What Happens in New Orleans Should Not Stay There

In last week’s post I alluded to an upcoming academic convention (NCA) in New Orleans. This week I’ll share some of what I learned at that convention. Thousands of communication scholars attended it and each person had a different experience based on which sessions and panels they decided to attend. I share some of what I learned today with hopes of inspiring other attendees to share what they learned as well. After all, what happens at these conventions should never just stay at the conventions, it should be shared and used to inspire future work.

While I considerably enjoyed the touristy aspects of this resilient city (Bourbon Street, Café du Monde, etc.), I was far more impressed by the dialogue that was going on inside the convention hotels. The National Communication Association is made up of about 8,000 professors, practitioners, and students from twenty countries who all love the communication discipline. A sizable percentage of those members were present at this convention and came to share what they have been working on (both academic research and nonacademic projects). This resulted in a compelling lineup of panels and sessions over the four days of the convention covering an academically delicious multitude of communication sub-disciplines (interpersonal, organizational, performance, mass media, political, rhetorical, international, crisis, critical/cultural, health, family, nonverbal, non-Western, feminist, etc.).

I typed up about ten pages and 3,500 words of notes during the different sessions/panels I attended. Note that during each time slot there were about forty different presentations going on so every convention participant had to be extremely picky with what sessions they chose to attend. I focused primarily on sessions related to mass media, new media, and international/intercultural communication.

I will now share with you some bullet points of what I learned from some of those sessions based on the notes I took. While I give credit to most of the individual presenters based on the topic they talked about, note that the information below is based on my personal notes and thus on how I perceived the presentations and does not necessarily reflect the main themes that the original authors might have had when presenting their research.

As stated above, I hope that these limited examples of my notes inspire others to also share their notes so that we can take advantage of the Internet to share important information and think about potential areas for new research! I also hope that these notes serve to show people who might dismiss academic conferences as pointless that this is not true and that important information is shared. 

November 17th, 930 AM

“Communication Technologies and Personal Relationship Types: Who Uses What Media, For What Functions, With What Effects?” 

  • The asynchronous nature of online dating (communication that is not simultaneous) allows people to spend more time on their interactions and on their responses. In face-to-face communication people feel a pressure to respond instantly, but they can spend more time crafting their response in online communication and thus can “sound better” to a potential romantic partner; this makes them feel more comfortable. However, if people have a lengthy courtship based on CMC (computer mediated communication) and then start a more traditional face-to-face relationship they might realize that they have idealized each other too much and have formed exaggerated perceptions of the other person. Researchers Joshua Hillyer (University of Kentucky) & Rebecca Gray (Michigan State University).

  • Both doctors and patients show a willingness to communicate more via computer mediated channels such as email but the numbers show that email, while prevalent in many other fields, has yet to be adopted as a regular form of communication between doctors and their patients. Reasons for this include liability and credibility issues (the patient does not know if their personal doctor is actually sending the messages to them) and doctor workloads (doctors are not sure about consulting over email because they are not sure if they would get paid for such services). Researchers Robert Zuercher (University of Kentucky) and Austin Lee (Michigan State University).
  • Computer mediated communication is primarily used to maintain interpersonal relationships (as opposed to initiating and terminating relationships). Thus chances are that you become friends with people on Facebook because you want to maintain that relationship over the Internet, not because you saw an interesting profile and wanted to initiate a new relationship with a stranger. Speaking of Facebook, there is a curvilinear effect with your perceived popularity and the number of Facebook friends you have. This means that while having more friends will make you appear more popular to your peers, having an excessive amount of Facebook friends will make you appear disingenuous and fake. Researchers Kelley Cowden (University of Kentucky) and Pamela Pommerenke (Michigan State University). 

November 18th, 8AM

“And Now the News: A Look at News Production and Consumption”

  • The focus of news coverage of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill differed depending on the geographic area (thus leading to the audiences having different perceptions of the spill). The most common storyline in the national news focused on the environmental impact of the oil spill, while the most common local storyline was on how industry was being negatively affected as a result of the spill. News channels in Florida and Alabama focused on how tourism was being affected by the spill because their economies depend heavily on tourism, while news channels in Mississippi and Louisiana focused on how the shrimp industry was being affected because their economies depend more on shrimp. Researchers from Louisiana State University (Ashley Kirzinger, Kirby Goidel, Johanna Dunaway).          

November 18th, 930AM

“The Promise and Politics of Engaged Scholarship”

  • This was a fascinating and inspiring panel of scholars who are passionate about using communication theory and academic research for practical purposes by applying their research to the world outside of academia; thus the “engaged scholarship” title. The panel and the audience had a lively discussion about how community-based participatory communication research can help people in tangible ways. The discussion then turned to the dilemma that professors have because they want to help their communities while also being under pressure to publish in scholarly journals and to show results of their research to their employers in more traditional ways.

  • I could write a whole blog entry on just this panel (and perhaps will in the future) but will repeat only one specific item here. Professor Maggie Quinlan from the University of North Carolina (Charlotte) explained that if scholars are not doing any community engagement they are missing out and are ‘in the wrong’ because they are failing to share the results of their research with the public outside of academia and to use it for practical change. I wholeheartedly agree with that statement.

November 18th, 11AM

 “Voices of the 2011 Revolutions: The Impact of Communication Technology in Tunisia, Egypt and Elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa” 

  • Al-Jazeera played an extremely important role in the Egyptian revolution because they were the only global news source that covered Islamists and allowed them to have a voice. Al-Jazeera also tapped into common frames of injustice among Islamic cultures that were not covered by other news channels. Information about the different Arab Spring revolutions has been spread via the Internet, but not necessarily because many people in those areas of the world have access to the Internet. Those individuals who do have the Internet post information on the social media websites (such as Facebook) but the mass news media then picks that information up and reports it to millions of people who don’t have access to the Internet but have access to television news (such as Al-Jazeera). While new media has played a big role in the protests, it would be an oversimplification to call these the “Facebook/Twitter revolutions” because the reasons for the revolutions have little to do with the channels used during them and are actually rooted in years of oppression. Presentation by Orayb Najjar from Northern Illinois University.

November 19th, 11AM

” Advertising, Capitalism, and Consumption”

  • Over the past few decades a few trends have changed when it comes to how women are portrayed in Vogue advertisements. Women used to be presented as very submissive, sexualized, and alone (with no males) before the 21st century. During the 2000s, with an increased acceptance of feminist principles of equality, the portrayals have been less submissive (women are portrayed as having more power) and more equal (more ads with women and men together). However, the sexualization of women has only increased, and so has the pressure on women to purchase certain products for their beauty. Researchers Jessia Ruggles and Mala Matacin from the University of Hartford.

November 19th, 330PM

 “A Tribute to Japanese Disaster Victims: Cross-Cultural Voices of Crisis Management of the 2011 Great Eastern Japan Earthquake, Tsunami, and Radiation Leak”

  • During this panel Japanese mass media was criticized because of their failure to call the Japanese government out on obvious gaps in information after the horrific earthquake of 2011. The government attempted to downplay the significance of a radiation leak that was caused by the earthquake and the media failed to question the government, which potentially led to people putting themselves in danger of radiation poisoning because they were not properly informed. Specific criticism of Japanese media included:
    • Lack of training for Japanese newspaper reporters; they are trained for general skills only, so there were no specialized or investigative reporters to send to the scene.
    • Japanese news is “announcement news” because they simply report what they hear during official press conferences and do not question the sources.
  • Although many more people died during the initial earthquake and tsunami, the news media focused more on the nuclear reactor storyline because there were few images of destruction to show and the media depends a lot on images. Most people who died and most of the damage was swept away, thus leaving few dramatic scenes for the media to focus on. However they could continually focus on the dramatic images of the nuclear power plant and the smoke coming out of it. Furthermore, the nuclear power plant was a more interesting story because it was the result of human error, while the earthquake was something that the humans could not have stopped.
  • Although America and Japan are different culturally, the failures in crisis communication (communication during times of crisis) are the same in both countries. Among the biggest problems related to crisis communication include lack of effective inter-agency communication (such as FEMA and the National Hurricane Center during Hurricane Katrina) and regulatory issues.
*I did not attach the above information to specific people when I took the notes during this session (it was the last one I attended and I was tired!) so I cannot say for certain who said what. If you would like a list of all the speakers during this session let me know and I’ll send it to you.
**I am happy to share all of my original notes if anybody out there is interested. Just let me know.