COMM 450 – Internship in Communication

The Internship in Communications course allows students to select an individualized internship to learn and gain real world experience.  I choose to intern at a local public relations and marketing firm.  As a part of my assignment, I was expected to blog for the company and blog for the course.  My company blogs were mainly about social media and public relations, while my course blog focused on reflections from my internship and from required readings about different topics, such as resumes.  In addition to blogging, I was also responsible for writing pitches and press releases.  At the end of the internship, my site supervisor conducted a mock interview with me and I was instructed to write a reflection on the interview.  The blogs I wrote are labeled COMM 450.

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COMM 403 – Media Studies

The Media Studies course allows students to discover the many different aspects of new media, including narative analysis, character analysis, feminism analysis, advertisement analysis, and psychoanalysis.  Because I am a Psychology minor, the psychoanalysis portion of the class specifically interested me.  Students were instructed to choose a fictional or real character and perform a psychoanalysis on that character, following certain ideas and topics.  I choose to perform the psychoanalysis on Stewie from the animated show “Family Guy”.  His character is very complex and interesting so he was the perfect candidate.  In addition to the psychoanalysis, I choose to do the character analysis on the hit television show “Criminal Minds” because the juxtaposition between the protagonist, Aaron Hotchner, and his archenemy and antagonist, The Reaper, is very interesting.  I delved into their psychology, sociology, and physicality, their functions, their temperaments, and their significance.

Feminism Project

COMM 400 – Media Law and Ethics

The Media Law and Ethics course allows students to learn about the different communication and media laws, like slander, libel, and freedom of speech.  The second portion of the class is devoted to ethics and handling ethical situations.  In a paper about ethical dilemmas, I tackled the ethical question of telling the truth versus the importance of integrity and reputation.  After identifying the decision maker, the competing morals, alternative courses of action, the external factors, stakeholders, and ethical theories, I was able to decide upon a conclusion.  In addition to writing the paper, a group presentation was expected providing all of the same material.

Ethics Paper-Truth vs. the Importance of Integrity and Reputation

          Several months ago, The Washington Post interviewed Jose Antonio Vargas, a former reporter from 2004 to 2009, who admitted to being an illegal immigrant from the Philippines.  According to Vargas, his grandparents brought him to America when he was twelve years old and during his time of employment for the Washington Post, the assistant managing editor for personnel, Peter Pearl, was completely aware of Vargas’s illegal status.  However, Pearl did not reveal this information to anyone else at the Washington Post.  Vargas brought his story to the newspaper in March 2011 and they spent weeks editing and fact checking the piece and even received additional help from Vargas on the piece.  Then, in mid June, Post Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli unexpectedly pulled the story and refused to have it published.  To have his story heard, Vargas submitted it to the New York Times, who promptly published it online and in the newspaper.

The ethical question at interest is to decide whether to publish Vargas’s story and tell readers the complete truth but risk embarrassment and harm to reputation or to avoid publishing Vargas’s story and not be honest with the public and evade embarrassment.  However, not publishing the story gives other newspaper the opportunity to publish it.  In reality, the ethical decision maker or moral agent was Post Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli but for the purposes of this paper, I will be assuming the role of ethical decision maker, specifically when it involves journalism ethical dilemma.  The ethical decision maker has quite an important role and should examine every ethical issue very seriously.  This can be better accomplished by following a structure for resolving ethical dilemmas called the S.A.D. Formula that includes defining the situation, analyzing the situation and making a final decision.

After understanding the important facts of the issue, it is imperative to begin recognizing the specific competing morals presented by the ethical dilemma.  For the issue of whether to publish the story about Vargas, the competing values are being truthful to the public and trying to avoid harm to the paper and its reputation.  One source for journalism ethical morals is the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, which includes several specific ideas and values for journalists to keep in mind while reporting the news.  According to this code, several values are present on both sides of the issue.  To begin, on the side of truth telling, one value that applies is to “tell the story of the human experience even when it is not popular”.  Vargas’s story is a unique experience that could be overall beneficial to society by encouraging more discussions about current immigration laws.  Another value is to “support the open exchange of views, even if those views are distasteful”.  Although the article may shine a poor light on the Washington Post, it is important to support the discussion of such a story.  Additionally, one Code of Ethics value is to “give a voice to the voiceless”.  Because Vargas is no longer a reporter for the Washington Post, he was incapable of telling his own story to the public.  However, a story in the paper could have been very popular and let readers understand his story.  Also, “seeking out individuals of news stories who have been accused of wrongdoings” is a value according to the Code of Ethics.  Not only should have the Washington Post allowed Vargas to respond and discuss his wrongdoings, the paper should have given Peter Pearl an opportunity to respond to the allegations against him.  A final value present in the Code of Ethics is to “expose the unethical practices of journalists”.  Allowing the public to know that Vargas was illegally being in the country and working for the Post exposes the truth about a journalist and an entire organization.

On the other hand, the Code of Ethics also shows supports for not printing the story and protecting the paper.    One of those values is the idea that “compassion should be shown to those who are affected by the news coverage”.  Although Vargas wants his story told, it could have a negative effect on him and other members of the paper, especially Peter Pearl who knew the truth about Vargas.  Furthermore, a value from the Code of Ethics is to “recognize that reporting some information may cause harm”.  Again, printing the story could have some negative effects on individuals involved.  Finally, one value from the Code of Ethics involves “protecting the privacy of private citizens and comparing that to the need of public intrusion”.  Basically, although Vargas wants his story published, the ethical decision maker must decide if the need for the public to know the truth about Vargas outweighs the privacy rights that others affected, such as Peter Pearl, have.

After reviewing the different conflicting morals that are presented, the ethical decision maker can begin to recognize the alternative courses of action and start to determine the benefits and negative aspects of each alternate.  One possible course of action is to publish Vargas’s full interview.  This course of action honors the value of truth, exposing unethical practices by journalists, and supporting the open exchange of ideas and giving a voice to the voiceless.  Vargas wants to share his story through the Washington Post.  Also, publishing the story does not give other news outlet an exclusive story about Vargas that many citizens may want to read.  However, publishing the story may cause harm as well.  Peter Pearl knew that Vargas was an illegal immigrant but did nothing about it.  Publishing the story could harm his reputation and the reputation of the Washing Post.  Because Pearl is a private citizen it is important to consider his privacy rights and recognize that publishing this story could cause harm.  Overall, because Pearl was in the wrong and Vargas wants his story shared, the value of truth and honesty outweighs the value of privacy.  Another alternative course of action includes not publishing the story at all.  By not publishing the story, the values of privacy and attempting to not harm a reputation are put higher than truth and honesty.  Not publishing the story respects the fact that Peter Pearl is a private citizen and harm or discomfort may come from publishing the story.  However, because another news outlet could receive Vargas’s story, the story still may be published but the unethical practices of journalists are not told by the paper that hired them.  In addition, by not publishing the story, the Washington Post is not being totally truthful with its readers.  A third alternative course of action would be to publish a story about Vargas without his full interview.  Although it may be useful to use part of Vargas’s interview, as long as he is reflected in the way he intended.  This course of action is still maintaining being truthful and exposing unethical practices of journalists, but the paper has more control of the content in the story.  With this control, though, comes the responsibility to report the news fairly and truthfully.  Never the less, readers may feel more understanding of the actions at the Washington Post if a story is published by one of the writers rather than Vargas telling the story himself.  If the Post can admit and apologize for their wrongful actions, they may be forgiven.  Also, telling the story does not allow another news outlet to have an exclusive story.  A final course of action would be to publish the story online but not in the actual paper.  Again, this course of action maintains the value of honesty but a different set of readers will see it.  This could still cause harm to Pearl and the Post because online readers will see the story though.

Another item to consider when deciding an ethical dilemma are the external factors.  One external factor to consider is the legal constraints.  Before making a decision, it is vital to consider the legal effects of the ultimate decision.  For example, Peter Pearl has a right to privacy and it is important to contemplate if publishing the story infringes on that right.  There is no real legal precedent about infringing on privacy by publishing a story stating that someone knew of wrongdoing and did nothing about it.  It is a true fact but it may cause harm to reputation, which can infringe of privacy rights.  Another legal aspect is that Vargas is committing a crime and the consequences of publishing the story need to be considered.  However, it is the responsibility of reporters to expose such practices but it is best to be prepared for the repercussions of the story.

Furthermore, stakeholders, or those individuals or groups that may be most affected by the decision, are another important aspect to review before making a final decision.  The first stakeholder is the ethical decision-maker.  In the real life situation, it is important that Brauchli feels comfortable and can rationally defend his decision.  For this paper, I am acting as the stakeholder, and I must also be able to rationally defend my decision.  An emotion that I am feeling is compassion and sympathy for Pearl.  Although he did not do the right thing by knowingly allowing Vargas to continue to work at the Post and be in the country, I feel that he was stuck in a very hard situation and may not have known the correct course of action to take.  However, it is important to put those emotions aside and focus on the best decision to make.  Another stakeholder includes the people or groups that are most likely to be affected by the outcome.  In this case, Peter Pearl will probably be very affected by the decision.  Publishing this story could bring about serious harm to his reputation.  Admitting and apologizing for his wrongdoing does not guarantee sympathy and understanding from the readers.  Others greatly affected by the publication are Vargas and his family.  Although Vargas wants his story published, does not mean that it will not have severe consequences for him.  He and some of his family are illegally in the country and legal consequences could occur.  Also, this story could affect immigration groups by sparking discussions about the current immigration laws and regulations.  Support may be gained from the publication of the story or support could decline but either way the country will be talking about immigration.  Third stakeholders to consider are financial supporters.  Subscribers may respect the Post for admitting their wrongdoings or they may be turned off by it.  However, a story like this could gain more readers and eventual subscribers.  In addition, depending on subscriber’s response, advertisers may be gained or lost from publishing the story.  Overall, even if individuals are upset with the Post, people will still be interested in the story and their subscribership and advertisers may improve.  Another stakeholder to consider is the institution, or the Washington Post.  Publishing this story could have negative outcomes on the paper as a whole.  The Washington Post has quite a high reputation to uphold and this story could ruin that reputation.  On the other hand, admitting mistakes and apologizing may go along way with an understanding and forgiving audience.  Additional stakeholders are the professional colleagues, such as the other reporters at the Washington Post and reporters in general.  This story could give all reporters at the Washing Post a negative reputation for working with an illegal immigrant.  This would also not shine a positive light on other reporters.  A final stakeholder includes the society.  This story could ultimately be very beneficial in sparking discussions and reforms to the current immigration laws and regulations.

A final aspect to consider when making an ethical decision is ethical theories to determine what the best outcome may be.  The first ethical theory is based on Kant’s duty ethics.  This theory believes that a decision is good if it is based on a moral value, regardless of the consequence.  For Kant, as long as the decision was in good faith the decision is moral even if it brings about negative outcomes.  Basically, the ends never justify the means.  According to this theory, the best course of action to take would be based on personal decisions about morals.  If one believes that telling the truth is almost always the right thing to do and at least something positive will result from it then the story should be run regardless of consequences that result.  If the running of the story hurts someone, it is obsolete because the course of action was picked based on personal morals and values.  However, one might hold privacy of Pearl or maintaining the Post’s reputation as being more important than honesty.  In that case, not running the story is the best decision.  The second ethical theory is based on consequence ethics.  This theory is only concerned with the outcome.  Thus, if the outcome is positive then the decision was correct, regardless of the means to maintain a positive outcome.  Also, this theory believes that the best outcome promotes the greatest amount of happiness.  It is possible that publishing the story best fits this theory.  If only a few people are harmed by the publication, but it encourages discussion of immigration and readers are happy to read the story than publishing the story is the best choice.  However, if no discussion of immigration occurs and readers are unhappy with the story and the Post’s reputation is harmed then not publishing the story may be the best choice.  However, when considering both theories it is also important to keep in mind that the story may be released through another news outlet if the Post does not release it.  A final theory to consider is Aristotle’s Golden Mean theory.  This theory seeks to find a mean and moderate solution between two extremes.  However, the decision may not always be made right in the middle, one extreme may be somewhat favored over the other.  For this theory, publishing a story about Vargas without inclosing the entire interview may be the best solution.  The Post can still publish the story, but readers may be more forgiving and understanding of the actions that occurred if written from a Post reporter without just Vargas’s story.  Additionally, another news outlet would not be able to report an exclusive story and shed the Post in a bad light.

After reviewing this ethical dilemma, I have come to the conclusion to print a story about Vargas and the situation, but not use his full interview in the story.  If the Post feels apologetic for its actions then that can be expressed in the article to gain understanding and ask for forgiveness.  Also, this does not give another outlet the ability to print a hateful article about the Post before it can explain and respond itself.  However, the most important reason to tell Vargas’s story is to be honest and truthful to the public.  The Washington Post is a reputable news organization and it has a right to publish the truth to the public, especially when mistakes are made because they can be forgiven.  Along with telling the truth, publishing the story may bring harm to some people, but it has the potential to start a national discussion about immigration and make some serious reforms to the country immigration laws.  In addition, publishing Vargas’s story without the full interview can satisfy both people who think the article should be published and people who don’t.  Aristotle’s Golden Mean theory makes the most sense because not everyone may be happy but damages and harm is decreased all around.

Overall, ombudsman Patrick Pexton did an excellent job critiquing the Washington Post for its actions.  Pexton understands that Post reporters hold public trust and respects the value that reporters owe the truth to the public.   He also realizes that the publication of this article would have done a lot of good for the public, like sparking discussions on immigration.  However, he also appears to have some sympathy for the ethical decision maker.  He recognizes that Brauchli had a difficult decision to make.  He discusses that Vargas started as a reporter but turned into a advocate.  Ultimately, though, Pexton believes that the paper should have published the story, especially because it had already been edited and fact-checked.  The specific values from the Code of Ethics that Pexton believes holds the most stake in the decision to publish the story is the idea that “unethical practices of journalists should be exposed” and that “the story of human experience should be told boldly”.  In his critique, he states, “Journalists are not public officeholders, nor do they manage public funds. But they do hold, precariously, a public trust. And at the foundation of that trust is the pledge to tell the truth, or at least to get as close to it as they can”.  Because of this, Pexton came to a slightly different conclusion that I did.  He believes the Post should have published the story Vargas wrote, giving him a voice to speak.  He believes that the outcome of doing that would have been better than the outcome of allowing the New York Times to publish the story was.  Pexton and I agree on the importance of the same values: truth and honesty.  Although we did not come to the exact same conclusion, we came to our conclusions in similar ways and he did an admirable job supporting and rationally defending his position.

Ethics Paper

Case Brief-Cox Broadcasting Corp. v. Cohn

Facts:  A seventeen-year-old girl was raped and ultimately died in August 1971 in Georgia.  Even thought there was much press coverage of this crime, the girl’s name was never released to the public.  The court date of the six boys accused of this crime occurred several months later.  On the day of five of the boys’ trials, a reporter for WSB-TV, Wassell, obtained the name of the victim through a copy of the indictments, which are assessable to the public.  That same day, Wassell broadcasted the girl’s name and did so the next day as well.  In May of 1972, the victim’s father brought charges against the broadcasting corporation, based on a Georgia Code that prohibits the publication of a rape victim’s name, and claimed his right to privacy had been violated.  The publishers confessed to publishing the victim’s name, but believed they were protected under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.  In this case, the plaintiff is the victim’s father and the defendant is the broadcasting company.   Also, the plaintiff sued for money damages.

Procedural History:  In the trial court, it was decided that the First and Fourteenth Amendment did not sufficiently protect the defendant from being sued because the Georgia Code, which protected the names of the rape victims, granted a civil solution to anyone harmed by its violation and the damages would be decided upon later by a trial by jury.  This was appealed by the appellant and eventually went to the Georgia Supreme Court.

Issues:  According to the First and Fourteenth Amendment, can an individual be liable for damages for invasion of privacy caused by publicly broadcasting the name of a dead rape victim that was already publicly revealed in court records?

Holding/Decision:  The Georgia Supreme Court decided that the Georgia Code that declared it illegal to publish a name of a rape victim was unconstitutional.  Therefore, it overturned the initial ruling of the trial court and in the end, the appellant won.

Legal Rule/Test: The legal rule that came out of the case to use as future precedent is that the freedom of the press to publish rape victim’s names is protected under the First and Fourteenth Amendments as long as the name of the victim is not obtained improperly or that it was not on official public court documents. 

Rationale/Analysis:  The court’s rationale in deciding this case is to not discourage future reporting, specifically reporting of crimes and the names or identities of the people involved.  Because the name of the rape victim appeared on public court documents and the reporter obtained the information about the case through court proceedings, the court did not feel it proper to punish the broadcasting station for civil liability.

Cox vs Cohn Case Brief

U.S. DOJ v. Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Facts: A CBS news correspondent requested that the FBI release information about the criminal records of four members of the Medico family because their company had supposedly acquired several defense contracts from an arrangement with a corrupt Congressman.  The FBI supplied the requests only for the three members who were deceased but refused to supply the requests of the fourth, living Medico family member.  In the original Trial Court, the plaintiff was the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the defendant was the United States Department of Justice.  The plaintiff sued because the FBI refused to release the reports of the fourth Medico family member.

Procedural History: The U.S. Department of Justice appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States.  Before it went to the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals ruled in the favor of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, agreeing that the request for the law enforcement records did not invade the privacy of the private individual because it contained matters of public record.

Issues: Does the disclosure of Medico’s “rap sheet” violate the “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy” intended by Exemption 7(C) of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)? 

Holding/Decision: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the U.S. Department of Justice, saying that the request for the law enforcement records was an unwarranted invasion of a citizen’s privacy.  Therefore, it reversed the ruling of the Court of Appeals. 

Legal Rule/Test: The legal test that came out of this case to be used as precedent in future cases is deciding whether disclosing a private citizen’s information to a third party is an unwarranted invasion of privacy, as intended by Exemption 7(C) of the FOIA.  In this case, the disclosure of a “rap sheet” is unwarranted if a third party requests it, regardless if the party is a news source.

Rational/Analysis: The court’s rationale in deciding this case begins with the idea that both common law and privacy law indicate that a person has control over information pertaining to him or her.  This was strengthened by the fact that federal funds were spent to obtain his “rap sheet”, meaning that the information is not freely available.  In addition, the Privacy Act of 1974 indicates that criminal histories are not to be released unless a written request by the individual involved is made.  Also, even though this information may have been public at one time, it is a compilation of many different things and therefore should not be disclosed.  The court decided that reporters are essentially the same thing as any other third party as well.  Finally, the court decided that the information the press wanted to obtain does not have anything to do with the alleged corrupt government official and thus was not official information.  His “rap sheet” says nothing about the behavior of the government official.  They agreed that there is some public interest in the rap sheet, but it is not the type of public interest the FOIA was made to protect.

U.S. DOJ v. Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Case Brief

Sunshine Week Paper

     Sunshine Week was originally created by journalists and is a nation-wide, non-profit program dedicated to maintaining and expanding the public’s right of an open government and their freedom to information.  Members of Sunshine Week vary from news media to schools to any other party who is concerned with the publics right to information.  Sunshine Week first commenced in March of 2005 with the aid of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the American Society of News Editors.  Although Sunshine Week was not first recognized until 2005, in 2002, The Florida Society of Newspaper Editors started Sunshine Sunday to persuade their legislators not to enact more exemptions to public record laws.  Around three hundred new exemptions were stopped after three weeks of Sunshine Sundays because of more awareness.  Then in June of 2003, a Freedom of Information Summit was held in Washington, which really laid the foundation for Sunshine Week.  Because individual involvement is so important, everyone is welcomed to be a participant of Sunshine Week.  In order to be a member, one must become active in some sort of a discussion about the significance of an open government.

Sunshine Week is very important because it allows citizens to be much more informed and aware of their government and encourages the interaction of individuals and their government.  This better awareness has actually led to real changes to individuals and laws.  Sunshine Week encourages individuals to not just accept unnecessary government secrecy.  Instead, this program promotes a better understanding of the type of information citizens are entitled to and the ways to go about finding this information.  This is essential to American rights, as promised by the Constitution.

Because Sunshine Week is so important, many news outlets do different things to celebrate it.  For example, one organization, the General Services Administration, wanted all individuals to join in celebrating Sunshine Week last year by donating ideas and joining them promoting a more open government, which includes the government being less secretive and individuals participating more in the government.  The administrator of this organization, Nancy Johnson, encouraged people to understand that the government is listening and promoted the importance of directly interacting with the government.  She stated that one way to become more involved with government is to visit the website challenge.gov, which allows visitors to try to come up with solutions to problems posed by government officials.  This is a direct form of interaction between citizens and government.  Other websites with similar purposes include data.gov and USA.gov.  Overall, this organization understands the importance of Sunshine Week and is dedicated to opening up government and information.

To celebrate the next Sunshine Week, one idea is to engage the Shepherd University campus.  First, this can be done by spreading awareness of Sunshine Week through flyers, posters, and discussions, including its importance and purpose.  Another activity to celebrate Sunshine Week on campus would be to allow students and staff to write letters to government with problems or concerns about its secrecy or lack of access to information.  Additionally, games or contests could be set up to encourage participation.  Also, a speaker could be asked to speak to the campus about the importance of an open government and freedom to information.  So many different activities and events could be done on campus this March to help celebrate Sunshine Week and spread awareness.

Sunshine Week Paper

COMM 305 – History of Television

The History of Television course allows students to study the history of television, from the inception to its presence in modern day society.  Reading a book about television’s history and watching movies and programs across the decades shows this history.  For the research paper in the class, I decided to research and analyze the use of fear cues in the popular show “Unsolved Mysteries”.  After doing a content analysis of several episodes and discovering the current research in fear and crime in society, I determined that they show displays many fear cues.

Abstract

In the past, much research has supported the idea that watching crime television increases actual fear of real crime.  However, research lacks in the area of explaining this phenomenon.  One explanation is the result of fear cues and techniques used throughout the show to try to induce fear in viewers.  This research is a content analysis of the fear cues in a popular reality based crime program, “Unsolved Mysteries”.  Five vignettes and the start-up sequence were selected for the analysis.  It is hypothesized that the content analysis will reveal many fear cues, including music, aesthetics, and narration.  The analysis revealed many fear cues throughout the show, indicating that watching this type of programming is similar to watching certain horror films.  Future research can focus on the effects of these fear cues to determine if they play a part in increasing the fear of crimes in individuals.

A Content Analysis of Fear Cues in “Unsolved Mysteries”

            The popular television show “Unsolved Mysteries” was first televised in 1987 and has remained one of the longest running shows in American history, which has also spawned many similar shows.  In each show, viewers are implored to report any tips or information they have about a featured mystery by contacting the show through their telephone number or website, where the information will be appropriately relayed to law enforcement.  This show is classified as a reality-based crime show and displays five unexplained phenomena, including murder, missing persons, fraud, wanted criminals, unexplained deaths, UFO’s, ghosts, and many others in each show with narration done by the host.  In addition, the last segment of the show focuses on updating viewers on past mysteries that have been solved, many times a result of viewer tips.  During each segment, mysteries are dramatized and acted out to allow viewers a better idea of the exact way the mystery unfolded (Unsolved, 2012).

Since its debut in 1987, “Unsolved Mysteries” has featured over one thousand mysteries in two hundred and sixty shows.  Not only have almost half of the featured wanted criminal cases been solved because of the viewers, but also over one hundred family members have been reunited and many other mysteries have been solved.  NBC ran the show for its first ten seasons, and then CBS displayed the show for its next two seasons.  Crossgrove/Meurer Productions created and produced the series since its first appearance.  Although it has lost some of its popularity over the years and is no longer featured in primetime television, currently, “Unsolved Mysteries” is still being shown on certain channels and continues to be updated with accurate information.  Viewers can still contact the staff with information and tips and remain solving the mysteries (Unsolved, 2012).

Previous research about reality based crime shows and other types of crime programming, including “Unsolved Mysteries”, have revealed that viewers tend to have an inaccurate perception of violent crime, thinking that more violent crimes occur than actually do.  Also, possibly as a result of an increased perception of crime and the fear techniques used in reality-based crime shows, research has revealed that viewers tend to be more fearful of crime.

In one study by Kort-Butler and Hartshorn (2011), fear of crime as a result of watching fictional and nonfictional documentary style and non-documentary style crime shows was assessed.  A survey was given to a sample, which reviewed their feelings on crime and punishment of crime, their television watching habits, and their fear of being a victim of a violent crime.  An analysis revealed that higher frequencies of viewing fictional and nonfictional crime dramas were positively correlated with a higher fear of crime and backing for the death penalty.  So, in general, individuals who viewed more crime shows were more fearful of crime and more in support of the death penalty.  Also, confidence in the justice system was negatively correlated with fear.  Thus, individuals who had less faith in the justice system tended to be more fearful of crime.  In addition, younger people and women were more likely to be fearful of crime than men.  Finally, previous crime victims felt that crime was increasing while males, in general, felt that crime was decreasing.  Overall, the more often individuals watched nonfiction crime shows the more fearful of crime they were (Kort-Butler and Hartshorn, 2011).

Another study by Chiricos, Eschholz, and Gertz (1997) surveyed many individuals in Tallahassee, Florida, a city with a high violent crime rate.  Individuals were asked to rate their fear of being a victim of several different violent crimes.  They were also inquired on their exposure to media.  Finally, they were asked to recall as many details as possible about three highly publicized violent crimes across the country and they were asked a couple of questions about their safety level in and around their neighborhoods.  Results showed that, overall, older individuals were less fearful of crime and females and African Americans were more fearful.  Also, people who watched more television and listened to more radio were more fearful of crime but reading newspaper did not have an affect on fear.  In general, women had higher fear of crime levels than men and individuals who watched more television tended to be more fearful of crime than non-media viewers (Chiricos, Eschholz, and Gertz 1997).

A third study by Heath and Petraitis (1987) sought to determine the relationship of television viewing and fear of crime out in the world.  A two-part study was completed to determine the relationship between fear of crime in one’s immediate area and in outside surroundings and the amount of crime television watched.  In the first study, participants were surveyed in several medium sized cities across the United States.  Participants were asked to share demographic information, crime encounters they have had, fear of crime in their own neighborhood, their own city, and New York City, and the television habits of the past weekday, television habits in general, and television habits on the weekends.  Finally, the types of shows participants watched were also investigated.  The results of this study supported the notion that fears of crime in distant settings and amount of television viewed were positively related, indicating that the more an individual watched television, the more they experienced fear of crime in distant settings.  However, fear of local crime was found to not be related to the amount of television watched or the amount of crime television watched.  Although, the amount of crime television watched was related to fear associated with urban crime and distant crime.  These results indicated that watching crime television did have an effect on perception of crime in cities, but people generally felt safe in their own environments (Heath and Petraitis, 1987).

The second study of this research (Heath and Petraitis, 1987) focused more on specific crime television viewing and fears of crime.  All participants were residents of Chicago or its suburbs.  Participants were asked more specific questions about television viewing and fears of crime.  They were asked about their level of safety in their neighborhood and the safety of an “average” person in certain areas.  Actual statistics about crime were used to analyze the results from the survey.  Once again, general television and crime television viewing were positively related to fear of crime in urban settings.  Also, specific crime show viewing was positively related to fear of crime in urban settings.  Additionally, general television, crime television, and specific crime television viewing did not result in a significant difference of fear of crime in one’s own neighborhood.  Thus, individuals who watched more television or crime television did not fear crime more than those who did not watch television as often (Heath and Petraitis, 1987).

An additional study by Doob and Macdonald (1979) sought to determine the effects of increased television viewing on fear of crime.  To do this, the ten patrol areas with the highest amount of violent crime and the fourteen patrol areas with the lowest amount of crime in Toronto, Canada during a seven-month period were examined.  Four of those areas were chosen to be a part of the research, two that were in the lower crime areas and two in the higher crime areas.  The areas of higher crime were generally poorer and required more public housing, while the lower crime areas were much more suburban and richer.  Of the four areas, participants were randomly chosen to be a part of a door-to-door survey.  At first, subjects were asked to report all the television programs they had watched in the past week.  Next, they were asked to complete a survey about the fearfulness of being a victim of crime, about other people becoming a victim of a crime, about the presence of crime in the area, and other questions about crime, safety, and their exposure to media.  The results of this survey indicated that individuals in higher crime areas were generally more fearful of crime regardless of crime television exposure.  Additionally, people in these higher crime areas were more likely to be exposed to more television and more crime television than those in lower crime areas.  Because those more exposed to television are also more exposed to crime, it is possible that watching more television did not have as much of an effect on fear of crime as being exposed to crime did.  However, results were consistent that viewing more television, specifically violent crime television, is positively correlated with fear of crime (Doob and Macdonald, 1979).

A final study done by Cavender and Bond- Maupin (1993) described a content analysis of seven hour long episodes of “Unsolved Mysteries” and nine half hour long episodes of “America’s Most Wanted”.  Together, seventy-seven vignettes were analyzed and all percentages were based on that number.  The vignettes were categorized based on demographics, including types of crime, characterizations, including types of criminals and victims, and worldview, including safety of people and places.  The content analysis revealed that more than half of the vignettes featured murder, and only four percent of criminals were female, indicating that the vast majority of criminals were depicted as male.  Additionally, motive behind the violent crime was generally described as greed or jealousy (Cavender and Bond-Maupin, 1993).

Furthermore, fear cues were frequently used in these shows.  For example, injuries and deaths are described in great detail.  Other aesthetic techniques were used to evoke fear as well.  In one case, the host appeared on a dark, lonely road, which is a societal fear that many individuals both share and experience.  Also, criminal acts, such as a shooting or stabbing, were condensed to very slow motion to extend the suspense.  Overall, the clips tended to be overdramatized and to personalize victims. Victims tended to be the most vulnerable members of society, including women and children while criminals tended to be very dangerous and in need of physical restraints or to be masked behind a regular, model citizen, such as a construction worker or police officer.  According to this philosophy, anyone could literally be a criminal, no matter how trustworthy and innocent seeming.  Generally, these types of reality based crime shows were likely to enforce the notion that no one, no matter how careful, can be completely safe or free from violence.  Crime settings tended to either be places like eerie, dark alleys or safe neighborhoods, both instilling fear into the viewer (Cavender and Bond-Maupin, 1993).

Much previous research has given much compelling evidence of a positive correlation between fear of crime and amount of watched crime television in individuals.  However, this research does not offer an explanation as to the reasons behind this trend.  One school of thought argues that certain fear techniques are used in this type of programming and may have an effect on viewers, even if they are engrossed in the content and unconscious of it.  Even though over the years “Unsolved Mysteries” has been nominated for Emmys and has been recognized by government law enforcement agencies, like the FBI for its work in solving crimes (Unsolved, 2012), the true reality of the program is questionable.  The show tends to exaggerate real crimes by utilizing fear techniques, such as music and aesthetics, to try to evoke fear and uncertainty from viewers.  At times, the vignettes seem more like a horror film or crime drama then a dramatized version of a real life crime.  It is hypothesized that a content analysis of “Unsolved Mysteries” will reveal several fear techniques, like music, aesthetics, narration, and word choice, used to evoke and induce fear in viewers.  Though, for the purposes of this analysis, the effects of the fear cues are not in question; the focus is simply on the presence and meaning of them.

Methodology

            In the present research, a sample of convenience was used to find an episode of “Unsolved Mysteries” to analyze because the episodes were not readily available on television or the Internet.  A single episode could not be found, so five separate clips from the earlier seasons were used as a mock episode, following the five-vignette model the show generally used.  To keep consistency, all of the clips had the same host and start-up sequence, indicating that they were debuted in the same time period.  This mock episode included a clip about an obsessed ex-boyfriend who murdered his ex-girlfriend’s family, a clip about mysterious, threatening letters being received by a woman, a clip about human bones found in a backyard of a house, a clip about a popular ghost in Chicago named Resurrection Mary, and a clip about a college campus murder of a journalism student.  Before the analysis occurred, the researcher determined that the aspects of the show to be analyzed would be the start-up sequence including music and aesthetics, the music during the vignettes, the aesthetics during the narration scenes and re-enactment scenes, and the specific word choice used during narration.

Analysis

            It is important to note that the start-up sequence has been slightly altered over the many years of the show but this analysis focused on the original start-up sequence from the first seasons.  To begin, the start-up sequence had a general feeling of uncertainty and eeriness.  The music was the most noticeable fear cue of the sequence.  In fact, it was almost impossible to ignore because it was quite memorable and obnoxious.  The creepiness and disturbing nature of the music could literally send shivers down anyone’s spine whether one is expecting the music or not.  It was intentionally meant to scare and frighten the audience.  It was suspenseful and viewers might have felt a sense of being followed or felt as if an ominous event was about to occur.  The easiest way to describe the opening sequence music would be reminiscent of horror show introductions like “The Twilight Zone” or “The X-Files”.  Aesthetic fear techniques were also used in the starting sequence to evoke terror.  The sequence reminded viewers of all of the types of mysteries that the show features, including murder, kidnapping, UFO’s, ghosts, and many others.   The background tended to be black and the overall sequence was dark and eerie, which suggested uncertainty and scariness.  Finally, shadows and very vague images and actions were used during the sequence to also instill that sense of uncertainty and the feeling that something bad is about to happen, maybe even to the viewer.  The vagueness of the sequence gave viewers enough to understand the frightening reality of many of the mysteries, but did not give enough to the viewers to allow them to feel safe and certain, even in their own homes.  Before the show even started, fear cues were used in the starting sequence to induce fear and terror in viewers.

Along with the music during the start-up sequence, the music during the vignettes was also considered a fear cue.  Throughout much of the vignettes, low music would play in the background that may have been consciously unnoticeable because, unlike the starting sequence, the music was much more subtle and not obnoxious.  However, the music could still have been playing into the viewer’s unconscious.  Minor key and pianos were often used during these times.  However, during more suspenseful portions of the clips, the music would assist the suspense by becoming louder and more ominous.  In one clip, the killer was walking down a dark hallway in his victim’s house.  As he approached closer to the victim’s bedroom, the music became louder and more intense until he finally reached his target.  The suspense was literally built through the music.

Another item in “Unsolved Mysteries” that was analyzed as a fear cue was the aesthetics of the narration scenes and of the reenactment scenes.  Different cinematic techniques were used throughout the entire vignettes to evoke fear.  For instance, before the vignette about the popular ghost in Chicago, the host introduced the clip.  However, he appeared on a dark, lonely road with nothing else in sight as he discussed a mysterious ghost who has appeared on that road before to many different people. Thus, before the clip even starts, viewers may have had a sense of eeriness and creepiness.  Because so many urban legends and ghost stories occur on dark, lonely roads, the use of this one was clearly meant to play into that societal fear.  Furthermore, he wore a long, brown trench coat, which indicated that his trustworthiness should be questioned.  In general, individuals wearing trench coats can be seen as criminals, like flashers or mafia members.  The trench coat was a subtle fear cue to show that even the host cannot be completely trusted.

Aesthetic techniques were also used in the vignettes as fear cues.  For example, in the clip about the mysterious letters being received, the reenactment scenes served as fear cues.  This type of fear cue, though, was much more subtle.  The first example was the use of safe neighborhoods and places as the setting.  In the reenactment, their house and neighborhood were often seen.  Their house generally looked like any other middle class American home, which meant that most viewers had something to relate it to, and, in many cases, this relation was probably with their own homes.  Also, viewers witnessed the woman in the vignette walking down the driveway to retrieve her mail, an activity that many viewers do on a daily basis.  The normalcy and safeness of the clips may have allowed viewers to feel that these terrible things could happen to anyone, including him or herself.  The woman who is the victim of the threatening letters held a job as a bus driver, and she was seen driving her bus during the vignette.  This is another fear to try to make viewers feel that victims are everyday, innocent, average, and hardworking people that viewers can relate to.

Finally, criminals were often either portrayed as either mysterious strangers or normal, trustworthy people.  In the clip about the ex boyfriend who killed his ex girlfriend’s family, the criminal was portrayed as an average, normal male who turned insane, which is a fear cue that showed viewers that anyone could potentially be a criminal.  He was shown attending college and taking his girlfriend on a date.  In the other clip about the bones found in the backyard, the criminal was never found, but the creepy, mysterious son of the mother whose bones were found in the yard was clarified as a potential suspect.  Thus, the most innocent and average people could be criminals or the typical, mysterious stranger could be the potential threat.

A final portion of “Unsolved Mysteries’ analyzed for fear cues was the word choice used by the narrator.  The narrator tended to use words as fear cues by instilling a sense that no one is safe and crime could happen anywhere.  An example of this type of word choice appeared in the clip about the college campus murder.  The narration started out describing college as a safe place where young adults go to brighten their future.  Since a violent crime occurred on this “safe” campus, it could potentially occur on any college campus to anybody, even those who work hard and have a promising future.  Another example of word choice as a fear cue occurred in the clip about the mysterious letters.  The narration started by describing the small Ohio town as one that hardly ever draws attention from the outside, where people are hardworking and live average lives.  So, threatening letters could be received by anyone, especially those living in average areas.  Word choice was used to subtly evoke fear in viewers by letting them understand that they could be the next victims.

Discussion

The hypothesis that a content analysis of “Unsolved Mysteries” would reveal specific fear cues was supported, which agreed with previous research, such as the analysis completed by Cavender and Bond-Maupin (1993).  Although the present research concurred with other research, the research had many limitations.  For instance, only five vignettes were used for analysis, which is not a very large sample.  Also, vignettes were not chosen randomly.  In fact, a single episode was not even used for analysis because of the lack of availability, so vignettes were only selected on availability.  A better sample would have been randomly chosen out of the entire population of episodes and clips.  Also, because the sample was one of convenience and hand chosen by the researcher, bias may have entered into the choosing.  It is possible the vignettes were chosen on preconceived notions of which ones would exhibit the most fear cues or another bias may have occurred.  Fortunately, this research and previous research about relationships between fear of crime and viewership of crime television shows, including a study by Chiricos, Eschholz, and Gertz (1997), a study by Heath and Petraitis (1987), and a study by Kort-Butler, and Hartshorn (2011), leads to much future research.  For example, the effect of these fear cues is an excellent topic for further research.  An investigation or an explanation of increased fear of crime as a result of crime television viewing would determine whether fear cues are a cause of this or if it is related to something else completely.  Additionally, there are potential effects of the fear cues that may have not even been discussed yet.  Overall, even though this research was cohesive with previous research and the original hypothesis, future research can focus on the effects of fear cues and techniques used in reality crime programming and the relationship between these cues and increased fear of crime.

References

About. (2012). Retrieved from http://www.unsolved.com/

Cavender, G., & Bond-Maupin, L. (1993). Fear and Loathing on Reality Television: An Analysis

of “America’s Most Wanted” and “Unsolved Mysteries”*. Sociological Inquiry, 63(3), 305-317.

Chiricos, T., Eschholz, S., & Gertz, M. (1997). Crime, News and Fear of Crime: Toward an

Identification of Audience Effects. Social Problems, 44(3), 342-357.

Doob, A. N., & Macdonald, G. E. (1979). Television Viewing and Fear of Victimization: Is the

Relationship Causal?. Journal Of Personality & Social Psychology37(2), 170-179.

Heath, L., & Petraitis, J. (1987). Television Viewing and Fear of Crime: Where Is the Mean

World?. Basic & Applied Social Psychology, 8(1/2), 97-123.

Kort-Butler, L. A., & Hartshorn, K. (2011). Watching the detectives: Crime programming, fear

of crime, and attitudes about the criminal justice system. The Sociological Quarterly, 52(1), 36-55. doi:10.1111/j.1533-8525.2010.01191.x

In Cosgrove, J. (Executive Producer), Unsolved Mysteries. Cosgrove/Meurer Productions.

Television Research Paper

COMM 344 – Game Design

The Game Design course allows students to understand the concepts behind designing a game and, it provides students with the skills to work in teams to create their own children’s board game and eventually turn that game into an iPad game.  Working together with two others, we came up with the game idea called “Movin’ On Up the Food Chain”.  The game gave the players the ability to trade energy to become different animals and plants in the food chain.  The ultimate goal was to have enough energy to trade in to become a human.  Although we worked on developing the game together, my main focus was to perfect the rules.  After testing the game on children, I made the proper revisions to the rules and to the game in general.  Then, I individually transformed the game into an outline for a potential iPad game.  The startup screen is below.

The startup screen for my iPad game

The startup screen for my iPad game

The Rules:

Movin’ On Up the Food Chain

Players

2-6

Materials

A circular playing board, a pad of paper and pen, and 2 dice

Objective

The objective of the game is to be the first player to become a human.  To become a human, a player has to reach 35 energy points and draw a human chance card. The energy points can be traded in to become a human.

Rules

The youngest player goes first and the player to his or her left goes next, and so on.  All players start with three energy, but can never go below zero and will be kept track of on a sheet of paper.  Players begin by rolling 2 dice and combining the numbers to determine the number of moves he/she makes.  All players begin in the sun, which is the middle of the board and can choose 1 of 4 directions to go, which are indicated by the lines protruding from the sun.  The 4 white spots are the starting points.  Once game play has begun, the white spots continue to count as spots.  Whenever a player lands on a white spot, that player has the opportunity to steal 5 energy points from the player of their choice.  Depending on which direction a player chooses, he/she will start in different areas of the board, including arctic, jungle, swampland, and desert.  Players will then move clockwise around the circle and amount of moves will continue to depend on the die rolls.  When players land on a daylight spot, they add 5 energy points and when players land on a nighttime spot, they lose 2 energy points.  Dark blue spots are nighttime spots and light blue spots are daytime spots.  Every time players land on nighttime spots, they will be asked a question from the stack of question cards by the person to their left.   Once a question card has been used, put it to the side.  Also, if two players land on the same spot, a duel will occur.  During a duel, whichever player is higher on the food chain will automatically win.  If both players have not become members of the food chain, the players will roll a dice and the person with the highest number wins the duel.  The winner of the duel steals 5 energy points from the other player.

Chance

In addition to question cards, chance cards will be present in each area of the board.  Chance cards consist of different members of the food chain that will give players special abilities and advantages, including plants, animals, and people and other special directions, some positive and some negative.  Every time a player takes a turn, they will have the opportunity to pick a chance card.  In the event that a player picks a member of the food chain card, they will have the option to trade in energy to become that member.  If a direction card is picked, players must do what the card says.   Different members of the food chain require different amounts of energies, but remember, in order to become a human, a player must have 50 energy points.  Chance cards can be put back in the piles once they are done being used.

Game Rules

COMM 461: Senior Capstone

The Senior Capstone course allows students to pick one area of communication and new media to focus on and develop a project showcasing the skills and expertise they have acquired throughout their experience in the department.  As I am currently working for a local recruiting and consulting firm, I was able to develop a social media campaign to boost the business.  The campaign includes an overview of the company, an executive summary, a communication audit, target audience personas, a competive analysis, a SWOT analysis, key messages, a positioning statement, objectives/strategies/tactics, and a calendar.

Website: www.forcerecruitingandconsulting.com

 Blog: www.forcerecruitingandconsulting.blogspot.com

 Twitter: www.twitter.com/ForceRecruiting 

Facebook: www.facebook.com/ForceRecruiting

Force Recruiting and Consulting: A Social Media Campaign

The research page on my poster.

The research page on my poster.

The SWOT analysis page on my poster.
The SWOT analysis page on my poster.

 

 

 

 

 

COMM 203: Communication and New Media

C0mmunication and New Media course allows students to explore several different aspects of the subject.  One main function is to serve as an introduction of communication and new media to students.  Thus, students gain a well-rounded view of many different aspects the field encompasses.  One assignment in the course is to develop a short graphic novel.  Before this development can happen, though, students are expected to create a character/narrative analysis of one of the main characters.  I developed a graphic novel called “The Three Little People”.  The basis premise is that of the popular children’s story, “The Three Little Pigs”.  When three short brothers move to the beach on his own, only one prepares his house properly for an impending tornado.

The Three Little People

Advertisement Analysis

Narrative Analysis

Final Exam