Research Publication Roundup: December 2020

A vibrant and collaborative interdisciplinary research culture at the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media creates new knowledge, advances scholarship and helps reinvent media.

A team of Hussman School graduate students (including Ph.D. student Deborah Dwyer, pictured), alumni, and current and former faculty recently published a study in Mass Communication and Society using a three-method design to examine the connections among newspaper organizations and corporations. More details on this study are listed below, along with a list of other recently published or presented scholarship by UNC Hussman faculty and students.


Avishai, A., Meernik, C., Goldstein, A. O., Lazard, A., Ranney, L., & Sheeran, P. (2020) Impact and mechanisms of cigarillo flavor descriptors on susceptibility to cigarillo use among young adult nonusers of tobacco. Journal of Applied Social Psychology.

Evidence suggests that flavors may affect susceptibility to tobacco products. Using an online randomized controlled trial of U.S. residents, the researchers tested the impact and mechanisms of cigarillo flavor descriptors on participants' susceptibility to using them to determine whether exposure to cigarillos with characterizing flavors increases susceptibility in young adult non-users of tobacco and, if so, why susceptibility increases. Results show susceptibility to cigarillo use was significantly greater for participants exposed to the cigarillo packs with characterizing flavors. These findings have implications for public health and policy decisions regarding banning or limiting characterizing flavors in cigarillos.

Dwyer, D. L., & Painter, C. (2020). Erasing the past: Untangling the conflicting journalistic loyalties and paradigmatic pressures of unpublishing. Journal of Media Ethics.

Unpublishing, or the act of deleting previously published media content from a news outlet’s online archive in response to an external request, is a growing ethical and practical dilemma for journalists. This study used qualitative interviews with editorial decision-makers at print, television and radio news outlets to explore the challenges unpublishing pose to journalists’ work. Results show a struggle to balance competing loyalties to the individuals requesting content to be removed and commonly held understandings about journalistic values.

Hedrick, A. (2020). “He’s so bad but he does it so well”: Interviews with One Direction fans about writing romantic and erotic fiction online. Sex Education.

This study focuses on interviews with 15 writers of real-person fanfiction about the British boy band One Direction. Most interviewees began writing these romantic, often sexually explicit, stories between the ages of 12 and 16. Results indicate that many writers learned how to write about sex by reading other explicit One Direction real-person fiction stories. This process functioned as a peer-led form of sex education for many writers. Interviewees also emphasized the prevalence of "bad boy"—or sexually aggressive and emotionally manipulative yet appealing—characters in their stories, and some reported seeking out or tolerating these behaviors in real life. These findings contribute to understandings of the impact of adolescents’ participation in online contexts involving sex.

Kim, S. ('19), & Austin, L. (2020). Employee mistreatment crises and company perceptions. International Journal of Communication.

This study focuses on consumers' responses to two accidental crisis types: a challenge crisis, or a failure in corporate ethics, and a technical-error crisis, or a failure in business performance. The researchers examined how the same types of crises varied in consumer responses when the crisis involved challenges against the firm’s corporate social responsibility. Compared with technical-error crises, these CSR-involved challenge crises yielded higher crisis responsibility, more negative corporate reputation and higher intentions to take retaliatory actions against the company.

Kresovich, A., Collins, M.K.R., Riffe, D., & Dillman Carpentier, F.R. (2020). A content analysis of mental health discourse in popular rap music. JAMA Pediatrics.

Rap artists are among the most recognizable celebrities in the U.S., serving as role models to an increasingly diverse audience of listeners. Through their lyrics, these artists have the potential to shape mental health discourse and reduce stigma. To investigate the prevalence and nature of mental health themes in popular rap music amid a period of documented increases in mental health distress and suicide risk among young people in the U.S. and young Black men in particular, the researchers analyzed lyric sheets from the 25 most popular U.S. rap songs over time. Results show that references to mental health struggles have increased significantly in popular rap music from 1998 to 2018.

Saffer, A., Dwyer, D., Harker, J. L. ('18), Etheridge, C. ('18), Turner, M. ('19), & Riffe, D. (2020). Interlocking Among American Newspaper Organizations Revisited: “Pressure from the Top” and Its Influence on Newsroom and Content. Mass Communication and Society.

Corporations are believed to become “interlocked” when a person from one organization joins the board of directors of another. Interlocks in the media industry raise concerns about the independence of journalists who work within corporate structures that may become more monolithic as interlocks grow in number and influence. Using network analysis, survey and content analysis methods to study whether media interlocks affect editors and the content journalists produce, what the researchers found is not encouraging. The network analysis results suggested a monolithic interlocking structure, and for a third of the survey respondents, corporate parents and the boardroom were seen as influencing the newsroom. Pressured newsrooms lacked routine coverage or disclosure of directors and their affiliated organizations, and traditional journalistic scrutiny was applied less than half of the time.