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Researching: learning new stuff

Do a search for getting a doctorate. The first two hits are why you should NOT get a Ph.D. And I’ll admit it was an uphill climb. However it gave me a considerable amount of insight into learning — lifelong learning.

I guess I’ve been naturally inquisitive. I look at things and wonder how they work. I walk around campus and want to know why things are the way they are. Science and journalism have similar goals.

But a doctorate is more than just learning. It’s learning new knowledge. Getting a bachelor’s degree means learning, well, a ton of different things, a little about a lot. Admittedly, I wondered why I would ever need some of that stuff. Then the master’s degree is all about becoming a master of something, learning a lot about a little. But the doctorate is different. It means learning new stuff and sharing that new knowledge with that world so others can build upon it.

These are some of the things I’ve learned.

  • Photojournalism Ethics — Since photojournalism became a thing in the 1800s and since the inception of digital photojournalism, professionals have been debating the ethics surrounding the profession. Is it OK to manipulate a scene or is our job just to document reality? Whose reality? Even by shooting images in black-and-white and choosing what to shoot are we manipulating what people see? And can’t digital manipulation go beyond what could be done in a darkroom? The discussions around these questions and many others have resulted in numerous, rather vague sets of guidelines and rules from the National Press Photographers Association and others. I’ve even taken a stab. The bombing at the Boston Marathon tested photojournalists once again. Through two peer-reviewed papers published in the College Media Association’s College Media Review, I explored the ethical decisions photojournalists involved in the bombing made and how what they did compared to what collegiate students and their advisers say they would have done.
  • Dissertation — Agenda-setting studies are abundant in mass media literature. Since the early 1970s, the methodology conceived by Don Shaw and Max McCombs has been used to study how media coverage of everything from environmental issues to race relations influences public opinion, mostly at the national level. Subsequently, fewer studies have examined whether agenda-setting concepts can be used to correlate media coverage with policy outcomes, and still fewer studies have been used at the local level. By comparing changes in city budgeted allocations with changes in coverage over time, this study finds a limited, long-term relationship between media coverage and policy changes in four areas: public safety, public works, economic development and parks/recreation. Newspapers have a finite amount of influence over policy changes. Further, this study affirms that while citizens continue to depend on newspapers for local government news, local newspaper circulation, market saturation and staff size continue to decline. Finally, this study shows that by 2011, the Great Recession had begun to strain city and town resources with more impact on the Western region of the United States than other areas. Successfully defended in May of 2012.
  • The Impact of Media Agenda Setting on Local Governments — Agenda-setting studies are abundant in mass media literature. Since the early 1970s the methodology conceived by Don Shaw and Max McCombs has been used to study everything from environmental issues to race relations. Their theories correlated media coverage and public opinion, mostly at the national level. Fewer studies have examined whether agenda-setting concepts can be used to correlate media coverage with policy outcomes. Still fewer studies have been used at the level of local government. This study shows a limited relationship in cities and towns between policy changes and media coverage by looking at changes in budgeted allocations and a content analysis of local newspapers. Presented at the Western Political Science Association conference, April 21-23, 2011 in San Antonio.
  • A Profile of North Carolina Collegiate Media — The college media in North Carolina are a diverse group. Some large public universities have million-dollar budgets and daily newspapers that survive solely on advertising monies. Smaller schools have thriving programs funded by student fee dollars and state funds. While newspapers still seem to be the backbone of most student media operations, a significant number of national award-winning magazines, radio stations and online media also thrive in the state. Through survey analysis and direct contact, this study attempts to paint a picture of the media outlets in the state, as well as their significant similarities and differences. In addition to painting a picture of the media outlets, we also attempted to compile a comprehensive roster of the college media outlets in the state. The two parts of this project were presented at the second annual meeting of the North Carolina College Media Association in February of 2009.
  • From ‘Playboy’ to Fashion Friday — For decades, newspapers have put some emphasis on hiring a diverse staff. In 1999, the American Society of Newspapers Editors said this was not only “ideal” but reflected in the accuracy of coverage of the publication. With analysis over a five-year period, we show that student newspaper staff members do tend to use sources that are convenient and more like themselves than different at least when it comes to their college and gender. Analysis of staff and sources at more universities is necessary to see if racial diversity of the student staff is reflected in racial diversity of the sources used in the media. Presented at the College Media Advisers Kansas City convention in the fall of 2008.
  • Three is a Magic Number — Textbooks frequently include a number of criteria for evaluating news stories, everything from the form of the lead to the order of quotations and transitions. While numerous texts refer to the ideal types of sources, few give any ballpark figure for an acceptable minimum number of sources. For this study, we didn’t set out to prove what the ideal number was, but we did attempt to determine what the actual number of sources being used was in a case study of a daily student newspaper at a large, state university in North Carolina. We found that the average number of sources in objective stories (news and features) was 2.83, with an average of 1.60 students used as sources on average per article. Presented at the College Media Advisers fall 2007 convention in Washington, D.C., with Lee Williams, NCSU graduate student

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