UMSL alumnus part of Emmy Award winning news team

UM-St. Louis graduate Steve Johnson was part of a team that won an National Emmy Award for outstanding regional news spot news. Johnson is the news director of KFOR in Oklahoma City. The reporting for which they won the award aired in May of 2013, and dealt with a tornado that struck Moore, Oklahoma. Johnson earned a B.A. in communication from UM-St. Louis.   You can see the announcement of the award and Johnson’s acceptance speech here:

Congratulations to the KFOR-TV news team!

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Diversity (or the lack thereof) in 2014’s movies

A recently released report by researchers at the Media, Diversity, and Social Change Initiative at the University of Southern California describes the representation of women, people of color, and people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender in American movies. One of the purposes of the study to was to see if there was any evidence that representation patterns were changing to be more diverse and more reflective of the U.S. population as a whole.

The answer: no, not really.

According to a recently released content analysis of the 100 top-grossing films in 2014, females are still grossly underrepresented in popular film, making up 28% of characters that speak or have names. Yes, still. Yes, Katniss Everdeen is great. Black Widow rocks.  But still, women and girls represent just 28% of the people who talk or are named in movies. This pattern, of course, is not new. A previous study, described here, by San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film looked at the top 100 grossing films of 2013 and found that 30% of the characters in a speaking role were female.

The USC Study also looked at the race/ethnicity of characters in the most popular films of 2014. Here, also, the movies don’t reflect America, particularly in terms of the portrayal of Hispanic or Latino characters. Five percent of the speaking or named characters were Hispanic or Latino. According to the Census Bureau, 17% of the U.S. population identifies as Hispanic or Latino. According to data presented in The New York Times, 25% of “frequent moviegoers” were Hispanic or Latino last year.

Depictions of LBGT characters were also scarce. .4% of the speaking and named characters in these movies were identified in the films as lesbian, gay, or bi-sexual. None were transgender.

Maybe, someday, posts about under-representation in U.S. movies won’t be an annual event. It sure would be nice.

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UMSL student and alumnae named to the “30 under 30” class by St. Louis Business Journal

Three members of the UMSL community – one current student and two alumnae – were honored by the St. Louis Business Journal as part of the 2015 “30 under 30” class.  The awards recognize future business leaders in the community. One of the UMSL honorees, Kathleen Manning McKittrick, is a graduate of the communication program.

For more information, check out the UMSL Daily post.


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Digital Natives, or Why Your Professors Are So Stressed!

Twenty-somethings are constantly on their smart phones, doing 5 things at once! Seniors didn’t grow up with computers, so they probably aren’t very good at multitasking! Young people have short attention spans and are easily distracted!

When it comes to age and technology, there are many stereotypes and assumptions floating around. A common one is that because younger people are “digital natives” who have always lived with technology such as computers, they can easily integrate it into their lives, whereas older people are “digital immigrants,” who are less comfortable using it. On the other hand, digital natives may be so used to checking their phones or their tablets every few minutes that they may not be able to focus on a particular task for very long without switching to another.  Recently, Drs. Lara Zwarun and Alice Hall of UMSL’s Communication Department had the opportunity to test some of these assumptions in an empirical research study.  It was an exciting chance for them, because whereas normally, they conduct most of their research on their students, this time they had a chance to collect data on nearly 6000 people from 7 different countries. What’s more, the people were not just college students, and they ranged in age from 18 to over 65.

Another cool thing about the study is that it asked participants about what kinds of things they do in addition to and while they are taking an online survey—in other words, how they multitask. Rather than just relying on participants’ memories, the survey asked these question right after the subjects had completed an online survey, so people were able to answer based on behavior they had just engaged in, increasing the validity of their recollections.

It turns out that people of all ages multitask, although it is true that younger people do so more. Listening to music is a popular activity, as is receiving a signal from one’s phone indicating some sort of message (text, Tweet, etc.) has arrived. Whereas many multitasking activities increase how distracted people felt while engaging in them, more interacting with one’s phone actually made people feel less distracted, perhaps by making them feel more connected with their lives.

The older one is, the less distracted one reports being, but this turns out to be not such a simple pattern. As the amount of multitasking engaged in increases, distraction scores tend to increase for younger participants more than older ones, although at the heaviest levels of multitasking, younger participants’ distraction scores often fall below those of their older high-multitasking counterparts. It is overly simplistic to say that younger people can multitask with less effect on their concentration than older people. Rather, it is middle-aged people who felt the most distracted by their multitasking. In fact, the most stressed out multitaskers happen to be right around the age of the study’s two authors…read into that what you will!

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Twitter and Conformity Effects

A topic that is covered in many of our mass communication classes as well as on this blog is the growth in the use of “second screens,” where a TV audience member uses more than screen at once. (An example would be watching television and following Twitter posts on a smartphone or tablet at the same time.) A recent study published the Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media considers some of the implications of television producers’ attempts to address this phenomenon.

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Faculty and alums present research on reality programs, multitasking, and video games

Seattle, WA

Seattle, site of the 2014 International Communication Association conference

The UM- St. Louis Communication Department was well-represented at this year’s International Communication Association (ICA) conference in Seattle this May.  The topics covered included health-related reality programs, multitasking, and video games.  Papers by UM St. Louis alumni and faculty presented at the conference include the following:

  • “Connecting with The Biggest Loser: An extended model of parasocial interaction and identification in health-related reality TV shows” by Yan Tian, Associate Professor, Department of Communication and Jina Yoo, Lecturer, Department of Communication
  • “Realism matters: The role of perceived realism in The Biggest Loser” by Jina Yoo, Lecturer, Department of Communication, and Yan Tian, Associate Professor Department of Communication
  • “What’s going on? Age, distraction, and multitasking during survey taking” by Lara Zwarun and Alice Hall, Associate Professors, Department of Communication
  • “With tough work comes responsibility”: The association between perceived task demand and transactive memory in video game teams” by Adam S. Kahn and Nicholas Bowman (UMSL alumnus, B.A., 2003; M.A. 2005), Assistant Professor, West Virgina University
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Life in Graduate School

Five graduate students in the UM-St. Louis Communication Department completed their master’s degrees this spring.  We invited some of this semester’s graduates to write a guest post for the blog and tell us what their experiences were like. Here’s what one of our new alumni, Mary Reiss, had to say:

When I was accepted to the graduate program, I didn’t really know what to expect. As one can imagine, I was a little nervous those first few classes. The workload seemed to be more intense than my undergraduate coursework. The professors seemed to expect more than my instructors from my undergraduate career.  And, in general, the material seemed to be more difficult than anything I had studied before. However, after getting myself adjusted to this new type of schooling, I found myself enjoying school more than I ever had in the past.

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When we click “share”

An article by Natalie Kitroeff that was published by The New York Times this week summarizes research from both academia and industry about the factors that make it more likely that a video or news story will go “viral” (or be widely shared and forwarded). Some of the things that make a difference: emotion and physiological arousal.  A study by Berger and Milkman (2012) that was published in the Journal of Marketing Research (UM-St. Louis students can read the whole thing through the library’s article database) of the most-forwarded stories from The New York Times found that stories that evoked either positive arousal (awe) or negative arousal (anger) were more likely to be forwarded, controlling for other factors.

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Congratulations to this spring’s new graduates!

Faculty and students at May 2014 Commencement

Faculty and students at the May 2014 commencement ceremony

UM – St Louis celebrated spring commencement over the weekend.  Sixty students were scheduled to graduate with communication degrees. This included fifty-five undergraduate students, four of whom also earned certificates in public relations, as well as five M.A. students.  The commencement speaker was Chris Krehmeyer, of Beyond Housing.  An honorary degree was presented to Elizabeth Gentry Sayad, who was a founding member of the Missouri Arts Council and the St. Louis Arts and Humanities Commission.

Congratulations and best wishes to all the graduates!

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UMSL Communication Professors Off to the Kentucky Conference on Health Communication

by Stephanie Van Stee

Drs. Lara Zwarun and Stephanie Van Stee set off for the Kentucky Conference on Health Communication (KCHC) this past April, 2014. The preconference theme was Health Message Design, which represented a good fit with Dr. Zwarun’s interests in persuasion in media messages and Dr. Van Stee’s interests in persuasive health messages. The preconference featured notable presenters in the field of communication, such as Dan O’Keefe, who discussed meta-analysis of message design research, and Robin Nabi, who discussed the role of discrete emotions as message design components as well as responses to viewing health messages.

Presentation topics at the conference ranged from patient-provider communication to health policy research. Dr. Zwarun presented some of her own research at the conference, by sharing her findings from a content analysis of verbal and visual references to substance use in celebrity Tweets. This research was conducted with the help of current and former UMSL Communication undergraduate students Louise Ortman, Sharon Robbins, Michael McAllister, Michael Miller, and Will Colbert. All were students in Dr. Zwarun’s COMM 3330 “Research Methods in Communication I” class who went on to work on the study as a way to apply the concepts they had learned in the classroom and experience research first-hand. The study showed that people who follow the most popular 30 celebrities on Twitter will see allusions to alcohol, tobacco, and drugs in 8% of tweets and many of these references make these substances seem cool or desirable in the way that they are portrayed.

Photo: Van Stee and Zwarun at the conference

Drs. Van Stee and Zwarun at the conference

KCHC proved to be a valuable conference that allowed Drs. Zwarun and Van Stee to learn about recent, relevant scholarship in the discipline, reunite with colleagues, and form new professional relationships. Students in COMM 3330 who enjoy the class and are interested in doing actual research by working with faculty or graduate students should contact their professor to learn more about this opportunity.


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