Podcast: Exploring Grady College’s Qualitative Research Lab

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Recently, the Grady Research Radio podcast had the pleasure of featuring Dr. Karin Assmann, an assistant professor in the Journalism Department at Grady College, a former U.S. correspondent for Spiegel TV, and the director of the Qualitative Research Lab. The lab is for both graduate and undergraduate students who are interested in qualitative research, which, in very simple terms, involves collecting and analyzing non-numerical data.

In this interview, Dr. Assmann explains what goes on in her lab, speaks about recent studies conducted in the lab, and offers insight into how those interested can get involved. 

Below is a transcription of the episode, edited for clarity and brevity. 

A quote graphic that reads "I'm really excited about this lab. I hope to attract and support students who are also interested in doing qualitative research and provide them with resources through this space." Grady College: What is qualitative research?

Karin Assmann: So, qualitative research looks at performances and practices of human communication. The data that we work with is from interviews that we conduct, or focus groups, participant observations, ethnographies, documents and case studies.

For example, in a study I conducted with master’s student William Newlin, we looked at Fox News’s Sean Hannity’s media bashing during the weeks before and after presidential and midterm elections. So that means we obtain video and transcripts and searched for themes. The Qualitative Research Lab has a computer with really powerful qualitative data analysis software that we use to do that work.

The qualitative part, it doesn’t mean it’s higher quality. It just means the kind of data that we collect and the methods and the theoretical approaches we use are different than, for example, people using survey data.

Grady College: The Qualitative Research Lab is still very new, having started in Spring of 2022. At this point, most of the research coming out of the lab has been focused on news deserts in rural Georgia. Dr. Assmann goes on to explain.  

Karin Assmann: I’ve had Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities (CURO) students — students who are undergraduates who want to pursue research — do interviews with people in rural communities here in Georgia, asking them about their news and information needs and habits.

They would conduct these interviews, either in person or via phone or Zoom, and then download the audio files, import them, transcribe them and then analyze them to determine how people talk about the way they consume information or pursue information. 

Grady College: Has the research conducted in this lab yet influenced anything outside the walls of Grady College? 

Karin Assmann: I certainly hope that we’ve influenced some of the people who have seen our presentations. The CURO students, they presented during the symposium. I’m still finishing one of those papers, and I hope to turn that project, which is about rural Georgia, specifically one county in Georgia, into a pilot project that would help rural communities figure out how to better fulfill those information needs, given the fact that they may not have a local newspaper at all.

Grady College: While news desert research has been the primary focus so far, Dr. Assmann makes it clear that the Qualitative Research Lab is open to any kind of research that uses interview data or other non-quantitative data. 

Karin Assmann teaches in front of her class.
Karin Assmann instructs her students on the first day of fall semester classes 2022. (Photo: Jackson Schroeder)

Karin Assmann: I’m hoping that this new cohort of master’s students will take the opportunity to come in here and do guided research with me. We’ll have the right kind of software that they need to answer some of the research questions that they might have.

We started this last semester, and I have to thank Dr. Janice Hume and Dr. Charles Davis, our dean, who gave the okay for this. I was asking for funding from our Department for every new student who wanted to do it and who needed a license for this software. It’s called MAXQDA, by the way. It was adding up. It was getting so expensive, I thought, why not create a lab where we have everything we need. Anybody can come in here with the data on their hard drive and use what we have. 

I also wanted to create a space where we can actually talk through some of these things. That’s one of the other things that qualitative research is. It’s really figuring out the meaning of human beings’ expressions. Often, you don’t really discover themes or the meaning of things when you’re sitting alone at home. So, it’s great to have a team that you can sit around with and brainstorm directions that you could go in. That’s the kind of space that I wanted to create here.

Grady College: Dr. Assmann’s path to academia started as a professional journalist. She was the correspondent for a German news station called Spiegel TV, based in Washington. 

Karin Assmann: I worked for print and radio, and I’ve been a producer, reporter and correspondent for television. As the industry evolved, I became more interested in finding answers to questions about the news media industry, like about journalists’ work conditions and practices and about how newsrooms worked. Of course, this was in part because I was working in a newsroom and wondering what was happening all around me. 

My dissertation looked at how the demands of audience engagement labor affected journalists. For that, I interviewed 150 journalists and audience engagement editors and strategies. I also spent about two months in various newsrooms documenting work routines. There I found that my methodology of choice, of course, has always been qualitative.

That’s why I’m really excited about this lab, because I hope to attract and support students who are also interested in doing this kind of research and provide them with resources through this space, hopefully resulting in some conference presentations and journal publications. 

I’m also the incoming head of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication’s (AEJMC) Culture and Critical Studies Division, which is traditionally a division that’s partial to qualitative research and one that’s really welcoming and supportive of grad students. 

Grady College: How can those who are interested in working in the Qualitative Research Lab get in touch with you? 

Karin Assmann: If you’re interested in working with me in this lab, just contact me. My email is KBA@uga.edu. Stop by my office. Just reach out to me and talk to me about what your research interest is and see if it aligns with the kind of work that we do here. And then we’ll take it from there. 

Podcast: Exploring Grady College’s Brain, Body and Media (BBAM) Lab

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Photo of participant having wires put on his head to detect his responses to media and messages in the BBAM Lab.
The BBAM Lab supports research investigating cognitive and emotional processing of audio and visual media. (Photo: Submitted)

Founded in 2020 and located on the fifth floor of Grady College, the Brain, Body and Media (BBAM) Lab supports research that examines psychophysiological responses to media and messages. In the lab, researchers can attach sensors to subjects to track how they respond to audio and visual stimuli. 

Many of the studies conducted in the lab monitor participants by using electrodes that measure activity in the heart, movement of facial muscles on the forehead or around the eyes, and electrodermal activity, or sweat glands, on the hands. The lab also uses electroencephalography (EEG) that measures brain wave activity. 

To further explore what happens in Grady’s BBAM Lab, check in on some of the recent projects, and inquire about how others can get involved, the Grady Research Radio podcast interviewed Dr. Glenna Read, an assistant professor in Advertising and the director of the BBAM Lab. 

Below is a transcription of the podcast, edited for clarity and brevity.


Grady College: What goes on in the BBAM Lab? 

A quote graphic that reads "We look at how the brain and body respond to mediated messages. That can be ads. That can be video games, news stories, etc." Glenna Read: A lot goes on in here. We conduct research, mainly using psychophysiological and neuroscientific measures. So, like the name of the lab implies, we look at how the brain and the body respond to mediated messages. That can be ads. That can be video games, news stories, etc.

Grady College: The lab has been used to answer a lot of questions — too many for Dr. Read to list off. Recently, the lab was used to evaluate how people respond to the correction of misinformation, corporate advocacy advertising, and different forms of COVID-19 vaccine appeals. 

Glenna Read: One of our most recent projects is looking at COVID-19 vaccine appeals and their impact on college students. This was a collaboration with Dr. Bartosz Wojdynski, Dr. Hye Jin Yoon and the graduate and undergraduate students working in the BBAM Lab. 

We were looking at three different types of message appeals, including appeals that describe societal benefits of vaccination, individual benefits of getting vaccinated, and humorous appeals, which are funny appeals about vaccinations. We found that societal benefits and humorous appeals were most successful with college students in terms of self report. So, they said, “We like these appeals. We find them more positive. We find them less negative.”

But, I think the really interesting finding was revealed by the psychophysiological measures. We looked at attention over time to each of these messages, and we found that, of the three appeal types, our participants paid the most attention to the humorous appeals. So, taken together, societal benefits and humorous appeals are both going to be effective in terms of how much people like them. But, our college students will pay more attention to the humorous appeals and then the other two. 

Grady College: What is all of this equipment? What exactly is it used for?

Glenna Read: So, it really varies. We have a bunch of different tools in the lab. But, the ones that we use the most are what we call our peripheral psychophysiological measures, and these are the measures that assess what’s happening in the body. 

There are three primary measures that we use. Our electrodermal activity measure is our sweat response, and it measures arousal. So, if somebody gets emotionally excited, they’ll start sweating, or the properties of their skin will change and that indicates to us arousal. 

We also look at electrocardiography, which we turn to heart rate. So, this is the activity of the heart. It’s kind of counterintuitive, but when you’re watching a mediated message, when you’re looking at a video or something like that, a lower heart rate is actually associated with more attention to that message because this is indicating to us that our participant can relax and take in external information.

Finally, we use facial electromyography. This is a measure of the activity of the muscles in the face that are associated with emotion. So, for example, if I furrow my brow in anger or frustration, I activate a muscle called the corrugator supercilii, and this muscle is indicative of negative affect. 

So, we can tap into these three emotional and cognitive processes: attention, or cognitive resource allocation, arousal, or emotional intensity, and emotional valence, which is positive or negative feelings.

Grady College: How did the BBAM Lab start? 

Glenna Read: I started this lab when I came to UGA. I was very lucky to have support from the College, from the AdPR Department and from UGA to be able to establish this lab. 

This, this is what I do. This is my passion. I’ve worked in a lot of different labs. I’ve set up labs. This is the first time that I’ve been able to build a lab from the ground up. This is something that I’ve always wanted to do and was really fortunate to be able to do at UGA.

Grady College: Who can get involved and how can they go about doing that?

Glenna Read: Well, we currently have both graduate students and undergraduate students working in the lab. I would encourage anybody who is interested in research or is interested in psychophysiology in particular to ask about getting involved with the lab. 

We welcome researchers with different experience levels. We welcome researchers with different interests. We have folks who are interested in going into research. We have folks who are interested in transitioning their skills to the industry. These skills that you pick up in the BBAM lab can be helpful in both ways, in terms of the networks that we’ve built within academia and beyond. 

We’re looking in particular for students who are conscientious, pay attention to detail and are good working with teams, because we’re a big team. We have 12 of us, including myself, in the BBAM Lab right now, and we all work and collaborate on each other’s projects.

If you are interested in joining the lab as an undergraduate or graduate research assistant, email Dr. Read to set up an appointment to discuss becoming involved in the BBAM Lab.

Podcast: How Grady College will approach being one of nation’s first solutions journalism hubs

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At the beginning of August, the Solutions Journalism Network named Grady College one of the nation’s first solutions journalism hubs, a designation given to only three other colleges in the United States. In this role, Grady College’s Department of Journalism will be tasked with continuing to serve as an incubator for creativity, innovation and research in solutions journalism and function as a resource for students and professionals in the region who are interested in the field.

To further unpack what this designation means, solutions journalism experts Dr. Amanda Bright, director of the Cox Institute Journalism Innovation Lab, Dr. Kyser Lough, an assistant professor in Journalism, and Ralitsa Vassileva, a lecturer in Journalism, were recently interviewed as a part of Grady College’s Grady Research Radio podcast

Below is a transcription of the podcast, edited for clarity and brevity. 

Grady College: What is solutions journalism, and why is there a need for it? A quote from Kyser Lough about the definition of solutions journalism.

Kyser Lough: Well, solutions journalism is a method of reporting where the reporter goes out and, instead of just reporting on the problems communities are facing, they also look for what people are doing about it. 

It’s not advocacy. It’s not opinion journalism. The journalist is not creating the solution. They are simply using their same set of journalistic skills and tools to go out and report on what’s being done in response to a problem. 

It was kind of born out of this idea that we sometimes focus too much on problems. I mean, it’s good. We have to uncover and thoroughly define the problems a community is facing. That’s a very important purpose of journalism. But if we only focus on that, then all we’re showing our readers is that, you know, it’s just doom and gloom all the time, and we know that’s not true. We know there are people out there trying to address these problems. So why aren’t we reporting on that, too?

A lot of people just call it just good journalism. I think putting a name on it was important to help really define what it is, but at the end of the day, it’s something a lot of journalists have been doing. It’s just that we feel a lot of folks haven’t been doing it enough.

Grady College: Amanda Bright explained that solutions journalism entered the curricula at the college roughly four years ago as a very small piece of the capstone undergraduate reporting classes in journalism. Since then, though, solutions journalism has become a part of every undergraduate capstone class. At this point, every journalism student at Grady College leaves with knowledge in some practical application of solutions journalism. 

Many student-made solutions journalism pieces are available online at Gradynewsource.uga.edu. While looking through some of those pieces, I noticed that they are far from your standard text-based news stories. The students who make the pieces often weave in both audio and visual components. So, I asked Ralitsa Vassileva about teaching multimedia solutions journalism storytelling in her classes. 

Four students and two faculty pose for a picture in Utah in front of a grove of trees with a mountain in the background.
Kyser Lough and Ralitsa Vassileva (second from right) took a small group of students to the Journalism Solutions Summit in Utah.

Ralitsa Vassileva: In my sustainability multiplatform class, I required students to use four different media platforms to tell (a solutions journalism story) besides text. It could be video. It could be audio. It could be graphics. Whatever the story requires. While for my broadcast students, I challenge them at the end of the semester to produce short videos of a solution story, again, sticking to those principles of solutions journalism for rigorous reporting, which is not easy in a minute and a half to two minutes. But with the growing importance of short videos, this is a very effective way to reach audiences.

Grady College: What does this designation, being named a solutions journalism hub, mean? 

Amanda Bright: You know, we’re still trying to figure some of that out. Our four hub schools, we’ve had lots of conversations already about what that’s going to look like on each of our university campuses and what it’s gonna look like in our regions, because we’re really representing the Southeast. 

I think a lot of that is coming to fruition as it develops, but our goal is to be a place of teaching, training, learning and resource for our geographic area. We have several faculty members who are passionate about this. We have been practicing it for a while now, so we’ve learned some things. 

We want to bring in students who want to do this kind of work, researchers who want to do this kind of work, and industry partners and news organizations that want to do this and try to marshal those resources to grow what solutions journalism is and what it means for communities.

Grady College: What does this designation mean in terms of advancing solutions journalism research? What opportunities are there for collaboration with students and professional journalists in the region who are interested in this research? 

Kyser Lough: For me, the designation means a lot when it comes to research, because it further legitimizes what we’re doing here.

It can be difficult, as a scholar, to reach out to journalists and ask them, “Hey, can I interview you and (confidentially) ask you, you know, some of these complicated questions about the work you do.” Even just getting a response can be difficult. 

Or, if we want to partner with a newsroom, sometimes it’s not enough just to be somebody at the University of Georgia. They’re skeptical about what participating in this research means. Being able to come at it from, you know, “We’re from the solutions journalism hub. This is what we study. This is what we do,” I think that’s going to add a lot of oomf in our research and any grant applications that we’re doing. It’s important just in getting the visibility out there that this is a legitimate site of study. We’re a place where people who have questions can come to. If they are an editor of a newsroom and they want to know if this is having any impact, they can come to us and we can look at surveys, focus groups and other ways to assess what’s going on in their newsroom when it comes to solutions journalism and the audience.

I have several studies that I’m currently working on that I’m always excited to have other people come on board with. I’m also excited to have people come pitch an idea, and we’ll talk about the potential. 

Students who are interested can come to our Master’s program or our PhD program, and they can incorporate that into their studies. We can talk about independent study. We could also work that into their actual program of work for their thesis or dissertation. 

There are so many different ways you can take this and apply it, especially to different reporting topics, which is another thing that we’ve been hoping to expand on in the research. How does this play out in health reporting? How does this play out in education reporting, where you’re constantly hearing that either a school has super high scores or super low scores. We never really hear about what schools are doing to try and address those issues.

There’s lots of different topics we can apply it to. Somebody doesn’t have to come here and be a solutions scholar. They can come here being very interested in political coverage. As part of that, we look at solutions journalism and how that can apply to that specific topic.

Grady College: The experts included in this interview want to hear from you, the current and future students, educators and industry professionals in the region. Their contact information is listed below.

Amanda Bright: Amanda.Bright@uga.edu

Kyser Lough: KyserL@uga.edu

Ralitsa Vassileva: Ralitsa.Vassileva@uga.edu