What I’ve learned about myself while on my research journey is that I’m fascinated by how we come to learn and know about ethical journalism. Whether it is learning about journalism by how the institution is contending with politicization and polarization, responding to cries for a reckoning, or positioning itself at the center or the margins. Or it’s recognizing the moral foundations of journalists or the way mission statements or course objectives construct how students will learn about journalism in their classroom. Or it’s believing that learning can be done in ways socially we don’t want it to—such as through people like Hugh Hefner or Larry Flynt, and organizations like Pornhub. Or it’s wrestling with the law for its ability to teach journalists what it means to be responsible, but how it also is helping citizens learn about what can be permissible. Or understanding how we learn to trust in the institution of journalism and what the institution can learn from that trust. Or processing the foundations of learning—the developmental stages of human beings, or the ways journalism learns about itself through boundary work and discursive institutionalism. Or identifying how we learn about journalism’s ability to help us, everyday citizens, be more civically and democratically engaged and literate in the ways of knowledge creation.
I don’t approach this constant curiosity cognitively as many in the learning sciences would, but rather I engage in my inquiry in a sociological manner with education and practice at the core of my questioning. It becomes about how we know what we know about journalism—both those that produce it and those that consume it—and, ultimately, what that knowledge can do to impede or improve the institution moving forward. My desire to seek out more ethical and equitable journalism is rooted in my desire to understand journalism from a framework of sustainability, which in turn is rooted in the foundational purpose/question: how do we learn about journalism, and how will we learn about journalism in the future? Who belongs? What practices belong? What forms of professionalism belong? And how do we come to know this?
And I’m drawn to questions about those who are seen as marginalized or deviant because I’ve asked those questions of myself, and my identity. I want to know where I belong, where I fit, and where I can contribute a verse. I don’t see this as selfish as much as I see it as attempting to wrestle with who is allowed to help us learn about journalism. And I don’t see it as good or bad, but rather how can we see these pieces as opportunities to learn more and challenges to think more critically about how what we learn can impact the institution’s future. These questions are how I seek to understand how we—producers and consumers of journalism—learn about journalism, and how what we learn can lead to more equitable and ethical practice and education.
I find it easiest to describe the branches and roots of my research agenda by playing on the title of the 1966 spaghetti Western, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. My agenda is easily shared as “the good, the bad, and the ‘I won’t touch that with a ten-foot pole.’” While it may seem to be an odd elevator speech for an academic, it is the most simplistic way to understand how my questions, frameworks, and methods coexist.
This agenda comes from personal experiences, and my journey to this moment vis-a-vis a teaching career, a marginalized identity, and a desire to belong.
The Good: Education as a liberatory and transformative practice
My work is grounded in the good. I build much of my scholarship to transform education–both the traditional classroom and professional development in our media spaces. When I think about the good, I think about how news and media literacy can provide more equitable and inclusive spaces. I also question how our JMC pedagogy constructs normative values and identities that enforce democracy-building and moral authority of journalism in particular, as well as media broadly.
The Bad: Deviant practices and problematic norms
I consider myself a media sociologist as I am passionately interested in studying people (actors), places (publications/newsrooms), and ideas (moral panic) that are perceived as deviant in journalism and media and by the general public. This area reflects my desire to recognize the role of deviance concerning public perception, journalistic/media norms and values, and the educational underpinnings of media texts. Oftentimes, these are understood as bad. They are framed as being outside of the boundaries of journalism or at least positioned at the margins. For me, “the bad,” or what we define as such, is an opportune avenue for studying potential futures, equitable needs, and means of inclusionary practice and discourse. This includes my attention to certain values (i.e., trust and objectivity), beats (i.e., politics and media), or texts (i.e., far-right podcasting), as ways for us to understand our boundaries and what we are willing to accept. It also includes my desire to interrogate not just the news, but, in fact, the areas the news elites position as low-brow or “bad” to journalism’s identity. This includes tabloids, genre-based magazines at the margins of communities and crowds (i.e., Fangoria), and pop culture coverage and media (i.e., celebrities, professional wrestling, and reality television). I often rely on media criticism and texts in this work but hope to interview and speak directly to media producers in this.
The “I wouldn’t touch that with a ten-foot pole”
One of the areas I am most interested in is the discussions and discourses associated with sex and sexuality in journalism and media spaces. This includes focusing on certain issues (i.e., sex coverage, contraception use, AIDS responses, and corporate social responsibility), texts (i.e, Playboy, Hustler, Pornhub, and OnlyFans), industries (i.e., pornography and sex work), and identities (i.e., LGBTQ+). My approach to this work is liberatory and attempts to find ways in which these perceived-to-be highly deviant pieces can be seen as ways to improve our moral compass and learn to be more accepting in our daily lives and media practices.
Instead of relying on calling this “the ugly,” I find that it is the place that many scholars possibly are unwilling to go. The political climate and heightened rhetoric against LGBTQ people, “obscene” material, and legislation impacting sex work and sexual minorities are critically important to my identity and deeply fascinating to my work. As a nation, the United States is one of the few that favors violence above sex in its content. It regulates sex more than violence. Yet, the growing need for sex-positive discussions and interpretations of sex and sexuality in media still emerges.
Framework and Core Areas of Research Identity
I use metajournalistic discourse as a guiding framework to understand the institution of journalism, especially as it seeks to define, create boundaries, and legitimize itself. My projects rely on the components of this approach to provide commentary and establish an understanding of journalism as an evolving institution.
News (Media) Literacy
My time as a teacher informs my research practices, which in this area often seek to provide applied research. I see this work as an opportunity to break outside of the ivory tower to provide opportunities for marginalized voices. Projects in this area span humanistic and social scientific paradigms in an attempt to further civic and democratic outcomes through media use, practice, and knowledge.
Journalism (Media) Ethics
The bulk of my work aims to understand the normative values and roles of journalism and media through the lens of ethical practices. While I engage in theoretical labor in this area of research, most often the context of my projects is considerably more applied in nature. My work in ethics often addresses actors within the journalism or media industries and organizational concerns with codes of ethics or corporate social responsibility.
Journalism Professionalization: Education and Practice
I see my work as an opportunity to be transformative for both journalism education and journalism practice. I find what I do as a form of translation, with the chance for education and media research to speak to one another. A goal of much of my research is public and practical. I want to impact the future by researching practices in the present.
Mixed Methods Research
I describe myself as a truly mixed methods researcher. I am a transformative pragmatist, meaning I attempt to enact and impact social change through questions and methods appropriate to them. Many of my questions prioritize qualitative methods, but my mixed methods practice is open to finding and utilizing the appropriate methods to solve and respond to the problems and questions I identify.
I am a collaborative scholar with a love of pursuing my own work as well. I traditionally utilize interviews, critical discourse analysis, and surveys to respond, analyze, and interrogate the data I collect. I am interested in visual communication and continue exploring methods appropriate to that practice. Additionally, in conjunction with my co-author, we are in the process of developing and proposing a method that emerges from queer theory and camp. We call this method detachment/attachment analysis, and are working through its applicability to both humanistic and social scientific theories and questions.