Grady faculty and graduate students present at ICA conference; Walker and Kim to receive Outstanding Dissertation Awards

Several Grady College faculty and graduate students will present their research at the annual International Communication Association Conference May 25-29, 2023.

The conference takes place in Toronto.

Among the highlights are the presentations of two Outstanding Dissertation Awards: one to Denetra Walker, assistant professor of journalism, and one to Solyee Kim, lecturer in public relations.

Walker’s award comes from ICA’s Ethnicity and Race in Communication Division. Her dissertation, written at the University of South Carolina, was titled “Gatekeeping Blackness: The Roles, Relationships, And Pressures of Black Television Journalists at a Time of Racial Reckoning.”

Kim’s award is the James E. Grunig and Larissa A. Grunig Outstanding Dissertation Award for her paper, “DEI Sensemaking and Social Identity Signaling in Public Relations: Recruitment of BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ Practitioners Through DEI Cues.” Kim earned this award through the Public Relations Division

Other faculty and graduate students participating in the ICA conference include (listed in chronological order of presentation):

Thursday, May 25

1:30 p.m., Charlotte Varnum makes a pre-conference presentation, “Eyes and ears: Examining how mobile users navigate and make listening decisions on podcast platforms”

Friday, May 26

9 -10:15 a.m., Yan Jin is the chair and discussant for a panel, “”Leading Strategic Communication Through Turbulent Times: How the Contingency Theory Advances Practice in the Management of Crises, Conflicts and Complex Public Relations Issues.” (2-Kenora, Sheraton)

Noon – 1:15 p.m., Juan Meng chairs the panel “Innovation in Strategic Communication Research and Education.” (2-Kenora, Sheraton)

1:30 – 2:45 p.m., Juan Meng and Michael Cacciatore co-present the paper, “The Integrated Role of Adaptive Leadership, Sense of Empathy, and Communication Transparency: A Novel Approach to Trust Building in Public Relations.” (2-Kent, Sheraton)

4:30-5:45 p.m., Yan Jin co-presents “Public’s Health Information Consumption During a ProlongedPandemic: The Competing Roles of Journalists and Digital Influencers and Their Effects in Combating Message Fatigue.” (LC—Grand Ballroom, Sheraton)

Juan Meng also serves on the International Journal of Strategic Communication Editorial Board which meets Friday evening.

Saturday, May 27

9 – 10:15 a.m., Yan Jin chairs a session, “Addressing Misinformation and Benefits of Information,” and also presents with Xuerong Lu, a graduate student, “”There is a time for everything in organizational corrective communication: The effects of correction placement timing and refutation detail level on combating crisis misinformation.” (2-Elgin, Sheraton)

3 – 4:15 p.m., Michael Cacciatore co-presents the research, “Legitimate and appropriate science communication: The effects of anthropomorphic and satirical humor on source credibility.” (Dominion, Sheraton)

Sunday, May 28

9 – 10:15 a.m., Michael Cacciatore presents the research, “Cultivating interest in science through humor: Mirth as a leveler of gaps in science engagement.” (Cedar, Sheraton)

10:30 – 11:45 a.m., Juan Meng chairs the session, “Ethics, Listening, Purpose, and Dissensus: Various Applications of Public Relations” (M-Norfolk, Sheraton)

1:30 – 2:45 p.m., Hye Jin Yoon and Youngji Seo, a graduate student, discuss their paper, “The Individual/Combined Effects and Order Effects of Fear and Humor in Sun Safety Messages on Social Media” (2-Mackenzie, Sheraton)

4:30 – 5:45 p.m., Laurena Bernabo presents research on “Race, Representation and Identity.” (Room 2Kent)

Monday, May 29

9 – 10:15 a.m., Hye Jin Yoon and Youngjee Ko, a graduate student, present the research, “The Role of Corporate Social Responsibility Orientation in Green Demarketing Publicity and Advertising.” (2-Provnicial North, Sheraton)

Noon – 1:15 p.m., Karin Assmann serves as a panelist for the session, “Of the People, by the People, for the People: Re-Inventing Public Media to Support Democracy and Social Change.” She will also discuss her paper, “Crisis of Confidence: German Public Media Under Pressure.”

Vaccine hesitancy persists among parents

The majority of U.S. parents accept the recommended vaccine schedule for their children. But new research from the University of Georgia suggests vaccine hesitancy among a small but significant percentage of Americans doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon.

The study reviewed recent published data and studies on vaccination rates and acceptance from a number of sources, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s annual National Immunization Surveys, peer-reviewed journal articles and articles in respected national media outlets, such as the New York Times.

For the present study, the researchers defined vaccine hesitancy as reluctance or indecision that may cause a parent to choose not to vaccinate themselves or their children. Vaccine hesitancy is the reluctance or doubt about the value of a vaccine. It can cause parents to delay or decline a recommended childhood vaccination.

“Vaccine hesitancy is much discussed but needs to be better and more consistently studied,” said Glen Nowak, lead author of the study and co-director of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication’s Center for Health and Risk Communication. “A key finding from this review is that many parents’ concerns about childhood vaccines have persisted over time.

“The recent studies we examined continue to show many new parents are concerned about the number of vaccines given at one time for young children, and many parents are concerned about potential side effects or safety. Unfortunately, all this persists despite years of widespread medical community and public health awareness and efforts to address vaccine hesitancy.”

Nowak previously served as the media relations director at the CDC and the communications director for the agency’s National Immunization Program.

“Our review is a reminder that the medical community and public health need to continually provide vaccine education, especially to first-time parents, about why vaccines are used, how vaccines work, what vaccines can do and what they can’t do,” said Nowak, who is also a professor in UGA’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Parents hesitant about HPV, flu vaccines

The researchers found recently published surveys indicate that most parents accept recommended childhood vaccines and have their children vaccinated on schedule.

However, their review of recent studies also showed higher levels of hesitancy for specific vaccines, particularly HPV and flu vaccines. Recent studies suggest that only three out of five teens are fully vaccinated against HPV, and 92% of parents with unprotected children in one CDC study said they were not likely to get them vaccinated.

The researchers also found that recently published research consistently found significant differences in vaccination rates across states and demographic groups.

For example, more than 88% of infants in Arizona received the hepatitis B vaccine at birth compared to only 62% of Florida newborns, according to one study.

Similarly, another study found Georgia, Maryland, Wisconsin, Wyoming and Kentucky had a 5% to 10% decline in kindergarteners vaccinated for measles, mumps and rubella (known as the MMR vaccine) in the 2020-2021 school year. Several other states, including Washington and Idaho, also had counties with high levels of nonmedical vaccine exemptions.

Several recent years of CDC data showed lower rates of pediatric vaccination among Black and Hispanic children. Additionally, children who weren’t covered by private health insurance were dramatically less likely to receive almost all recommended vaccines, as were those in lower socioeconomic households.

Political affiliation may affect willingness to vaccinate children

The review also found some evidence to suggest there may be a connection between parents’ general political beliefs and reluctance to vaccinate one’s children.

The researchers recommend that more and continued research is necessary to better understand how political beliefs are related to parents’ understanding of vaccine benefits and risks.

The small number of recently published articles that were examined in the review suggested vaccine hesitancy among self-reported conservative individuals was associated with valuing personal liberty. The limited available evidence, however, primarily focused on COVID-19 vaccine acceptance and the idea that adults can and should be able to make their own medical choices.

“That’s different than what is often found when it comes to childhood vaccination hesitancy,” Nowak said. “This type of hesitancy reflects concerns beyond a vaccine’s effectiveness or safety, which are things doctors and nurses are often able to address. This type of vaccine hesitancy, which may pertain more to vaccines recommended for adults, involves things like, ‘I don’t want to get it because it’s my right to not get it.’”

Nowak noted that successfully addressing vaccine hesitancy based on philosophical or political values is a much harder hurdle for health care providers and public health experts to overcome.

Public health, medical community must continually invest in vaccine education

Another challenge in building vaccination acceptance and reducing vaccine hesitancy is that the population of parents with children who need vaccines is ever changing.

“Every single day, new parents are coming online, so efforts to improve vaccination acceptance can’t just be a single campaign and then it’s done,” Nowak said. “Vaccine education needs to be ongoing and highly visible, which would require a culture change in the public health and medical communities.

“I think the culture has been changing, but we haven’t crossed the threshold where vaccine education is a big part of public health and the medical world, particularly with pediatricians, family physicians, nurses and OB-GYNs.

“Until we get to that point,” Nowak continued, “I think we’re going to continue to see many parents and others be reluctant or have doubts about the safety and benefits of recommended vaccines.”

Nowak noted that state and local vaccination requirements for day care and school enrollment can be helpful to reach community immunity levels for certain diseases, but that mandates don’t build trust in the medical and public health community among parents.

“Trust is essential if you’re actually going to reduce hesitancy,” Nowak said. “We have to do more to educate parents, particularly first-time parents and during pregnancy, about the vaccines that will be recommended after the child is born, why those vaccines are recommended and the importance of young children getting those vaccines in a timely manner.”

Published in Pediatric Clinics of North America, the study was co-authored by Michael Cacciatore, co-director of the Center for Health and Risk Communication and an associate professor in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Whistleblowers losing faith in media impact

The whistleblowers who once trusted journalism are losing faith in the institution.

new study from the University of Georgia found that many whistleblowers who reached out to journalists in the past no longer believe media has the same ability to motivate change, and they feel let down by a system they once trusted.

“If you don’t believe that an outlet or journalist can carry you across the finish line—meaning can affect change, attract enough attention and attract the attention of the right people—then you’re losing faith,” said Karin Assmann, study lead and assistant professor in UGA’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. “So if you think the institution of journalism no longer has the same impact, maybe because you see algorithms dictate what people pay attention to, then you lose faith.”

Distrust in institutions leads to skepticism

Assmann’s study was inspired by her own career as a journalist and a desire to protect the profession as it undergoes significant change. Assmann spoke with 16 whistleblowers who contacted journalists between the 1970s and 2010s, discussing their decisions to go to the press, their experience during interviews and their reflections on how media has changed.

Although they once believed journalists would protect sources and stories would foster accountability and evoke change, study participants noted the erosion of media’s reach throughout the last several decades.

“Especially with early whistleblowers, I would say through the early 2000s, there would be an emphasis on television,” Assmann said. “People would tune into the evening news, and pay attention to what this whistleblower had to say, trusting that it must be worthy of the audience’s attention if it made it into the evening news.”

But today, many whistleblowers believe consumers are less likely to watch the news or read a newspaper—they’re tuning into YouTube and reading brief push notifications or social posts instead. This, coupled with a loss of faith in institutions, meant that if they had another whistle to blow, they might rely on a different medium to spread the message.

“Another thing about whistleblowers is that their trust in their own institution has been damaged,” Assmann said. “So many of them see journalism as an institution that is equally damaged because they may have an ideology that tells them corporate ownership dictates how news is spread, the same way that maybe corporate ownership is responsible for whatever they’re blowing the whistle on.”

A lack of resources impacting newsrooms

Assmann’s study also cataloged the care with which whistleblowers selected journalists. They sought individuals with an established byline, experience reporting on specific topics and a dedicated audience.

“The whistleblowers talked about individuals plus institutions. Jeff Wigand, for example, was really strategic,” Assmann said, highlighting the former tobacco executive who reported that chemicals were added to a tobacco blend to increase the nicotine’s effect. “He looked at ‘60 Minutes,’ looked at the ratings. He knew the program was going to reach millions of people.”

Another example from the study was Tom Drake, who exposed excessive spending at the National Security Agency in 2010.

Drake relied on anonymity for his own safety, and he sought out a specific journalist who would understand the nuances of encryption and the intelligence community in order make sure his report was understood and well-reported.

“He had to find somebody who understood encryption, who would buy into all of the safeguards he had set up in order to share what he had to share without being found out,” Assmann said. “That is an extreme example, but other people follow that same logic and choose who they see as a subject matter expert. That kind of expertise is now at risk, I would say, in the current media landscape.”

Now, reporters are stretched thin and more likely to cover multiple topics.

“You’ll often start working at a news organization, and maybe you’ll have a beat, but you’ll also have to do 100 other things,” Assmann said. “How are you supposed to build trust? How are people supposed to recognize you as somebody who is a subject matter expert?”

Trending lack of trust

There are several factors at hand in waning faith in media, including shrinking newsrooms and a growing gap between communities and journalists. And in a world where more consumers rely on quick articles—or just headlines—to stay up to date, newsrooms need to become better resourced to rebuild trust.

“My suspicion, and I don’t think I’m alone with that, is that there is a crisis in local news,” Assmann said. “People don’t meet journalists in their everyday life anymore. Normal citizens don’t find themselves represented in local broadcast or the local paper.”

Continued research, however, can highlight opportunities to support newsrooms and rebuild some of that trust to combat negative perceptions, Assmann said.

“There’s a mistrust in the news media that’s been fostered, I would say, in the last couple of years through some politicians who have something to gain from the news media losing credibility,” Assmann said. “So I think this is a huge construction site for us to work on as journalism scholars and as journalists.”

If things continue along the same trajectory, whistleblowers could start turning to alternative forms of media to share their stories. Many interviewees in the study reported having greater trust for alternative news sources—blogs or social media—than traditional media.

But Assmann is wary of fully attributing this shift to mistrust.

“I would say that rather than calling it mistrust, it reflects them being media savvy and understanding how media networks work and audiences work,” she said. “The new, modern whistleblower may be born out of mistrust for mainstream media and just figures out that these are the best ways to get their stuff out of there. Maybe the next whistleblower will say, ‘I’ll make it a TikTok video,’ if, you know, TikTok is even still around.”

This feature originally appeared UGA Today website


New podcast spotlights Grady College’s research and expertise

As podcasts continue to grow as a popular form of media, it is only fitting that the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication would turn to audio storytelling to help highlight its research and expertise.

The new Grady Research Radio podcast, which debuted on Sept. 7, 2022, and is recorded in the podcast studio Studio Not Found, features concise conversations with faculty members at Grady College and shines a light on their research and proficiencies, as well as the College’s labs. 

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.

The podcast’s debut episode covered the news of Grady being named one of the nation’s inaugural solutions journalism hubs by the Solutions Journalism Network. It features interviews with Grady faculty and solutions journalism experts Dr. Amanda Bright, Dr. Kyser Lough and Ralitsa Vassileva, who explained what Grady College is currently doing in research, instruction and outreach to advance solutions journalism, what the new designation means, and how students, educators and professionals in the region can get involved.

“There’s so much happening on campus that we never hear about,” said Vassileva. “A podcast that spreads the word across silos could advance solutions journalism beyond what we can achieve on our own. It could spark new ideas for collaboration.”

The solutions journalism episode was soon followed by one on Grady’s Brain, Body and Media (BBAM) Lab, a lab directed by assistant professor of advertising Dr. Glenna Read used to research psychophysiological reactions to different forms of 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.

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)

Similarly, the podcast’s third episode sheds light on the new Qualitative Research Lab at Grady College, where graduate and undergraduate students can pursue research focusing on qualitative, non-numerical data. It features a conversation with Dr. Karin Assmann, an assistant professor in the Journalism Department at Grady College and the director of the Qualitative Research Lab. In the episode, 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.

The fourth and fifth episodes zero in on the 2022 general elections in the state of Georgia. The fourth episode features a conversation with Dr. David Clementson, an assistant professor in Public Relations at Grady College and a political communication researcher, about the state of political debates. The fifth includes a discussion with Joseph Watson, Jr., the Carolyn Caudell Tieger Professor of Public Affairs Communications in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations at Grady College, about political advertisements.

 “Grady College has many tremendous researchers who work really hard to run studies and collect data answering tough questions and addressing huge phenomena that affect our lives,” said Clementson. “The Grady Research Radio podcast is a great way for professors’ studies to translate to the general public in a fun, conversational and approachable way. I love listening to the podcast and learning more about my own colleagues who are working hard on impactful research.” 

Shira Chess holding up a cake designed to look like her book Ready Player 2.
Shira Chess cutting the cake during a celebration for the release of “Ready Player Two: Women Gamers and Designed Identity” in 2017. (Photo: Sarah Freeman)

The sixth and most recent episode focuses on the field of game studies and features an interview with Dr. Shira Chess, an associate professor in the Department of Entertainment and Media Studies (EMST), a game studies researcher, and the author of books including “Play Like a Feminist” and “Ready Player Two: Women Gamers and Designed Identity.” Dr. Chess discusses her research, why video games may not get the attention they deserve, and what the future may hold for the field. 

Grady Research Radio is hosted and produced by Jackson Schroeder, the public relations specialist at Grady College. It is generally released biweekly, and a complete list of episodes can be found here.

Glen Nowak co-investigator on grant to forecast novel pandemics

What if public health officials had a way to forecast pandemics the way meteorologists forecast the weather?

An interdisciplinary team of scientists with the University of Georgia Center for the Ecology of Infectious Diseases has been awarded a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to find a way to do exactly that.

Glen Nowak, Grady College’s associate dean for research and graduate studies and co-director of the Center for Health & Risk Communication is a co-investigator for the project.

The researchers, led by Regents’ Professor John Drake of the Odum School of Ecology, will use the grant to build systems for infectious disease intelligence that could predict—and ultimately help prevent—novel pandemics like COVID-19.

The goal of the project is to enable public health authorities and other decision-makers to understand in real time where and how spillover—when a disease jumps from wildlife or livestock to humans—may occur, how an outbreak begins to spread and how information can be used to encourage different groups of people to adopt behaviors to keep them and their communities safe.

“I have studied the dynamics of infectious diseases for over 15 years, and I believe that infectious disease models can be developed for real-time interpretation of disease spread anywhere on the planet,” said Drake, who is Director of the CEID. I am inspired by the success of atmospheric models for weather prediction, which have become increasingly sophisticated over the past seventy years.  We need the same for infectious diseases.  This grant will help us realize infectious disease technologies and methodologies that don’t yet exist.”

The team, which includes several faculty members  from UGA as well as researchers from the University of Michigan and the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, has 18 months to prove that their technological innovations can help global industries, governments, nonprofits and societies handle the next infectious disease spillover event or outbreak.

The researchers will follow an approach pioneered to solve complex engineering problems, collaborating on six demonstration projects that are based upon their core expertise. Each project will be modeled on highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), but lessons learned are expected to be transferable to other pathogens, including those emerging diseases that have yet to be identified.

This approach has not previously been used in infectious disease modeling, said Nowak.

“When the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread throughout the globe and the United States, many organizations quickly conducted surveys and polls to learn more about what people were thinking and doing when it came to reducing the spread of the virus and preventing serious illness,” he said. “Traditionally, very little of that information has been used to inform infectious disease models and forecasts, even though human beliefs and behaviors greatly affect how severe and how long a pandemic will last. I am excited about this project because the information not only can inform public health messages, but it can help us identify the beliefs and behaviors that should be public health communication priorities.”

The demonstration projects will target different aspects and stages of spillover events, outbreaks, and control efforts. They include developing artificial intelligence platforms that can predict how the environmental interactions between humans and wild animals lead to the transmission of pathogens that cause infectious disease outbreaks, surveys to capture how different human populations are influenced by disease prevention and vaccine acceptance messaging, determining the underlying processes that impact HPAI dynamics and determining which HPAI viruses have pandemic potential through the study of molecular virology and immunology.

“Highly pathogenic flu is an ideal pathogen to model,” said team member Pejman Rohani, Regents’ Professor in the Odum School and the College of Veterinary Medicine department of infectious diseases. “Like SARS-CoV-2, HPAI is a highly transmissible respiratory virus, and it has a similar pathology. Although our attention is still on COVID-19, a pandemic created by the spillover of HPAI remains an ever-present concern among epidemiologists and public health officials. Much of what we have learned during COVID-19how people have behaved, the effectiveness of non-pharmaceutical interventions such as wearing a facemask, vaccine hesitancy, and the biology of pathogen transmissioncan be directly applied to HPAI.”

Individual demonstration projects are designed so that the outputs of each one feed into the others; the resulting synthesis of information will be much more robust than that of any one project on its own.

Drake and his colleagues must submit the results of their research by January 2024. Within the next two years, the National Science Foundation is expected to publish a call for Phase II grant proposals  to develop a Center for Pandemic Prediction and Prevention. A Center of this magnitude could propel the University of Georgia into a global leader in Infectious Disease Intelligence research and forecasting.

Along with Drake, Rohani and Nowak, the grant’s co-investigators are Justin Bahl of the UGA Colleges of Public Health and Veterinary Medicine, Bogdan Epureanu of the University of Michigan School of Engineering, and Barbara Han of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies

“I have extensively worked with all of these scientists who have different professional backgrounds and experiences,” said Drake. “I am excited about the advances that we are going to add to the burgeoning field of infectious disease intelligence.”

Grady College faculty and graduate students share research at AEJMC 2022 conference

Faculty and graduate students from Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication will chair committees, present research and network with educators at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication annual conference. The 2022 conference takes place in Detroit Aug. 3 – 6, 2022.

Among the highlights for Grady faculty and graduate students this year are several awards, including Solyee Kim (PhD ’22), who will receive the top student paper award in the Public Relations division. Kim’s paper, “Social Identity Signaling in Public Relations: Recruitment of BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ Practitioners,” will be presented during a session called “Referred Top Student Papers,” at 9:30 a.m. on Sat, Aug. 6. She will be recognized for her honor at the end of a session called “Referred Top Open Papers,” starting at 6 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 5.

Jonathan Peters of our faculty, along with Leslie Klein, a Ph.D. student, will accept the award for Top Faculty paper of the Scholastic Journalism Division. The topic of their paper is “Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L. and Regulating Off-Campus Student Expression: The Good News For College Student Journalists.”

Several faculty hold leadership positions at AEJMC, as well. At the conclusion of this year’s conference Karin Assmann will assume her role as vice head of the Cultural and Critical Studies Division. Jonathan Peters serves as research chair of the Law and Policy Division, and Yan Jin is on the editorial board of the Journal of Public Relations Research (JPRR).

The Karen Russell Award of Most Downloaded Article in 2021 at Journal of Public Relations Research will be presented by the Public Relations Division. This year’s award will be presented to Nneka Logan of the School of Communication at Virginia Tech.

The following provides a listing of presentations and panels by College faculty:

Wednesday, Aug. 3

8:30 to 10 a.m. Kyser Lough is the discussant for the “Consumers, Identification and Social Media” refereed paper session in the Visual Communication Division.

8:30 to 10 a.m. Ja Kyung Seo and Yan Jin present “Mask-wearing as an unspoken statement of one’s identity during the COVID-19 pandemic” as part of the Scholar-to-Scholar Session, Topic IX: COVID-19, Identity, and the Self.

12:30 to 2 p.m. Kyser Lough leads “Exploring the Photo Bill of Rights,” a Professional Freedom & Responsibility panel, co-sponsored by the Visual Communication and Law and Policy divisions.

12:30 to 2 p.m. Karin Assmann and Alexander Pfeuffer serve on a panel co-sponsored by the Advertising Division and the Newspaper and Online News Division, “Pushing Fuzzy Boundaries: Advertising, Journalism Ethics and Professional Identities in Branded Newsrooms.”

2:30 to 4 p.m., Michael Cacciatore‘s research will be presented during a poster session. The presenter will be Henry Allen of the University of Utah.

Thursday, Aug. 4

7 a.m. Journal of Public Relations Research (JPRR) Editorial Board Meeting. Yan Jin serves on the editorial board.

10:30 a.m. Karin Assmann is moderator and panelist for “Change Comes from the Top: Bringing Diversity into Newsroom Leadership” co-sponsored with the Divisions Mass Communication and Society and Media Management and Entrepreneurship.

12:15 p.m., Glen Nowak and Yan Jin are panelists for the Public Relations Division Graduate Student Luncheon. They will talk about “Cross-National, Cross-Disciplinary, and Cross-Institutional Collaboration.” The event takes place at Andiamo Detroit Riverfront Restaurant and is sponsored by Grady College.

12:30 – 2 p.m. Karin Assmann is moderating a high-density paper panel sponsored by the International Communication Division.

2:30 – 4 p.m. Karin Assmann and Alexander Pfeuffer are presenting their poster “Fuzzy Boundaries: Journalists Telling Branded Stories” as part of the Advertising Division’s session titled “Advertising Innovations: Influencers, ASMR, Gamification, Story Telling, and Nation Branding”

2:30 – 4 p.m. Karin Assmann is moderating a research paper session co-sponsored by the Communication Technology and Political Communication Divisions with the theme “Politics of Content Moderation: Deplatforming Right-Wing Users and the Emergence of Alternative Social Media.”

Friday, Aug. 5

8:30-10 a.m. Location to be determined. Glen Nowak is a panelist for a session titled “Addressing Sensitive and Controversial Topics in Class,” which is focus on efforts and strategies for effectively discussing sensitive and controversial issues in class without stigmatization and discrimination.

2-3:30 p.m. Carlo Finlay serves on a panel called “Capitalizing on NIL: Feministic perspectives on Name, Image and Likeness,” presented by the Commission on the Status of Women and Law and Policy Division.

4 p.m. William Newlin (MA ’22) and Karin Assmann are presenting their paper “From Liberal Bias to Fake News” about Sean Hannity’s anti-press rhetoric during Presidential election seasons from 2012-2020 during a session sponsored by the Political Communication Division.

5 to 5: 30 p.m.: Leslie Klein and Jonathan Peters, “Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L. and Regulating Off-Campus Student Expression: The Good News For College Student Journalists,” Scholastic Journalism Division. This paper is the winner of the Top Faculty Paper Award.

Congratulations sign for Jon Peters and Leslie Klein for Top Faculty Paper at AEJMC

6 to 8 p.m.: Solyee Kim accepts her Top Student Paper Award at the end of the “Referred Top Student Papers” presentation.

6 to 8 p.m.: Jonathan Peters moderates a Top Paper Panel for the Law and Policy Division.

Saturday, Aug. 6

9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.: Refereed Top Student Papers: Solyee Kim will present her paper, which is the winner of Top Student Paper Award in the Public Relations division. Her paper was titled “Social Identity Signaling in Public Relations: Recruitment of BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ Practitioners.”

9.30 a.m. Karin Assmann is moderating the Cultural and Critical Studies Division refereed paper session “Critical Studies in Journalism”

Congratulations Sign for AEJMC Top Student Paper Award for Solyee Kim

Age may rival politics in COVID-19 vaccine debate

New research from the University of Georgia suggests age and risk perception may have as much of an effect on COVID-19 vaccine acceptance as party affiliation.

“There’s been a lot of attention to political ideology as a barrier to COVID-19 vaccination acceptance,” said Glen Nowak, corresponding author of the study and professor in Grady College. “What we found in our survey was that’s not so much true as people get older. Current CDC coverage data affirms this. People who are 65 and older are almost universally vaccinated, particularly as you start getting to 75 and older.”

The nationally representative survey of more than 1,000 people examined how demographic characteristics—such as age and sex, political ideology and news source preference—related to views on COVID-19 and vaccine intent.

Respondents who were age 50 or older considered themselves more at risk for severe illness from the coronavirus. And they were more concerned that catching the virus would negatively impact their daily lives.

Younger Americans were less likely to consider themselves at risk of severe illness. They’re also less likely to worry about contracting the virus and less likely to keep themselves up to date on the latest COVID-related news.

“Looking at 18- to 29-year-olds, it’s not surprising that they are the group with the lowest overall COVID vaccination rates because they’re not a group that is suffering serious illness and death from COVID,” said Nowak, who also serves as co-director of UGA’s Center for Health and Risk Communication. “Are there instances of that? Absolutely. But it’s relatively rare. I think many people in that age group understand that.”

Glen Nowak talks with WSET about COVID-19 vaccination research findings.

More COVID-19 information isn’t always better 

Published in the International Journal of Strategic Communication, the study found that political affiliation and where participants got their news were the most consistent predictors of how an individual felt about their COVID-19 risk level and their vaccine intent.

Liberals in the study viewed the virus as a bigger threat to their daily lives than conservatives. They worried about becoming ill, believed symptoms would be severe and expressed concern that they could pass the disease to others. They were also more likely to accept the vaccine and trust authority figures like the CDC and FDA.

Both liberals and moderates believed medical care and treatment would be more difficult to access than conservatives.

Surprisingly, people who said they get their COVID-19 news from a variety of sources, both conservative and liberal, were more likely to be vaccine hesitant than those who stuck to partisan news sources.

“If you had asked us before we this study, we would have said pretty confidently that people who were looking at a wide array of information would be much more likely to be vaccinated and have much more confidence in the vaccine,” Nowak said. “What this suggested was the opposite in many instances. Many people who tried or said that they looked at a broad spectrum of information sources came away less confident and more uncertain about the vaccine and its value.”

Public health should tailor messages to the right audiences 

The differences between participants on the right, left or middle highlight the need to tailor COVID-19 messaging to different populations, Nowak said.

Those who aren’t in a high-risk category, like young adults, quickly realize that they’re unlikely to get really sick from the coronavirus and largely tune out public health education efforts.

Communications to these populations should focus on more realistic situations for them, Nowak said. For example, emphasize that there aren’t great treatments available to treat patients if they are one of the few who do need hospitalization.

“This data shows you can’t assume interest and attention from younger people and those who are less affected by COVID-19,” Nowak said. “It’s a good reminder that we can’t just blast, ‘Everybody should be afraid of getting severe COVID.’ That’s not an effective communication strategy.”

This study was co-authored by Michael Cacciatore, an associate professor in the Grady College and co-director of the Center for Health and Risk Communications.

Editor’s Note: This release was originally posted on the UGA News website.


Wunpini Fatimata Mohammed awarded 2022-2023 Sarah H. Moss Fellowship

Wunpini Fatimata Mohammed, assistant professor in Entertainment and Media Studies, has been named a recipient of a 2022-2023 Sarah H. Moss Fellowship. 

Administered by the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Georgia, the fellowship provides funds for travel and related expenses for tenure-track faculty pursuing advanced scholarship, research and study.

Mohammed’s research project is titled, “Media and Decolonization: Re-righting the Subaltern Histories of Ghana.” With this funding, she plans to travel to several cities in Ghana, including Tamale and Accra, to conduct archival research, ethnographic observations and follow-up interviews to supplement research already done which will become a scholarly book.

Wunpini Mohammed, assistant professor in EMST, teaches Entertainment Media Analysis outside in the Media Garden.
Wunpini Mohammed, assistant professor in EMST, teaches Entertainment Media Analysis outside in the Media Garden. (Photo: Sarah Freeman)

“In this research project, I am interested in examining the silenced histories of media in African communities that have historically been shut out of their own representations,” said Mohammed.

“I am going back to my community in Ghana to learn more about the media cultures of the country to satisfy some of the curiosities I had growing up as a child,” she continued. “I will be examining content on mediums such as radio and TV, focusing on how they have served as a tool for marginalization and a site of resistance within this community.”

Mohammed will be spending time at the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation in Accra to sort through their archives and gather data to support the section of her book on technology and media development in Ghana.

Mohammed will also spend time at community gatherings to learn more about community relationships with media at the regional and national level. In Tamale, she will be hosted by the  Department of Communication, Innovation, and Technology of the University for Development Studies. 

“Growing up, I barely saw representations about me and my community in national media. This sparked my interest in media and the politics of media representation,” Mohammed said about what motivated her to pursue this research topic. “These experiences have inspired me to contribute to building knowledge in the field of media so that the people who come after me will have something to build on too.”

The camera eats first: Q&A with Kyser Lough

Assistant Professor Kyser Lough teaches in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications’ photojournalism program and studies visual communication, with an emphasis on photojournalism, as well as solutions journalism. In this interview, Lough discusses the continuing role of photojournalists in an age of ubiquitous imagery, and how he teaches his students to navigate that landscape. Read more about his research here.

How do you describe photojournalism research?

You can think of it several different ways, and the first is looking at the images themselves: What are the images telling us? How are they chosen? What’s being left out? Who is in the image? What kind of effects do these images have on people? That’s a big question surrounding conflict photography especially—we need these photos to see what’s going on, but what kind of toll is it taking on us to constantly see images of conflict?

What we often forget about is there’s a person behind the camera making these pictures, and that person has to physically be there. During the pandemic a lot of reporters were stuck at home; they were calling their sources and having Zoom meetings. The photographers had to go to these places to make these photos. So there are a lot of questions surrounding access and embodiment when it comes to being a photojournalist—how they have to use their bodies in the act of photography, not just to maneuver to make photos but also in negotiating for access to where they need to be.

It’s also fascinating to dig into photographers’ minds and ask about their process. How do they look for things to photograph? How do they decide what, who and when to photograph? When you combine that with talking about access and embodiment, it gives us a deeper look into the images.

As a visual communicator, what your thoughts about how the media world we live in has changed over the last two or three decades?

It’s definitely changed how we think of images. We toggle back and forth between seeing images as pure, unadulterated reality or pure, unadulterated fiction. It’s something we have to consider when we think about modern-day news literacy. In being worried about misinformation and disinformation, we need to really look at images. Part of that is putting the focus back on the image creator and the image owner. Just like we try and vet news sources, we also need to vet image sources and understand that many different things could have happened between an image being captured and us seeing it.

With deep fake video technology and ever more sophisticated photo-editing software, how are we going to determine the truth of an image in the future?

There is fascinating work being done on this right now. Part of it is news literacy and training us to have a healthy dose of skepticism when consuming news. But on the other end, there are computer scientists developing algorithms to analyze and detect alteration in images and video.

From the professional side, there are organizations and people working to prevent it on the creation end. So instead of trying to detect a fake image, it’s about providing a certificate of authenticity: “This image is real.” The Content Authenticity Initiative is probably the biggest one right now, where they are working with Adobe and other folks to essentially create a uneditable chain of edits and history on a photo. You can see the date and time the image was taken, but also see that it was loaded into Photoshop and these different edits were made. If that’s widely adopted—and the problem is it has to be adopted—then we can use that to vet images before they are out there and manipulated.

Dr. Kyser Lough Assistant Professor, Journalism
“We toggle back and forth between seeing images as pure, unadulterated reality or pure, unadulterated fiction. It’s something we have to consider when we think about modern-day news literacy,” Lough said. “Just like we try and vet news sources, we also need to vet image sources and understand that many different things could have happened between an image being captured and us seeing it.” (Photo by Jason Thrasher)
On a more positive note, all this changing technology and media affords a lot more possibilities to photojournalists in how they create and publish and share their work. What do you teach your students about how to leverage that to their advantage?

We start with the core foundation that storytelling matters, first and foremost. It has to be a good story. It has to be a good moment. We have to be people-focused. We start there, and then we can think about the platforms we use to tell this story. It’s so easy to get lost in the shiny new thing and forget we have to start as good journalists and good storytellers.

Now that everyone has a camera in their pocket, do we still need photojournalists?

That’s such a great question. In 2009, an airplane landed in the Hudson River in New York, and one of the first images to spread from that was not taken by a photojournalist—it was taken by a man on a ferry with a cell phone. He uploaded it to Twitter, and within minutes it was all over the place. Of course, now that’s commonplace. We know when something’s happening, and we’re not just seeing pictures posted—we’re seeing people livestreaming from their phones.

It’s very important for society to have that ability, for us to be able to witness and surveil as private citizens. On the other side of it, however, I firmly believe it’s still important to have photojournalists and trained storytellers out there because of the ethics and sensitivity surrounding a lot of the stories we’re trying to tell.

Journalism should be independent. There should be no conflict of interest; the journalist covering the story should not be involved in the story. The journalist’s images, while not being completely objective, are still representative of an independent observer who has been trained in how to be fair and how to cover the story and how to skillfully use the equipment. We still need journalists to tell these stories and uncover instances where power is being abused, and especially to protect the vulnerable.

Are your students more sophisticated about visual communications, having grown up with Instagram and Twitter and all of these new media?

I like to think so. It’s hard to think back to a time when we didn’t have a camera in our pocket, although it hasn’t been that long when you think about it. The biggest shift has been in the visual literacy students have in how the cell phone camera has allowed them to regularly observe and document their daily life. Once on a study abroad program we sat down to dinner, and the students brought out their phones and took pictures of the food. The phrase they taught me was: “Phone eats first.” And I love it. There’s no shame in it. I mean, when else in history has it been this easy to just snag a picture of anything and then go back and use the photo as a memory device?

Dr. Kyser Lough Assistant Professor, Journalism
Despite all the new technologies in photography that have emerged over recent decades, Lough teaches his students that basic principles still apply when it comes to photojournalism. “Storytelling matters, first and foremost,” he said. “We start there, and then we can think about the platforms we use to tell this story. It’s so easy to get lost in the shiny new thing and forget we have to start as good journalists and good storytellers.” (Photo by Jason Thrasher)
What’s the best photo you’ve ever taken?

Recently I haven’t been able to do as much photography as I have in the past, because my priorities are research and teaching. But we take our students out into the world as much as possible to get experiential learning, so I like to try and turn the camera around on them and those have been my favorite recent photos—the pictures of my students photographing. I’ve really enjoyed documenting the process as they grab their cameras and go out and do things. When I’ve taught study abroad, I took pictures of them photographing, and at the end of the program I wrote them a note and gave each one pictures of them out making photos.

The other answer to that question would be the times that I haven’t taken a picture. This is something that I usually wrap my photo classes with, this idea that just because we can doesn’t mean we should, especially in the day and age when we all have a camera in our pocket. I challenge my students to think about when to take a picture and when to simply use your five senses to really sit in that moment. Not everything has to be photographed.

The above feature was originally written and posted by UGA Research, and can also be round on the UGA Research website


Undergraduate student finds place in DMAC Lab

When Charan Ramachandran acted on his genuine curiosity of exploring a subject outside of his normal coursework, it paid big dividends—not just for him, but also for the professor.

Ramachandran, a graduating fourth-year student who majored in Entertainment and Media Studies and computer science, reached out to Bart Wojdynski, director of the Digital Media Attention and Cognition Lab, his freshman year asking if he could be involved with projects the lab was researching. Ramachandran participated in the experimental Research Living Learning Community his freshman year and one of the topics was encouraging students to reach out to professors whose work is of interest. Ramachandran learned of Wojdynski’s research with eye-tracking and wanted to understand more so he reached out.

Charan Ramachandran and Bart Wojdynski look at the eyetracking software in the DMAC Lab.
Charan Ramachandran and Bart Wojdynski look at the eye-tracking software in the DMAC Lab.

“I remember he said ‘I don’t know what I’m interested in, but for now I want to see what you are doing and how I can help,’” remembered Wojdynski, a Jim Kennedy New Media Professor and associate professor of journalism. “As time went by, he became an indispensable team player and helped with things we couldn’t do otherwise.”

Four years after volunteering as a research associate with the DMAC Lab, Ramachandran has some research credits on his resume and several new skills to take into the work force.

“The DMAC Lab has taught me a lot,” Ramachandran said. “My work there taught me how to produce an application on time and test it before delivery. For instance, I hadn’t developed mobile applications before, but this pushed me to learn how to do that and figure it out.

I have Dr. Wojdynski to thank for all that.”

Research in the DMAC Lab uses eye-tracking technology to study how consumers view and evaluate media message on a variety of platforms, including websites and mobile devices. Despite a pause in activities due to COVID, Ramachandran participated in numerous research projects including a Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities presentation analyzing social media by health orgs related to opioid epidemic and designing a web-based Twitter feed.

The largest project he was involved with was designing a custom Instagram app that was used in one of the first eye-tracking studies involving Instagram on a mobile device. Wojdynski explained that during COVID, it became clear that there were a lot of researchers interested in effects of viewing social media content in a realistic setting. In Jan 2021, the DMAC Lab purchased a new eye tracker and mobile phone stand with a high-definition video connection to the phone, allowing researchers to record everything on screen as the viewers scrolled their device.

As the lab group was designing a study to test effects of social media content, Ramachandran suggested the team build its own customizable Instagram app to present the content just like users typically view it.

Close-up of eye-tracking machine gathering data from an Iphone.
A close-up of the new eye-tracker that records and collects data based on sample content viewed on mobile phones. Ramachandran designed a customizable Instagram app to present content just like users typically view it.

“He learned code in Swift, but had to figure out a lot along the way to make it as realistic as possible,” Wojdynski continued. “Designing a submission form for creating custom posts, with time stamps , the number of likes, how to have hashtags to show up blue, a carousel effect—Charan figured out how to create all of that and presented four or five versions. It was amazing.”

The research will be presented at the International Communication Association conference in Paris in late May.

In addition to practical skills and research experience, Ramachandran found a network of friends.

“When we are in the lab, it doesn’t feel like a hierarchy at all,” Ramachandran concluded. “Dr. Wojdynski—he’s one of us and I’m one of them. Even though I’m an undergraduate, I feel like part of a team and put in a lot of effort to be an active member. I’ve made a lot of great friendships there.”

Ramachandran graduates in May and will move to California this summer to start work as a software engineer with YouTube.