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Robertson School scholars present latest research in UK and Denmark

Sep 23, 2019

Posted in: News

By Alix Bryan, Instructor, Journalism

Portraits of Mariam Alkazemi and Karen McIntyre
Dr. Mariam Alkazemi (left) and Dr. Karen McIntyre.

Robertson School faculty members Dr. Karen McIntyre and Dr. Mariam Alkazemi recently flew across the Atlantic Ocean to present their latest research studies at international conferences in Europe. 

McIntyre, an assistant  professor in journalism and director of graduate studies, presented two research papers at the “Future of Journalism Conference: Innovations, Transitions and Transformation” at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom. Alkazemi, an assistant professor of public relations, presented a study and moderated a panel at the “Regime-Critical Media and Arab Diaspora: Challenges and Opportunities Post-Arab Spring” conference held at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

"These conference presentations demonstrate how internatinally competitive our Robertson School researchers are," said Robertson School interim director Dr. Marcus Messner. "Dr. Alkazemi and Dr. McIntyre are sought after globally for their research expertise. We take great pride in their accomplishments."

One of Dr. Karen McIntyre’s research papers focused on the impact of solutions journalism, a method of reporting on how people are responding to social problems.

McIntyre, who recently returned from a Fulbright year in Rwanda, presented a research paper she completed with Meghan Sobel, an assistant professor at Regis University in Denver, about challenges journalists in Uganda face reporting in a semi-authoritarian state.

After enduring “some of the worst political and economic chaos anywhere in the world,” McIntyre’s paper said, for the last quarter century Uganda’s media environment has seen much progress, making it “one of the more vibrant media scenes in east and central Africa,” according to Reporters Without Borders. Despite this progress, journalists in the country still face numerous challenges, McIntyre’s paper concluded.

“The journalists we interviewed said they regularly face threats and intimidation by government officials,” McIntyre said. “They said government officials need to have a better understanding of the role of journalism in society and not view journalists who ask tough questions as a threat.”

McIntyre’s other study focused on the impact of solutions journalism, a method of reporting on how people are responding to social problems. In a pioneering move in 2018, the Gannett-owned Montgomery Advertiser, Alabama’s largest daily newspaper, executed a complete transformation of its newsroom to focus on enterprise and solutions journalism.

To examine its impact, McIntyre conducted a multiple-wave survey of the newspaper’s audience before and after the transition and collected community conversations through Twitter and Facebook social media data.

She concluded that the results were mixed, but that they still indicate support for future real-world research in this area. The newspaper saw an increased number of page views and longer engagement times on their solution-oriented news stories compared to their traditional stories.

McIntyre’s favorite moment of the conference was listening to the keynote speech by Nikki Usher, an associate professor at the University of Illinois. Usher pointed to the lack of diversity on the editorial boards of some of the top journals in mass communication.

“It was an enlightening presentation,” McIntyre said.

Dr. Mariam Alkazemi presented a research paper that combines a mixture of media studies, information studies, Middle Eastern Studies and data science.

Alkazemi presented a paper she worked on with Dr. Edward Boone from the Department of Statistics and Statistical Operations at VCU. The paper combines media studies, information studies, Middle Eastern Studies and data science.

Alkazemi and Boone tracked hashtags on Twitter to compare public sentiments in nations with varying levels of press freedom. The paper suggests that there are nuances that may be lost in the categorization of press systems.

Preliminary findings reveal that Arab countries are not uniform regarding the amount of negative expressions made on Twitter in the English language -- even when the nations have relatively similar press restrictions.

Alkazemi said this is the first step in a line of inquiry they will develop over the next few years.

“The lecture was well-received with questions that dealt with the topics, the implications and the methodological approach of our study,” she said.

Alkazemi hopes to secure grant funding over the next few years to expand the application of data sciences in this Middle Eastern media initiative.

A highlight for Alkazemi was walking along the Copenhagen River after two days of lectures. Her 3.5 mile stroll led to the century-old Little Mermaid statue, created by Edvard Eriksen.

McIntyre emphasized that these international conferences “are truly rich networking opportunities.”