Associate Professor, Director of Research
Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communication
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on a series of studies exploring audience definitions of news. This is something I’ve been interested in for some time—and I first explored in my dissertation with a qualitative interview data. Most recently, I have been working with Emily Vraga in developing the concept of news-ness, or what we define as the extent to which audiences consider a specific piece of media to be news. Together, we have published a couple experimental studies examining when people characterize something as news and the impact this has on their behavior, and also a conceptual piece where we ‘make the case’ for news-ness as a valuable concept in today’s media world. The project we are currently working on explores news-ness among adolescents (ages 12 to 17 years old). All of our past work has focused on news-ness among adult populations. So, I am very excited to see how teens are thinking about, and recognizing, news.
What has been your most memorable project so far, and why?
My most memorable project is probably the Future Voters Project, where I was part of a team that surveyed parent-child dyads in 2008 and 2014. There are couple reasons for this. First, it was a collaboration with some of my favorite people. The project included Kjerstin Thorson, Emily Vraga, Leticia Bode, Chris Wells, Dhavan Shah, and Esther Thorson. Each of us brought a particular expertise to the project and it was a lot of fun to learn from (and challenge) each other. Second, I learned a lot from the first data collection that I was able to carry over into the second one in 2014. The 2008 project focused largely on the process of political socialization. In the 2014 project, I applied several of these insights into testing a model of news socialization. Overall, I have very fond memories from this project and am proud of the collaborative work that has come from it.
Which achievement are you most proud of, and why?
There are a lot of projects, papers, and friendships I am very proud of. But, if I had to pick just one, it would be earning my doctoral degree. I know that may be cheesy, but it’s something I worked really hard for. As a first-generation college student, going to graduate school was never really on my radar (let alone getting my PhD). This pathway has been marked by a lot of unknowns, finding my own way, and just “giving it my best try.” Even now, as the years go by and it seems like forever ago that I was a graduate student at UW-Madison, earning my degree remains something I am extremely proud of.
What is an important question from parents and practitioners that we as academics cannot provide a good answer to yet?
I often get asked the question “how much news should someone consume?” This is a tricky question. In today’s media age, is less more? One reason this is a difficult question relates to the potency vs dosage distinction. Some news content goes a long way, while other news is packaged for more regular (constant) consumption. This is something I spend a lot of time thinking about. Where is the point of diminishing returns? And what does this look like for different people with different patterns of news consumption?
What would be your work motto?
I don’t know if I have a work motto, per se. I do think my approach to research is characterized by the sentiment, “let the question dictate the method.” I often find myself wrestling with a question and then seeking out the best way of addressing it. In practice, this means that my research agenda is very mixed methods. I do a lot of survey and experimental research, but also qualitative interview projects. I like having a diverse set of methodological tools at my disposal when doing research.
Which of your publications is your favorite, and why?
My favorite publication is “Red Media, Blue Media, and Purple Media: News Repertoires in the Colorful Media Landscape,” which was published in the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media in 2015. It’s my favorite for a couple reasons. The first being that it was part of my dissertation research. I still remember the crazy transition from writing a long dissertation to breaking it up for separate journal articles. Second, this piece was inspired by wanting a better way to measuring news exposure. I was feeling very unsatisfied with separate measures of news exposure. I remember arguing with someone and saying something along the lines of “don’t we expect different effects from someone who only watches Fox News verses someone who pairs Fox News with reading the New York Times and watching network news.” The repertoire approach to news exposure was exactly what I was looking for. And lastly, this was my first solo-authored publication.
Also, one journal reviewer really wanted me to change the title. I fought hard to keep it and am happy I did.
If you had unlimited resources, what kind of project would you want to do and why?
It would probably be something around measuring news consumption, over time, using a mixed method approach. I would love to know what news sources people are using, combined with the actual content (stories) they are consuming, and their sensemaking process. The project would be able to connect aspects of news production with audience consumption and interpretation.
If you had to give one piece of advice to young CAM scholars, what would it be?
Develop a network of support. You will never have all the answers. The paths forward are often unclear. It helps to have people who can guide, mentor, and support you in different ways. I have benefitted greatly from having good friends who I can bounce research ideas off of or who will take my mind off of work. Both are important. I also have a handful of mentors who have different perspectives, backgrounds, and expertise. There is not just one way to be an academic or researcher. I like getting a range of advice and then figuring out what it means for me.
Who would you like to put in the spotlight next, and why?
I nominate the very smart Shirley Ho, who is a Professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.