin is very deserving of this recognition, and we are proud of the collaboration and work she will do in this role alongside Dr. Reber and other Page Society members.”

Jin teaches undergraduate public relations courses in research, management, and campaigns, as well as a graduate communication theory course. Her research includes studies of public relations, crisis communication, corporate conflict management, social media, and strategic health and risk communication, with a strong focus on how emotions influence organizational decision making processes as well as stakeholders’ information seeking behaviors and communicative responses.