An Emerging Health Literacy Partnership

This summer, the University of Maryland and several high schools in neighboring Prince George’s County are partnering on a proposed project called ScienceBEAT, “an interdisciplinary writing initiative that supports core writing objectives for information texts as it enhances literacy in science, health and technology.”

The proposed grant, to be submitted in August to the U.S. Department of Education, would allow researchers at U. of Maryland to work with K-12 educations to teach students how to report about and explain complex health information to a range of digital audiences. Specifically, students reporters would use mobile devices to produce explanatory photos, visualize data and more.

I’m excited to bring my research on media literacy — how students access, filter and evaluate digital news — to the project and to join a team that features my former adviser, Dr. Ronald Yaros, who is spearheading the initiative. More news to come as the partnership progresses.

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Addressing Fellow 2014 UMD Graduates

As one of two graduating doctoral students, I was honored to address Philip Merrill College of Journalism graduates and their families at the 2014 Commencement ceremony on May 22.

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As I noted during my speech, I had the pleasure of teaching 22 undergraduates (including Nick Munson, pictured below) earning their degrees and working with many of the Merrill College faculty I shared the stage with at the ceremony.

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Special thanks to Dr. Moeller (pictured below on right) for the very kind introduction during the ceremony.

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It’s been a great four years at the University of Maryland. Go Terps.

Dissertation Defended

On March 31, 2014, I successfully defended my doctoral dissertation, “How Students Access, Filter and Evaluate Digital News: Choices That Shape What They Consume and the Implications for News Literacy Education.” You can read the full dissertation here.

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From the dissertation Abstract:

Being an informed citizen in the digital age requires the ability to sift through an avalanche of news online and identify content that is credible and diverse. News literacy, a topic with a small but increasing presence in high school and college curricula, is concerned with training students to be discerning news consumers. Assessments of news literacy typically gauge the effects of exposure to news literacy curricula measured through student analysis of media messages selected by researchers.

This exploratory, mixed-methods study instead examined how students with no formal news literacy instruction searched for news on a computer using their typical routine, their process of filtering and evaluating news about a topic of interest, and their awareness of their choices when accessing news online that shape what they consume. This study contributes to the understanding of what digital media concepts, cognitive strategies and evaluation criteria warrant targeting or greater emphasis in news literacy curricula.

Survey results revealed that participants (n=244) typically spend a significant amount of time consuming video and written news, largely through digital platforms and mostly on a computer. They are mostly information scanners and more often stumble upon news online than seek out specific news of interest. Participants have a strong social interest in news, like to share stories with others, and are often trusting of others and technology to filter the news they consume. Concurrent think-aloud protocols and subsequent interviews with a subset of survey respondents (n=37) found that participants often did not pay close attention to the process by which they accessed and filtered news online, doing so in a state of automaticity instead of thinking critically. When asked to explain the thought processes underlying their news searches, a significant percentage of students lacked a conscious awareness or understanding of the strategies and evaluation criteria that potentially affect the credibility and diversity of news consumed. As a result, students’ online news habits often placed them at risk for consuming unreliable news and for adopting a hive mindset or being in a news silo.

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Thanks to my dissertation committee (pictured from left to right in featured image): Dr. June Ahn, Dr. Ronald A. Yaros, Dr. Susan Moeller, Dr. Kalyani Chadha and Dr. Peter Afflerbach.

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And special thanks to Dr. Yaros for this customized hat, a tradition that his adviser started and I will make sure to keep going.

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Examining Press Coverage of Donald Sterling

As a reporter for The Los Angeles Times in the mid-2000s, I recalled reading in the paper’s sports pages about Donald Sterling’s miserable on-court product.  But the longtime Los Angeles Clipper owners’ off-court legal battles? Those seemed to attract less press attention.

In the wake of this spring’s Sterling saga, I wrote a piece for the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Media about press coverage of Sterling. For the article, I interviewed the journalists who wrote the definitive profiles of and investigations into Sterling.

From the article:

A review of news archives shows that coverage of Sterling’s off-court behavior was intermittent. Lawsuit filings and settlements prompted a flurry of short articles, columns and editorials in the Los Angeles press – from A1 to the sports page, where Sterling had long been a favorite target of Times columnists.

Some national news outlets seized the opportunity to bring attention to Sterling’s sordid past and call for increased coverage. In 2006, following news of the U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit, ESPN’s Jones wrote a column (“Sterling’s Racism Should be News”) detailing Sterling’s legal troubles and controversial comments. National Public Radio aired an interview with USC professor Todd Boyd, an expert on race, media and sports, discussing Sterling’s “Inconsistent Approach on Race”.

In 2009, the year of the Sterling-DOJ settlement and the Baylor lawsuit, ESPN’s Keating wrote one of the definitive investigative pieces on Sterling based on interviews, depositions and court documents (“Uncontested: The Life of Donald Sterling”). Deadspin picked up on the story and dogged Sterling throughout the year, referring to him as “The Most Evil Man in Sports”. That same year, ESPN’s Jemele Hill and Yahoo Sports’ Wetzel admonished then-NBA Commissioner David Stern for staying silent on Sterling.

And:

Coverage of Sterling’s transgressions was typically short lived. Without new allegations – often coming years apart – or settlement payouts as news pegs, the focus largely returned to his failure as Clippers owner rather than his comments and actions off the court. Few investigative reports put Sterling under the spotlight.

The Dream of the ’90s is Alive in Research

Coming this fall, the Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media is publishing my article, “Building Buzz and Episodes with Bite-Sized Content: Portlandia’s Formula for Turning a Video Project into a Television Series.”

Using interviews and an analysis of the program’s structure and content, this case study explores how Portlandia was created and promoted in a direct response to the way people consume video programming in the digital age.

I first presented this research at the 2012 AEJMC conference in Chicago.