Media Industry and Society Research
- Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics Penny Abernathy studies the potential paths for renewal for traditional news organizations struggling to survive and thrive in the digital age. Abernathy focuses on practical research that can be shared widely online and person-to-person to help journalists and media industry managers take on the industry's economic challenges. Her recent research highlights the necessity of shedding legacy costs, identifying and pursuing new communities, and building new online revenue streams. The recommendations are contained in the paper "The News Landscape in 2014: Transformed or Diminished? Formulating a Game Plan for Survival in the Digital Age," written in collaboration with Richard Foster, senior faculty fellow with Yale University’s School of Management.
- Associate professor Francesca Dillman Carpentier is studying how broadcast journalists and news organizations can more effectively engage audience members and interest viewers in more general news. With so much news and information available today, it can be difficult for broadcasters to motivate people to watch news beyond their own personal interests. Carpentier has found that viewers have an increased interest in and recall of information if they know that the information will be seen by others and lead to future conversations. These findings suggest that news organizations' promotions or teases that push the idea that others are familiar with the story will encourage viewers to watch a story in hopes of discussing it with their peers. The use of social media such as Twitter could supplement peer interaction by supplying information on how watching a story will be socially beneficial for viewers.
- Daniel Riffe is leading a study to assess public opinion about the role of news coverage in conveying health risks related to environmental conditions. Environmental health hazards range from air and water pollution to workplace dangers. Through a telephone survey, researchers are examining North Carolinians’ sense of their personal risk level for various environmental hazards; their comfort with how well-informed they are about those risks; and their sense of "efficacy" (or being able to address those risks themselves). Riffe and his collaborators, J-school doctoral students Brooke Weberling, Sun Young Lee and Sherine El-Toukhy, are then exploring how well the respondents think news media, government, industry and environmental interest groups are communicating with the public about environmental risks.
- Associate professor Laura Ruel researches how users interact with multimedia stories. She examines behavior and cognitive processes and looks for practical applications for news design. Ruel co-founded the Digital Storytelling Effects Lab (DiSEL), through which she conducts much of her research. DiSEL combines usability studies and post-usage surveying with eyetracking data and other methods to help make recommendations on specific forms of story design. Eyetracking records the movements and fixations of a subject's eyes while viewing online presentations. It provides evidence of how people move through and are attracted, or distracted, by different visual and navigation designs. DiSEL works to get its study results out to the industry in a timely manner to provide guidance for journalists making daily online storytelling decisions. Funding for DiSEL research is provided by a consortium of news organizations that include the Dallas Morning News, The Des Moines Register, Detroit Free Press, Gannett, Las Vegas Sun, The New York Times, San Jose Mercury News, Star-Tribune, Time, USA Today, The Washington Post and Yahoo! News.
- GE calls it "ecomagination," communication professionals call it corporate advertising, and critics call it greenwashing. Associate professor Janas Sinclair studies ad campaigns that go beyond promoting sales of a particular brand and present a point of view on broader topics related to the environment and marketplace. These advocacy messages - a type of corporate advertising - often involve complex business, technological, science and public policy issues. In the book “Communicating Science: New Agendas in Communication” (2010, Routledge), Sinclair and Barbara Miller (UNC Ph.D., now on the faculty at Elon University) explore how the general public makes sense of these corporate advocacy messages that seek to influence public opinion about business and the environment.