On April 4, two Grady College undergraduate students, Ireland Hayes and Josie Lipton, will be presenting their research at the CURO Symposium, an annual event highlighting undergraduate research at the University of Georgia.
Held by the Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities, this year’s symposium will take place from April 4-5 at the Classic Center in downtown Athens and feature both oral and poster presentations from UGA students. It is the first CURO Symposium since 2019 to be held in person.
Ireland Hayes presents “Making the News: Rural Georgia Influencers”
Hayes, a third-year journalism major from Folkston, Georgia, will be presenting her research on how small communities throughout the state without traditional news coverage, like a daily paper or local news station, are filling those gaps.
“I’m looking mostly at Facebook groups, talking to the administrators and moderators of the groups to see how they view themselves and how they decide what goes on and what might get taken off of the pages,” said Hayes, who has been working with Karin Assmann, assistant professor of journalism, as her mentor.
“When Ireland heard that I was working on a study about rural information networks here in Georgia, she asked if she could participate with her own set of research questions,” Assmann said. With her Qualitative Research Lab, Assmann hopes to support more students like Hayes and Lipton, as well as graduate students interested in doing this kind of research with her.
“It’s exciting to see our student journalists wanting to engage with larger questions about the future of the industry and journalism’s role in society,” Assman added. “CURO is a great way to support these emerging scholars as they take their first steps into research.”
“Dr. Assmann has been very helpful in getting me into that research mindset and teaching me how to conduct research, guiding me through that as I start this first project,” said Hayes.
With first-hand experience living in a Georgia news desert, Hayes’ ultimate goal is to identify what impact Facebook groups and rural influencers have on news-starved communities. She is evaluating if Facebook groups are used out of necessity or if they are desirable.
While her research is ongoing, Hayes intends to use the results to develop a pilot information pipeline system that is ideal for these rural news deserts.
“That is the end goal of all of this,” said Hayes. “How can we create something to fill that need for reliable local information that is more fact-checked and standardized?”
Josie Lipton presents “One Town, One Newspaper: A Case Study of Information Routines Among Citizens of Oglethorpe County, Georgia”
Lipton, a third-year journalism major from Seattle, is also studying news deserts. However, her research focuses specifically on Oglethorpe County, an area that recently had its local 148-year-old newspaper, The Oglethorpe Echo, revitalized thanks to a partnership with Grady and its students.
“UGA joined the project as a way to take over the paper and make sure that people in Oglethorpe County still have a news source, but they do still only have the one paper. So, my research, to sum it up, is about finding a balance between where people are getting their official news and how the community supplements that,” explained Lipton.
And where do they turn? Again, the answer is Facebook.
“You hear this association between Facebook and news and you immediately get goosebumps as a journalism major,” said Lipton. “But, it is really not as bad as you think.”
“It is a lot of smaller groups that function just to discuss what is going on in the community,” she added. “I found that a lot of people who are in charge of the big groups are like newsmakers. Because they’re informed on what is happening in the community, they use Facebook as a platform to keep other people informed.”
Lipton dissected the types of posts and topics discussed on Oglethorpe County Facebook news groups and determined that the topics “pets” and “events” comprised 56 percent of all content. She also interviewed the administrators of Oglethorpe County’s Facebook groups and found that residents view Facebook as a tool to get immediate access to information.
“By the time a story came out in the Echo, it was already old news. Having Facebook groups allows for more immediate access…to things going on in the county,” Stephanie Maro, the administrator of the Facebook group Oglethorpe County Local News, told Lipton during her research.
Lipton, who is also mentored by Professor Assmann, and whose research will contribute to Assmann’s ongoing project, thanks both Assmann and Kyser Lough, an assistant professor of journalism, for help and inspiration with her research.
“Of course I thank Dr. Assmann,” said Lipton. “Dr. Lough has also been really helpful. He wasn’t directly involved in this research project. But just by taking his classes, I’d say he was really helpful in terms of encouraging me to see people how they are. I took his photojournalism class, and that really helped me get over my anxiety when approaching people.”
Both Hayes and Lipton will be presenting their research on posters in the Grand Hall of the Classic Center from 4 to 6 p.m. on Monday, April 4.