Doctoral alumnus wins top national dissertation award

Brooks Fuller, a 2017 UNC School of Media and Journalism doctoral alumnus and Park Fellow, has won the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication’s 2018 Nafziger-White-Salwen Dissertation Award.

The award is the highest honor bestowed on student scholarship, recognizing the “best dissertation in the field of mass communication research” as judged by AEJMC's Research Committee and top scholars. 

It marks the ninth time an MJ-school student has won the award — the most in the nation for any university. “I’m proud to see Brooks’ exceptional work earn this recognition from his fellow scholars,” said Susan King, dean of the school. “It speaks to quality of our doctoral program and why it is known as one of the nation’s best.”

Another MJ-school doctoral alumnus and Park Fellow, Chris Vargo, now at the University of Colorado-Boulder, won the 2017 Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly Outstanding Article Award for “Networks, Big Data, and Intermedia Agenda Setting: An Analysis of Traditional, Partisan, and Emerging Online U.S. News” — co-authored by Lei Guo of Boston University.

Fuller, now an assistant professor at Louisiana State University, wrote his winning dissertation on “Words, Wounds, and Relationships: A Mixed-Method Study of Free Speech and Harm in High-Conflict Environments.” His advisory committee included MJ-school faculty Cathy Packer (now retired), Michael Hoefges and Tori Ekstrand — and other Carolina faculty George Noblit and Bill Marshall.

In the dissertation’s abstract, Fuller explains the work as a “mixed-method, socio-legal study of First Amendment issues and social practices surrounding free expression and harm in high-conflict speech environments, such as ongoing political protests.” It concludes with a proposed framework to provide “clarity and rigor to contextual analysis, which is crucial in all cases in which courts must work to determine whether speech loses First Amendment protection because of the harms it may cause.”

Other Carolina doctoral students who have won the Nafziger-White-Salwen Dissertation Award include:

  • Scott Parrott (2014)
  • Brendan Watson (2013)
  • Dean Smith (2012)
  • Kathy Roberts Forde (2006)
  • Mark Feldstein (2003)
  • Edward Alwood (2001)
  • Jane Rhodes (1994)
  • Mark D. West (1992)


The recognition carries a monetary award, and the winner is formally presented at the annual business meeting of the AEJMC, the oldest professional organization dedicated to journalism and mass communication education and research.