Category: Research

C&IS Research Spotlight: 2021 Grant Writing Institute

The College of Communication and Information Sciences (C&IS) Grant Writing Institute is back, and this year, participants have set their sights high, hoping to secure large grants to make their submissions a reality. Additionally, all three participants are focusing their research on areas that impact public health.

While grant details are still being finalized, at least two of the three participants this year are considering submissions for the NIH Research Project Grant Program (R01). The Research Project Grant is the oldest grant mechanism used by NIH and provides support for health-related research and development based on its mission.

“An R01 grant is the biggest funding mechanism that NIH has,” said Dr. Kim Bissell, Associate Dean for Research at C&IS. “R01 is the big one. These are full research proposals typically in excess of $1 million and can be up to $5 million at times.”

Grant Writing Institute participants are partnering with additional project investigators to build interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary teams for their grant submissions. As these grants are very expensive, the review process is very selective, and the more experience their team has among its collaborative members, the more likely they are to be approved.

“Ultimately, the goal is to secure funding but especially when you are applying for substantial amounts of money, you rarely get awarded on your first try,” said Bissell. “What you hope is that you get well reviewed so that you can use the comments you receive to tweak your submission and reapply.”

Now in its third year, the C&IS Grant Writing Institute provides faculty participants with the tools necessary to complete a submission for research funding and apply to a federal or state agency or a foundation within 12 months of the start of the program. Led by Dr. Kim Bissell and Dr. Anneliese Bolland, the program works through a partnership between the Institute for Communication Research (ICIR) and the departments within C&IS to provide each of the participants a semester-long course release to complete their grant submission.

The 2021 C&IS Grant Writing Institute participants are:

Dr. Sim Butler

Dr. Sim Butler (Department of Communication Studies) is proposing an intervention-development project help medical professionals better communicate information when providing care for transgender patients.

Dr. Eyun-jung Ki

Dr. Eyun-jung Ki (Department of Advertising and Public Relations) is requesting $250,000 from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities to test the feasibility and effect of a conversational artificial intelligence application as a daily emotional wellbeing sustainability tool.

Dr. Jiyoung Lee

Dr. Jiyoung Lee (Department of Journalism and Creative Media) is working on a proposal about designing artificial-intelligence-based interventions to correct vaccine-related misperceptions and reduce vaccine hesitancy, particularly focusing on rural populations which are lacking medical information accessibility.

UA’s College of Communication and Information Sciences faculty and students conduct cutting-edge research that creates knowledge and provides solutions to global issues across the full communication and information spectrum. To learn more about the College’s research initiatives, visit cis.ua.edu/research.

Research Spotlight: Dr. A.J. Bauer

United States history is home to a diverse and ever-shifting spectrum of political ideas. As political parties rise and fall, and power narrowly swings from one majority opinion to the other, we seek understanding for how and why these things occur. By engaging with past newspapers, speeches, television reels and other historical archives, scholars are able to examine how different ideologies emerged, how influential political figures gained momentum and what key moments marked their ascension to (or fall from) political power.

Dr. A. J. Bauer is an assistant professor in the Department of Journalism and Creative media. As a faculty researcher, Bauer studies the modern conservative movement by examining conservative news, right-wing media, political communication and American studies. According to Bauer, many historians see the conservative movement as several distinct ideologies that fused together after the Second World War. Different political ideals would rise and fall within this movement for decades, but one issue sticks out as a common denominator—a criticism of national media.

“A lot of times scholars will focus on a particular idea as being the basis of the conservatism: opposition to Roe vs. Wade, the support of gun rights or the support of various interventions overseas to spread democracy,” said Bauer. “My research points to the fact that from the very beginning, the key issue uniting all these ideals was a critique of the media.”

To Bauer, a key undercurrent that helps bind together various conservative political efforts is a distrust of and experienced opposition to the mainstream media. This opposition unites voters and activists from various causes—even causes that seem to contradict one another—because they are able to co-identify as part of the same resistance to a common perceived enemy, the press.

Much of Bauer’s research is ethnographic, meaning that he examines right-wing and conservative media from the perspective of the movement itself. This involves him consuming and analyzing large amounts of conservative media on the air, at annual gatherings such as the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and interviewing conservative journalists as a basis for his research. And, because understanding the historical context of conservatism is vital to understanding the contemporary conservative movement (and vice versa), the other major component to Bauer’s research is historical—examining archives, ranging from those of conservative journalists like Fulton Lewis, Jr. to the records of the Federal Communications Commission.

“I toggle back and forth between my historical work and contemporary work, always trying to keep one foot in the contemporary because it’s so rapidly evolving,” said Bauer. “We have hindsight so we can look at seemingly obscure figures who no one cared about and map through history how their ideas gained steam and turned into something really big later on.”

Regardless of the cultural moment, Bauer’s research casts light on and brings greater understanding of a continually developing cultural perspective and its media. But it’s easy to see how the news cycle from the past several years makes his research all that more relevant and vital to understanding conservative news.

“I read conservative news all the time, and I learn things from it even though it is biased in a particular way. You can have reading strategies that overcome the question of bias,” said Bauer. “But the question is, ‘What are the values we use to assess partisan media on the right, on the left—both?’ How do we create a way of talking about it that isn’t just reduceable to bias?”

Bauer believes the key is nurturing an active and critical reading strategy, because the argument that media is biased assumes that people consume their media uncritically. He says readers who expect the news to be the arbiter of unquestionable and certain truth at all times are expecting it to do something its incapable of doing. Instead, the answer is to create a more politically aware culture by engaging openly in thoughtful conversations—even with people we don’t know.

“The idea that politics is a touchy subject we can’t talk about reinforces the notion of echo chambers and the siloing off that happens,” said Bauer. “By expecting the media to do something that fixes the problem, we overlook the fact that the only solution to the problem is more actual engagement between citizens, even citizens who disagree with one another.”

The College of Communication and Information Sciences’ faculty and students at The University of Alabama conduct cutting-edge research that creates knowledge and provides solutions to global issues across the full communication and information spectrum. To learn more about the College’s research initiatives, visit cis.ua.edu/research.

‘Revise and Resubmit’ Podcast Talks C&IS Research

Dr. Anneliese Bolland (left) and Dr. Kim Bissell record an episode of Revise and Resubmit

It used to be that faculty members in the College of Communication and Information Sciences (C&IS) could routinely walk to their departmental mailboxes and find a printed bulletin, titled the “ICIR Scholar Spotlight,” a regular publication put out by the Institute for Communication and Information Research (ICIR). The publication featured a different C&IS faculty member discussing their research each month.

In Fall 2020, Drs. Kim Bissell and Anneliese Bolland brought the Scholar Spotlight into the 21st century by releasing their podcast, Revise and Resubmit. Each episode is a conversation with a C&IS faculty researcher about their research interests, ongoing projects and how their field of study relates to everyday people.

“At the end of the day, we want to know about their research and make it accessible for everyone. Even if we’re talking about something really technical, we break it down so that anyone can understand it,” said Bissell. “The coolest thing about the research in our College is all of the practical implications. Of course, we contribute to the research culture methodologically and theoretically, but what we’re focusing on is how we contribute to the betterment of society, even if it’s in a small niche area.”

Not only is the podcast informative, it’s entertaining; there really is something for everyone to enjoy. Episode titles include “George Bush Did Not Kill Harambe, The Internet is Just Weird and Other Conversations about Social Media” and “When Dolly Parton Steps in During Times of Crisis and Other Conversations about Crisis Communication.”

One additional hope for Bissell is that listeners across campus and beyond would hear the exciting research that C&IS faculty are a part of and see the numerous and varied opportunities for creativity and collaboration.

“Researchers across campus who tune in and listen will hear how interdisciplinary our work is,” said Bissell. “There is obvious potential for partnerships campus wide where our research can connect to every single academic unit on campus. We’ve identified and developed a lot of those opportunities, but not all of them. I think there’s more we can do.”

Season 1 launched in Fall 2020 and includes 13 episodes. Now well into the second season Revise and Resubmit can be found on Apple podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. During the season, new episodes release every Monday at 11 a.m.

The College of Communication and Information Sciences’ faculty and students at The University of Alabama conduct cutting-edge research that creates knowledge and provides solutions to global issues across the full communication and information spectrum. To learn more about research at C&IS, visit https://cis.ua.edu/research

C&IS’ Martha Glen Sease Speaks Out on Women’s Sports at Tide Talks

C&IS Junior and News Media Major, Martha Glen Sease

We’re watching women’s sports wrong. This was the main point of C&IS junior news media major Martha Glen Sease in the latest installment of Tide Talks, a presentation series in which students at The University of Alabama share their experiences, trials and successes during their time at school.

According to Sease, women’s sports don’t get a fair shake because there are assumptions made by sports fans about what sports are supposed to be. The presence of the male hormone testosterone means that men’s sports involve athletes that, as a general rule, are faster and stronger than their female counterparts. It’s the assumption that “faster and stronger means better” that frames the whole conversation surrounding men’s sports versus women’s sports.

“People assume that women’s sports are boring because they have more estrogen,” said Sease. “Now, what fails to be taken into account is that the presence of extra estrogen means that there are other advantages women have such as increased flexibility and endurance.”

Sease says that we don’t enjoy women’s sports as we could because we’re watching it through a lens that is biased toward speed and strength. Furthermore, when discussing women’s sports, the conversation often centers around the athlete’s personal life or sense of fashion. When athletic ability is praised, it typically fits back into those two categories—speed and strength.

Citing research conducted by C&IS professor Andy Billings (Journalism and Creative Media), Sease notes that the conversation in the sports booth is part of the issue. Commentators for men’s sports use more direct language when announcing the game and women’s sports commentators use more indirect language, which reinforces the “faster and stronger is better” viewpoint.

“Think about this, if you turn on ESPN and it’s a sport you’re unfamiliar with, who do you rely on? The commentator,” said Sease. “If you’re a casual fan of women’s sports and you turn on the TV and the commentators aren’t talking about the technicality, the grace, the physicality in a different way than they do men’s sports… you have no shot at fully enjoying these games.”

So, how do we fix the problem? Sease suggests three ways that sports fan can learn to better appreciate women’s sports. Have conversations about women’s sports, watch women’s sports through the different lens she describes—appreciating grace, technicality and endurance—and follow people who report on women’s sports.

A good place to start might be following Martha Glen Sease on Twitter (@mgsease) and listening to her host the “Student Section” on Thursday evenings at 7 p.m. for WVUA 90.7FM.

You can view Sease’s Tide Talk here.

Founded by UA students in 2013, Tide Talks is a student organization at The University of Alabama that showcases student triumphs and experiences through engaging speaker series. It’s real talk, real life, and real students. To learn more about Tide Talks, visit their website at tidetalks.org or visit their YouTube page here.

Research Spotlight: Dr. Jiyoung Lee

When the coronavirus pandemic hit the scene in the United States in early 2020, many were completely unfamiliar with the virus, and few had experienced a real public health crisis—certainly not one of this scale. Seemingly overnight, Americans all became familiar with terminology such as “flattening the curve,” and “social distancing.” As shutdowns and mask mandates swept across the nation, the country braced for a long and uncertain fight.

Information about the virus, preventative measures and protocols flooded social media platforms. With countless sources reporting information on a novel strain of a virus, many of the articles, tweets, Facebook posts and Instagram live videos seemed to conflict. There was an abundance of good information out there to be read and understood, but there was also a lot of harmful misinformation.

For C&IS assistant professor Dr. Jiyoung Lee (journalism and creative media), there has never been a clearer need for her research. Primarily, her research areas include emerging media (such as social media or interactive media) and the way these media affect the way the public understands health misinformation or misinformation in general.

“I have particularly noted that whenever we faced this pandemic and other risky situation, we feel anxiety and are so uncertain,” said Lee. “And I have realized this kind of fear and anxiety actually leads us to believe the unverified information.”

According to Lee, people believe what they want to believe as a way of managing the anxiety, uncertainty or perception of risk they are feeling in a moment of crisis. And readily available information on social media can hurt—rather than help—a crisis situation as it evolves.

“Social media was designed to help people connect with each other, but users can definitely just be exposed to information that they want to see,” said Lee. “Probably because filtering algorithms oftentimes just show the information users have an interest in seeing, and social media allows people to connect only with the people they want to connect with.”

As a quantitative scholar, Lee uses online surveys and experiments as well as compensation analyses to study Facebook and Twitter posts. Lee’s passion and curiosity for this research area are driven by her interest in emotions and risk perception. Concerning emotions, one observation Lee has made about the ongoing pandemic situation is the way that it is causing many to react angrily. A current study of hers focuses on whether or not the anger people feel about a situation makes the more vulnerable to believing misinformation.

Another emotional issue seen during the pandemic is the effect that the large availability of information from different sources has on social media users. According to Lee, vast amounts of sources and articles leave many feeling exhausted from “information overload,” regardless of whether or not the information they are consuming is accurate. And this can hinder whether or not they seek out additional information.

“If people feel that they do not have the capacity to process more information, they don’t want to seek out new information. Then they just think about the situation based on the information they already have,” said Lee. “The most important thing to avoid right now is being a passive audience—even if they are exhausted and afraid. I encourage people to seek out information with greater force and double-check everything.”

As the coronavirus pandemic continues on, understanding how to find accurate information and avoid information overload is vitally important. To see some helpful tips from Dr. Jiyoung Lee, check out our video below. For more information on Lee’s research, you can check out her website here.

The College of Communication and Information Sciences’ faculty and students at The University of Alabama conduct cutting-edge research that creates knowledge and provides solutions to global issues across the full communication and information spectrum. To learn more about the College’s research initiatives, visit cis.ua.edu/research.

Brinson and Holiday Study the Effects of TV Advertising on Children

The Child and Family Media Lab in Reese Phifer Hall is an engaging space for researchers to observe, interact and study the reactions and responses of children to various forms of media

 

Our world is increasingly surrounded by advertising—on billboards, internet pop-ups, radio, television and even online games—all to keep consumers constantly abreast of the goods and services that will simplify their lives or satisfy their needs. Children born today will never know anything different than being constantly followed by advertisers everywhere they go, but how do these ads affect children? Are they more vulnerable to an ad’s persuasion tactics than adults? Are some media channels more persuasive than others? These are some of the questions two University of Alabama researchers are asking at C&IS.

Drs. Nancy Brinson and Steven Holiday are conducting a series of studies surrounding the topic of children and media. Brinson’s research interests include ad personalization and privacy, and Holiday’s research centers on the development of a consumer identity with a focus on children.

“We have to understand the real effects advertising has on children and how they actually develop deep relationships with brands and with products,” said Holiday. “Part of that is exploring those advertising effects and using their outcomes to create practical implications that might have to do with ethics or regulation.”

In a collaboration with The University of Alabama’s Center for Public Television, Brinson and Holiday created a series of customized advertisements intended to target particular interests and learning styles of their 3-to-12-year-old participants. They are now in the process of surveying the children to assess the effectiveness of these ads and how susceptible the children were to the ad’s messaging.

The duo utilizes the Institute for Communication and Information Research’s (ICIR) Child and Family Media Lab, located in Reese Phifer Hall. Furnished to look and feel similar to a family living room, the lab is an engaging space for researchers to observe, interact and study the reactions and responses of children to various forms of media using creative methods of communication such as dolls, interactive games and hand puppets.

“You have to be able to speak to them on their level and connect with them,” said Holiday. “Some of these children won’t communicate verbally when we begin the study. But we use hand puppets that will talk to them and put them at ease, and they will point or talk to the puppet who feels the same way they do about the ad.”

For Brinson, the susceptibility of children to advertisements is an issue of privacy and safety. Advertising agencies will soon be able to tailor customized TV advertisements for children based on the consumer profiles of their households as well as their previous online behaviors.

“Parents need to be aware that this is coming, that TV ads are not just going to be generic; they’re going to be targeted specifically to your child,” said Brinson. “Because of smart TVs and other connected devices, it’s no longer just one-way transmission from a broadcast tower. Advertisers using these new addressable TV technologies will be able to interact with you and your children, just like when you are using a computer.”

According to Brinson and Holiday, past research suggests that children are extremely susceptible to this kind of advertising, because they don’t have the experiences or development to understand that these messages are intended to persuade them. They are therefore more likely to respond positively to a message that speaks to them personally and understands their interests.

For Holiday, understanding how children respond to advertisements and learn from them can further his interest in producing pro-social advertisements that teach children principles of a healthy lifestyle, anti-bullying or safety. So, personalized advertising can be concerning, yes, but it can also be leveraged to communicate important messages to children that influence their social, moral and cognitive development.

The efforts of Brinson and Holiday continue a proud legacy of scholarship at The University of Alabama, where research conducted by Dr. Jennings Bryant established a national reputation in the field of child media. Bryant’s work with Sesame Street and The Electric Company was instrumental in shaping how television programming helps children learn.

The College of Communication and Information Sciences’ faculty and students at The University of Alabama conduct cutting-edge research that creates knowledge and provides solutions to global issues across the full communication and information spectrum. To learn more about the College’s research initiatives, visit cis.ua.edu/research.

C&IS Graduate Student Spotlight: Mackenzie Pike

This story is one in a continuing series of C&IS graduate student spotlights. These spotlights give insight into the academic and professional lives of master’s and Ph.D. students as they advance knowledge in their respective fields of communication and information sciences. The questions serve to highlight the many aspects of the graduate student experience as well provide guidance for prospective students. To nominate a current C&IS graduate student for a spotlight, email Cole Lanier at mclanier@ua.edu

Mackenzie Pike, a current graduate student in the Communication Studies program, discusses her time as an Accelerated Master’s Program (AMP) student. When she’s not studying people in the Human Communication Research lab, you can find Pike on the tennis court. Recently, Pike competed in the university-wide Three Minute Thesis competition and placed third as a first-time competitor. Here is what she has to say about her experience within C&IS:

Tell us about your experience in graduate school.

I entered graduate school in communication studies through the Accelerated Master’s Program during my senior year as an undergraduate student at the University. While the classes are challenging – especially while juggling teaching, research and extracurricular activities – it is the challenge that makes it so much more rewarding. I have had an amazing experience, as I have had the opportunity to focus on communication topics and research that truly interests me. I have also been able to teach sections of the “Critical Decision Making” courses. It is amazing to be able to guide students through a course and help share my love for communication and, more broadly, learning, with others. Graduate school at The University of Alabama has helped me realize my passion for research and learning and will guide me as I move forward with my education.

What is your greatest accomplishment in the program?

I believe my greatest accomplishment relates to my thesis: I tackled a project that examined power language in company financial statements. This means that I not only had to thoroughly examine the communicative aspects of financial statements, but I had to become well-versed in the nuances of accounting research as well. This inter-disciplinary project was very difficult to manage; after all, my undergraduate degree was in communication, so I had little to no financial background. It was very exciting to work through the project and get interesting findings! Not only do companies that use more power language in their financial statements make more money, but I also examined the companies with male and female CEOs. I found that companies with female CEOs actually make more money, but they also use power language differently than companies with male CEOs. While it was a challenge to tackle this project, the results were extremely rewarding!

What has been your greatest challenge?

My greatest challenge, like other graduate students, has been balancing school, teaching, research and my personal life. It is very easy to keep yourself constantly busy in graduate school but if you don’t give yourself time to decompress and relax, burnout is inevitable. Learning to work hard when I can and give myself time to do things that I enjoy really helps me recharge and prepare myself for the next challenge.

What advice do you have for students about to enter graduate school?

The biggest piece of advice I could offer a student entering graduate school is to engage in the academic community around you. The other students in your program can relate to your struggles and successes and will be your biggest motivators and cheerleaders! Some of my greatest friends have been found in this program and having them by my side has helped through the hard times of graduate school. It takes lots of hard work but staying on top of your work is really important. I was once told to treat my school like a 9-5 job – staying diligent not only helps prevent getting very behind on your work but also allows you to have time for yourself.

Why did you choose UA for your graduate studies?

I chose UA for graduate studies because it presented me with opportunities that I could not have found in other programs. First, I was able to participate in the Accelerated Masters’ Program, which allowed me to start my graduate studies while finishing my senior year of undergraduate classes. I also had the opportunity to teach classes that I was interested in and found value in – Critical Decision Making is an interactive learning experience that has helped me connect with students. Finally, I was excited to stay involved with the HCRL and my research community at The University of Alabama. I was encouraged to pursue research that interested me and challenge myself to ask meaningful questions. I am very grateful for my time at the University and the opportunities the program has allowed me to see to fruition.

Thank you, Mackenzie!

Public Relations Leaders Earn a “C+” in The Plank Center’s Report Card 2019

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Results of The Plank Center’s Report Card 2019 reflect little change in public relations leadership from studies in 2015 and 2017. PR leaders received an overall grade of “C+” in 2019, similar to previous studies, though down a bit overall in the last five years.

The Report Card 2019 was recently completed with responses from 828 PR leaders and professionals nationwide, who evaluated five fundamental areas of leadership linked to outcomes in our field—organizational culture, quality of leadership performance, trust in the organization, work engagement and job satisfaction. While grades overall were little changed from 2017, job engagement, trust and job satisfaction dropped a bit. Even more concerning, previously reported gaps in evaluations grew more:

  • Differences between men’s (45.8%) and women’s (54.2%) perceptions of the organizational culture and the quality of leadership performance deepened. Similar to Report Card 2017, gaps between top leaders’ (35.1%) and others’ (64.9%) perceptions of all five evaluated areas remained wide.
  • Women in public relations remained less engaged, less satisfied with their jobs, less confident in their work cultures, less trusting of their organizations and more critical of top leaders compared to men.
  • Previous concerns of both men and women about two-way communication, shared decision-making, diversity and culture were again present.

The consistently average grades, and the sharp and growing differences among surveyed professionals noted above, beg the question of whether improving leadership in the field is a priority in the profession. Numerous blogs, articles and research studies suggest it is important and needed. However, as Bill Heyman, CEO and president of Heyman Associates, and a co-sponsor of the study, reflected, “Talking about needed changes and improvements in leadership won’t accomplish the change. We need more leaders who live and model the changes.”

Report Card on PR Leaders 2019 2017 2015
Leadership performance A-/C+ A-/C+ A-/C+
Job engagement B- B- B+
Trust in organization C+ C+ C+
Job satisfaction C+ C+ B
Culture of organization C+ C+ B-
Overall C+ C+ B-

 

The Grades

Public relations leaders again received passing grades for their performance, trust in the organization, job satisfaction and work engagement. Respondents also gave a passing grade to the organizational cultures within which they work. Significant gaps in perceptions between women and men, and leaders and employees, still loom large. Based on the scores, leadership in the field remains pretty average and improvement appears elusive.

Leadership Performance: A-/C+                (2017—A-/C+)

Leadership Performance received a split grade because leaders’ and their employees’ perceptions of performance continue to differ sharply. Top leaders (291 or 35.1%) rated their performance (6.09 on a 7.0 scale) about an “A-,” while other employees (537 or 64.9%) rated their top leaders’ performance (4.49/7.0) a “C+.” Scores for leadership performance were slightly lower compared to 2017 (6.14 vs. 4.53), but the size of the gap is similar. Leaders often rate their performance higher than their employees do, but the statistical difference here is dramatic.

“The impression about top communication leaders’ performance hasn’t changed nor improved much in the professional communication community, based on results from our three Report Cards,” said Juan Meng, Ph.D., co-investigator and associate professor at University of Georgia. “Such consistent but not-so-promising gaps present persuasive evidence that merits serious attention. Improving top communication leaders’ performance shall be a priority. More critically, such changes and actions shall be well communicated to and received by employees in order to close the gaps.”

Job Engagement:    B-          (2017—B-)

The grade for job engagement remained a “B-“ (5.20 on a 7.0 scale), presenting the same grade since 2017. In Report Card 2019, 59.4% of respondents were engaged (vs. 57.2% in 2017); 32.6% were not engaged (vs 35.9% in 2017); and 8.0% were actively disengaged (vs. 6.8% in 2017). As indicated below, scores for engagement have changed modestly over the past five years:

Job Engagement of PR Professionals

  % Engaged % Not Engaged % Actively Disengaged
Demographic 2019 2017 2015 2019 2017 2015 2019 2017 2015
All respondents 59.4 57.2 59.7 32.6 35.9 34.4 8.0 6.8 6.0
Men 62.3 62.1 57.9 31.7 32.5 35.2 6.1 5.4 6.8
Women 57.0 52.9 61.3 33.4 39.0 33.6 9.6 8.1 5.1
Top leaders 68.7 71.7 72.3 25.4 24.5 24.5 5.8 3.8 3.2
Non-top leaders 54.4 50.1 54.2 36.5 41.6 38.6 9.1 8.3 7.2

 

The more concerning trend reflected in Report Card 2019 is, though percentages are small, the growth of the actively disengaged group among top leaders and especially women. The percentage of actively disengaged top leaders increased from 3.2% to 3.8% to 5.8% in the three surveys. The percentage of actively disengaged women nearly doubled, rising from 5.1% to 8.1% to 9.6%. Meanwhile, the percentage of actively disengaged non-top leaders also gradually grew from 7.2% to 8.3% to 9.1% over the years. Overall, nearly one in 12 professionals (8.0%) was actively disengaged.

Trust in the Organization: C+        (2017—C+)

The overall grade for trust in the organization (4.71 on a 7.0 scale) was a “C+,” down a little from a mean score of 4.76 in 2017. Trust has received the lowest grade among the five subject areas in each of the three surveys. Trust scores in 2019 were consistently lower at each level in the chain of command. Top leaders rated trust (5.17) statistically significantly higher than professionals at other levels (4.42). Female professionals (4.55) continued to be much less trusting of their organizations than male professionals (4.90).

Job Satisfaction: C+             (2015—C+)

Job satisfaction was again graded a C+ as it continued a small decline from 4.94 (2015) to 4.76 (2017) to 4.73 in 2019. By percentage, the numbers changed little from 2017. In 2019, the percent of PR leaders and professionals who were satisfied with their job was 62.1% (vs. 61.9% in 2017); those dissatisfied rose slightly from 24.1% (2017) to 24.4%; and those neither satisfied nor dissatisfied declined from 14.0% in 2017 to 13.5%. The biggest declines in job satisfaction were among top leaders as their mean scores continued to fall from 5.51 (2015) to 5.31 (2017) to 5.11 in 2019. Job satisfaction is significantly higher for men compared to women (4.87 vs. 4.61). However, mean scores for men and women also continued small declines over three Report Cardsurveys.

Organizational Culture: C+            (2017—C+)

Overall, organizational culture received a grade of “C+” (4.94 on a 7.0 scale), similar to previous scores of 4.86 in 2017 and 4.95 in 2015. Top leaders rated cultural factors significantly higher (5.29) than professionals at lower levels (4.73). Men rated culture more positively (5.07) than did women (4.83), who rated two-way communication, shared decision-making and diversity significantly lower than men. Women gave shared decision-making one of the lowest scores in the survey (4.08). The biggest gap between women and men lies in the evaluation of organization’s efforts in valuing and practicing diversity and inclusion (4.99 vs. 5.49). Among organizational types, agency professionals rated cultural factors highest (5.59); the group of nonprofit, governmental, educational and political organizations rated culture lowest (4.76).

“Organizational culture is driven by leadership,” said Bryan H. Reber, Ph.D., research director at The Plank Center and professor at University of Georgia. “It’s rather disheartening that organizational culture remains only ‘average’ and that women give ‘shared decision-making’ such a poor score. Public relations leaders apparently need to back up verbal support of inclusive cultures with more action.

Three Crucial Gaps Remained Wide

Grades for the five areas for leaders remained passing grades in Report Card 2019. Little has changed: leadership in public relations is graded a C+, still pretty average. In addition, three crucial gaps revealed in previous Report Cardsremain: 1) different perceptions between top leaders and their employees, 2) deepened gaps between women and men in all five areas, and 3) lack of improvement in building a rich and open communication system, or a culture for communication. The research has clear takeaways for communication leaders, organizations and the profession. Efforts must be dedicated to improve leadership performance. Only effective actions and communication can help reduce and close the gaps. We need to have real changes happening for strengthened leadership, practice and outcomes for the profession and organizations.

“The purpose of this biennial report is to assess leadership in PR and identify enrichment opportunities,” said Bruce K. Berger, Ph.D., co-investigator and professor emeritus at the University of Alabama. “If we identify the gaps and work to close them, we strengthen our profession’s leadership—a crucial strategic asset. This Report Cardunderscores the continuing gaps and the urgency to act.”

To download and read the Report Card 2019 full report, please visit the Plank Center’s website.

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Project Background & Demographics

A 41-question survey was distributed online to 22,809 PR leaders and professionals contained within an extensive database, and 861 completed the survey. Thirty-three surveys completed by non-US-based professionals were excluded, leaving 828 complete responses for final data analysis. The response rate provides a 95% confidence level (+/- 5%). Overall, the results represent the larger population of surveyed professionals. Most participants were senior leaders and managers: 74.7% of the 828 respondents were the #1 (35.1%) or #2 (39.6%) communication professional in their organization, and 92.4% had 11 years of experience or more. More women (449 or 54.2%) than men (379 or 45.8%) completed the survey. The majority of participants worked in public (324 or 39.1%) or private (120 or 14.5%) corporations, followed by the category of nonprofits, governmental, educational or political organizations (254 or 30.7%), communication agencies (107 or 12.9%) and self-employed or others (23 or 2.7%).

About The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations

The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations is the leading international resource working to support students, educators and practitioners who are passionate about the public relations profession by developing and recognizing outstanding diverse public relations leaders, role models and mentors. Founded in 2005, the Center is named in honor of Betsy Plank, the “First Lady” of PR. Betsy’s legacy and vision continues on in the Center’s programs and initiatives to advance the profession and public relations education. For more information, please visit www.plankcenter.ua.edu.

About Heyman Associates

Heyman Associates and its colleagues – Taylor Bennett in London, joint venture Taylor Bennett Heyman in Asia and GK Personalberatung in Frankfurt – bring together nearly 60 years of  experience placing top communications and public affairs talent in executive positions at high-profile  corporations, foundations and academic institutions across North America, Europe, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region.

SLIS Partners with American Archive of Public Broadcasting for Digital Archiving Project

The University of Alabama’s School of Library and Information Studies (SLIS) will play a major role in an ambitious nationwide preservation effort to digitize media content. Through its partnership with the American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB), SLIS will host four preservation fellowships during the fall semester. Fellows will work throughout the semester at one of three public broadcasting stations to digitize and preserve at-risk media. The stations are the Center for Public Television (CPT) at The University of Alabama, WSRE in Pensacola, Florida, and WCVE in Richmond, Virginia.

“By tapping in to the expertise of professional archivists, we are preparing our fellows for the critical work of protecting local media and ensuring that these records of our past are accessible in the future,” said Dr. Jim Elmborg, Director of SLIS. “We look forward to seeing what gems are revealed at CPT, WSRE and WCVE over the course of the semester.”

According to AAPB, a collaboration between the Library of Congress and WGBH, a Boston-area public media broadcaster, the work the fellows complete will be incorporated into the AAPB database at the end of the semester.

“Public media stations have created community-focused, enriching programs for decades. Each of these programs is a unique snapshot that reflects what mattered to communities at a given time and is a rich historical resource for stations, scholars and the public,” said Karen Cariani, Director of WGBH’s Media Library and Archives. “We’re thrilled to help guide the next generation of archivists and for AAPB to serve as a home for these programs from CPT, WSRE and WCVE.”

Fellows will begin the program with an immersive training hosted by SLIS, led by WGBH Media Library and Archives staff and Jackie Jay, a digitization expert from Bay Area Video Coalition, from August 5-8. At the host stations, fellows will work with station staff to identify programs that are most valuable to the station and currently residing on at-risk and obsolete videotape formats. According to AAPB, each fellow will catalog and digitize up to 60 hours of this content. Fellows will be supported by AAPB archivists and funding from SLIS.

The School of Library and Information Studies is a part of the College of Communication and Information Sciences (C&IS) at The University of Alabama. To learn more about C&IS, visit www.cis.ua.edu.

Plank Center Sponsors Nationwide Communication Survey

The first study to examine the state of public relations in Canada and the United States found that building and maintaining trust is the most crucial issue facing the profession. The North American Communication Monitor (NACM) conducted by The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations at The University of Alabama disclosed key trends and challenges facing the communication profession. Some highlights include:

  • Fake news affects the profession, but many organizations are not prepared to identify and manage it.
  • Top communication leaders are involved in organizational decision making, but that power is not shared with those lower in the hierarchy, especially women.
  • The major threat to job engagement is a lack of performance feedback and recognition, with a significant gender gap.
  • Everyone is stressed, but the sources of work stress vary.
  • Women and men rate their social media and knowledge management skills differently.

The results are based on responses from 1,020 communication professionals working in different types of organizations (255 in Canada and 765 in the United States). The sample achieved a balanced gender split (50% men and 50% women) for accurate comparisons. The average age of participants was 46.0 years.

Dr. Karla Gower, director of The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations, said, “Our goal with this study was to assess the state of the public relations field in North America and identify gaps, or opportunities to enrich the development of communication leaders. If we know where the gaps are, we can work to close them and to strengthen the overall quality of our profession’s leadership—a crucial strategic asset.”

The study, which joins existing Communication Monitors in Europe, Latin America and Asia-Pacific, explored diverse topics, including fake news and strategies to deal with it, top issues for the profession in the next three years, the role of providing information to support decision making, leaders’ performance, and professionals’ job engagement, trust in their organization, job satisfaction, work stress, and social media skills and management knowledge.

Dr. Bryan H. Reber, professor at the University of Georgia and lead researcher of NACM, said: “The Plank Center has embraced the opportunity to join a truly global network of researchers who regularly take the pulse of communication professionals to identify trends and opportunities. The North American Communication Monitor provides statistically reliable data to demonstrate professionals’ opinions and concerns and uses a nearly identical survey instrument as do the European, Latin American, and Asia-Pacific Communication Monitors. As a result, we are able to compare more than 6,000 responses across regions and cultures, the largest global data set for our profession.”

Fake news is a prominent issue but organizations lack processes to identify and manage it

Communication professionals agree fake news has become one of the most prominent issues in public discourse. More than half of surveyed professionals (57.7%) give attention to the on-going debate about fake news and consider it a much-debated topic in their country (68.2%). Results indicate governmental organizations across North America are particularly affected by fake news, with 20.9% being affected multiple times and 10.1% being affected once.

However, despite the high levels of awareness and attention to the debate about fake news, the level of relevance of fake news to the professionals’ daily work, and their concerns about it, are generally low. When it comes to identifying potential fake news, a substantial percentage of respondents (42.6%) said their organizations mainly rely on individual competencies and experience. Few organizations have in place policies, technical systems and processes to detect and manage fake news and misinformation.

Nearly half of the organizations (46.3%) do not share decision making with employees or members

The majority of surveyed professionals (71.9%) agree their top communication leader is actively involved in the organization’s decision making (78.1%) and demonstrates a strong ethical orientation to guide actions (76.7%). However, shared decision-making power receives the lowest rating across various types of organizations. Women rate the shared decision-making power significantly lower than men. A similar perceptual gap is identified along the line of hierarchy: Top communication leaders rate shared decision-making power significantly higher than team leaders and team members.

 The major threat to job engagement is a lack of performance feedback and recognition, with a significant gender gap

The job engagement level is relatively high: 62.8% report they are engaged in their job. More than eight in 10 of surveyed professionals know what is expected of them at work (86.0%), and are in a positive environment where fellow employees are committed to quality work (81.3%). Professionals also said they have the opportunity to do what they can do best every day (79.1%) and their opinions count at work (75.3%). However, some are frustrated by the lack of feedback about their performance on the job (24.6%) and lack of recognition for doing good work (15.4%).

Though nearly three-quarters of communication professionals are satisfied with their job, the gender gap is big. Women (60.8%) report a much lower level of job satisfaction compared to men (70.2%).

Sources of work stress vary

One-third of surveyed professionals acknowledge they feel tense and stressed during a normal workday. Generally, the top three sources of stress are limited growth or advancement opportunities (34.3%), a too-heavy workload (33.6%), and information overload (33.3%). Top communication leaders are most stressed by information overload, team leaders by work overload, and team members by their lack of opportunity for growth and advancement. Women are most stressed by lack of advancement opportunities and heavy workload. Men are most stressed by information overload and being constantly available via email, text and phone.

Women and men rate their social media and knowledge management skills differently

Men and women see their knowledge and skill sets differently when coping with the digital evolution and social media. Women are more confident about delivering messages via social media (68.8%), identifying social media trends (55.7%), and setting up social media platforms (51.2%). Men are more confident of their understanding of the legal framework for social media (38.0%) and using algorithms to run analytics (35.7%).

When it comes to general management skills, men are significantly more confident, compared to women, about their abilities in strategic positioning, such as analyzing overall organizational goals, scenario planning, and linking communication to business agendas. Men also report higher scores on managing human and financial resources.

Dr. Juan Meng, associate professor at the University of Georgia and lead analyst of NACM, said: “The depths and the variety of investigated topics presented by this year’s NACM help us better understand the communication industry in North America. More importantly, our rich results will deliver crucial insights to inform effective practice for communication professionals at all levels, from top leaders to team leaders and team members, as they all need to tackle these challenges now or in the near future.”

To download and read the NACM 2018-2019 full report, please visit the Plank Center’s website.

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About North American Communication Monitor 2018-2019

The North American Communication Monitor (NACM) 2018-2019 is a biennial study organized and sponsored by The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations. The NACM is part of the Global Communication Monitor series. As the largest regular global study in the field of public relations and strategic communication, the Global Communication Monitor series aims at stimulating and promoting the knowledge and practice of strategic communication and communication management globally. The series covers more than 80 countries with similar surveys conducted in Asia-Pacific, Europe and Latin America.

About the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations

The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations is the leading international resource working to support students, educators and practitioners who are passionate about the public relations profession by developing and recognizing outstanding diverse public relations leaders, role models and mentors. Founded in 2005, the Center is named in honor of Betsy Plank, the “First Lady” of PR. Betsy’s legacy and vision continues on in the Center’s programs and initiatives to advance the profession and public relations education. For more information, please visit www.plankcenter.ua.edu.

Study Report

Results of the NACM 2018-2019 will be published as a PDF report and as a booklet:

Meng, J. Reber, B. H., Berger, B. K., Gower, K. K., & Zerfass, A. (2019). North American Communication Monitor 2018-2019. Tracking trends in fake news, issues management, leadership performance, work stress, social media skills, job satisfaction and work environment. Tuscaloosa, AL: The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations.

ISBN (paperback): 978-0-578-50179-6

ISBN (electronic): 978-0-578-50180-2

For more information about the NACM 2018-2019, please visit www.plankcenter.ua.edu.

For more information about the Global Communication Monitor series, please visit www.globalcommunicationmonitor.com.