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OHIO honors student presents research at regional journalism conference

Mar 20, 2018
Conferences, Journalism, Students, Research

OHIO Honors Tutorial College sophomore Julie Ciotola, left, presents her research about news story framing at the Region 4 Society of Professional Journalists Conference in Pittsburgh on March 10. Looking on are Dan Heyman, reporter for Public News Service, and reporter Wendy Holdren from The Register-Herald in Beckley, West Virginia. / Photo provided

OHIO honors student presents research at regional journalism conference

ATHENS, Ohio (March 20, 2018)–Journalists should craft stories that show a community’s resilience, not just tragedy, in the aftermath of a traumatic event.

That’s the message Ohio University student Julie Ciotola shared with colleagues at the Region 4 Society of Professional Journalists Conference at Point Park University on March 10.

Ciotola, who is studying journalism through the Honors Tutorial College, shared results from her content analysis of the 2012 Newtown, Connecticut, school shootings that took the lives of 20 children, six staff members, the shooter’s mother and the shooter.

The Akron sophomore conducted the content analysis of 30 national media stories reported the day of and three days following the shootings. Her research was compiled for a fall Honors Tutorial College course titled Journalism and Trauma taught by professor Nerissa Young.

“In the 24/7 rush to report the news, it’s difficult for journalists to find time to reflect on what they do,” Young said. “Julie’s research offers insightful findings and guidance for reporters who are covering trauma, whether that trauma is a 9/11 style of attack or a car wreck that kills three students from the same high school.”

Ciotola analyzed headlines and stories and coded results based on traditional and public health model news frames as identified in research published by The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma.

The traditional news frame focuses on the basic facts of the event such as who, what, where and how many.

A public health model news frame focuses on larger societal issues. Using a school shooting as an example, a public health model news frame may focus on gun violence, lawmakers and policy.

Ciotola also crafted her own news frame to focus on resilience and the victims. She coded for words such as recovery, courage, family and help.

Results showed national media coverage overwhelmingly adopted the traditional news frame when reporting on the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings with 43 coded words in headlines and 259 coded words in news stories. The resilience frame came in second with 19 coded words in headlines and 76 in news stories. The public health model frame placed a distant third with two words in headlines and 36 in news stories.

Ciotola said: “The majority of the media’s audience does not live in Newtown. Therefore, their perception of Sandy Hook and the tragedy is largely influenced by the media they consume. For those who do not live in Newtown, life moved on the day after the shooting. They did not have to wake up and face the reality of a deceased child or sibling.”

She added: “My research taught me that, as journalists, we need to dig deeper in our trauma reporting. Focusing on public health issues and aspects of resilience alerts the larger community to the human aspects behind trauma and reminds us to practice compassion and to constantly seek to improve the world around us. A good journalist reports facts but also tells the full story.”

Ciotola’s presentation was part of a panel discussion titled “Covering Trauma: The Human Cost of Journalism.” Other presenters included reporter Wendy Holdren and former reporter Sarah Plummer, both from The Register-Herald in Beckley, West Virginia; and Dan Heyman, a Charleston, West Virginia-based reporter for Public News Service. Young moderated the panel.

-From faculty reports