Baylor Journalism, PR and New Media Professors' Current Research

May 1, 2013
PR Faculty

By Connor Yearsley, Public Relations Student

Several Baylor Journalism, PR & New Media professors are leading some compelling new studies that help to fill voids in available information on new media, pedagogy and other topics. Among them are Drs. Elizabeth Bates, Mia Moody-Ramirez, Cassy Burleson and Marlene Neill.

Moody-Ramirez and Bates collaborated on a study on search engine optimization (SEO) that will be published in the June issue of the journal, Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, titled, "PR Students' Perceptions and Readiness for Using Search Engine Optimization."

The study aims, in part, to address and help reverse common complaints that today's graduates lack necessary new media skills. While SEO is just part of those skills, practitioners agree it's an important consideration in the hiring process.

"SEO is the process of using certain tactics to get a website to appear higher in the search engine results, which is important because most people don't look past the third page," Bates said.

Tactics include using key words and updating content regularly. The higher up one is, the more likely people are to go to your site and see your content, Bates added. Effective SEO skills can help ensure people get your perspective first in times of crisis.

"Your voice is more likely to be heard," she said.

The study was designed to assess what students already knew about SEO and where they acquired their knowledge, so course curriculum could be set accordingly. Nearly 100 Baylor students were surveyed.

"The students felt like what they knew about search engine optimization they had taught themselves," Bates said.

Findings indicated most students understood the basic definition of SEO, but didn't necessarily understand how that translated to PR or how it was useful. Results confirmed the need to include more hands-on projects and real-world applications of SEO in the curriculum.

"Realizing that students do bring in some knowledge of online media, social media and search engine optimization is important, so professors can teach new material and avoid rehashing what students already know," Bates said.

The online version of the article is available by clicking this link:

Social Media Management

Moody-Ramirez and Neill are working on two studies that address social media and communications management. One study will look at the content of public relations textbooks, while the other study will survey public relations and human resource practitioners.

The content analysis of public relations textbooks will look at the following key areas:

• Employer branding
• Socialization of new employees (orientation)
• Values communication/ethics
• Change management (rebranding, mergers/acquisitions)
• Informal coalitions

The second study briefly outlines the literature on social media and online reputation management/issues management. It then explores focus group and survey responses from mid- to senior-level public relations and human resources practitioners to assess perceived social media management roles, such as online reputation management, social media policies and metrics.

Neill said this study is significant, since online communication is an increasingly important tool for communication professionals. Reputation management is one of the rising functions associated with management of social media, she added.

"Employees are constantly posting content online that reflects their company," she said. "The study also will attempt to determine whose responsibility it is to monitor online reputation."

Companies often manage their online reputations by carefully monitoring content, implementing policies to control usage and monitoring employees' productivity. Moody-Ramirez said online metrics, such as "likes," tweets and "shares," are a good way to get immediate feedback.

Neill and Moody-Ramirez plan to complete the two studies in the next few months and submit them to communications journals for consideration. They said they believe studies such as these are important in the quest to keep up with new media trends.

Service-Learning Project

Moody-Ramirez and Burleson recently had an article accepted for publication in the Spring/Summer Special Issue of Teaching Journalism and Mass Communication titled, "Updating Journalism and PR Courses Utilizing a Service Learning Constructivist Approach."

Building on a constructivist paradigm, this essay proposes a service-based, collaborative approach to teaching that involves students, peers, employers and faculty. It offers a model, strategies and a case study using this teaching style.

"Changing student learning styles and high employer expectations in a tightening job market necessitate constant adaptation of journalism/public relations teaching materials," Moody-Ramirez said.

Burleson added that faculty, students and employers benefit from departments that maintain a good relationship with key stakeholders and incorporate convergent media into assignments.

"Collaboration and service learning are essential to keeping up with emerging trends," she said.

The article features exercises, guidelines and rubrics from Burleson and Moody-Ramirez's Advanced PR and PR Programming classes, which encourage students to work with employers, peers, and faculty to create a product beneficial to the community and students' personal growth.

James Byrd Jr. Study

Besides new media research going on in the department, Drs. Cassy Burleson and Moody-Ramirez are studying the effects the James Byrd Jr. murder has had on the town of Jasper, Texas. In 1998, three racially motivated white men chained an African-American to the back of a pickup truck and dragged him until his death.

"It's hard to repair the image of a town when something like that happens," Moody-Ramirez said. "The economy and education systems have not been the same since the murder."

The 15-year longitudinal study has involved interviewing several key people who lived in the town at the time. Burleson's work on the James Byrd Jr. study began in 1998. Burleson published her first study, "Enduring Values, Decades Down the Road," in 2004 in the Journal of the American Studies Association of Texas.

"Jasper is one of those stories that just won't let go of you. It's filled with injustices - but the heroism of many Jasper folks for the last 15 years has been inspiring," Burleson said, adding that Moody-Ramirez has inspired her to continue the work.

For the last two years, the Byrd research has been co-sponsored by Baylor's Institute for Oral History and American Studies. Thirty-eight new in-depth interviews have been conducted since the first study was published.

Burleson and Moody-Ramirez published a second research article titled, "Through a Glass Darkly," in 2011 in the ASAT Journal.

"There was a flurry of international coverage of our work when Lawrence Brewer was executed," Burleson said. "So it's clear the story still has news value, and it's such a complex story that there are still people whose perspective needs to be added to arrive at the 'truth.'"

Burleson said she would like to continue the study because many key people have not been interviewed. For instance, there's a woman who still believes one murderer is innocent, she said.

"We hope to talk with her and the two men convicted of the crime who are still alive," she said. "We're grateful for people's openness. It's no wonder there's been a movie, two books, documentaries and many news stories about what three men did one hot July night in a small east Texas town."

Both professors noted they have enjoyed hearing different people's perspectives. "The study so far suggests the idea that people's perceptions are divided more by socioeconomic factors, such as income and education, than by race," Moody-Ramirez said.

"I hope that people realize that it's important to document different perspectives. That's the purpose of an oral history," she added.

The interviewees' personal accounts of Jasper were documented verbatim. Nothing was taken out, according to Burleson.

"What continues to fascinate me is that whatever you think about the people of Jasper, you're probably wrong. We've been fortunate to have help from those we've interviewed in getting people to talk to us who really don't want to talk about it. There are times it's so serendipitous as to be divine intervention. As Jasper's story continues to evolve, we want the people to speak for themselves in a way that will be preserved in history," Burleson said.

Dani Brown, a master's graduate student, recently joined the effort.

"It's been so much fun to work with Mia and graduate student Dani Brown because they add a dynamic that wouldn't have been possible without them," Burleson said.

Click this link to visit the website detailing their longitudinal study of the Jasper dragging incident:
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