Ruth M DeFoster

Dr.

20112021

Research activity per year

If you made any changes in Pure these will be visible here soon.

Personal profile

Research interests

As a cultural and critical scholar, I have always been interested by the way that mass media exert tremendous power on public discourse and popular culture – and how audiences make meaning and find their own place in shifting power structures of a society through the media products they consume.

 

Most of the courses I teach at the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication are strongly rooted in this critical focus – courses on popular culture, visual communication, and the psychology and cultural influence of advertising. As the current Head of the Cultural and Critical Studies division at AEJMC, I also work to advance rigorous cultural and critical scholarship for communication scholars across the world. In this role this year, I helped produce a new podcast for the division titled Media and Culture, in which we highlight the cutting-edge research of communication scholars on timely issues. I believe that one of the most crucial elements of public scholarship is accessibility, and the goal of this podcast was to help make important academic work less esoteric and more easily accessible.

 

My work is both historical and interdisciplinary, characterized by mixed methods and focused on parsing the ways that media representation frames public narratives and public policy around large-scale societal problems such as gun violence, terror, addiction, moral panics and public health crises.

 

Much of my early research focused specifically on media representation of mass shootings and gun violence. Early in my graduate studies, I partnered with a Finnish Fulbright scholar to embark upon a comparative international analysis of media coverage of both American and Finnish mass shootings. This research focus expanded into broader questions of American identity and media representation, and I began to examine other acts of violence, considering the role that journalists and the mass media played in framing and explaining these events for audiences.

 

In 2017, I published my first book, which built upon previous research on media representation of American mass shootings to consider the broad role that media representation plays in defining the contentious and slippery term “terrorism” for American audiences in the 21st century. In over a decade of studying media coverage of large-scale public tragedies, I have consistently found marked disparities in the way that news media “set the agenda” for understanding public tragedies like terrorist attacks and mass shootings. I have discovered powerful social psychological influences at work that frame threats like terrorism or gun violence in ways that reflect and maintain powerful systemic inequalities and even nationalist propaganda.

 

Since completing the book project, my interest in the relationship between media representation and prevailing societal beliefs about public crises has broadened to encompass audiences’ perceptions of other newsworthy crises. In a long-standing interdisciplinary partnership with a colleague (Dr. Natashia Swalve) whose field of expertise is neuroscience and psychology, I built upon my previous work examining media representation of violence to answer research questions about the role of illicit drug trends, drug research, public policy and public opinion on media representation of violence and public health. Our collaborative work, which has been published in Health Communication, Research Methods Cases, Cotemporary Drug Problems, and SN Social Sciences, has uncovered surprising trends in the construction of media-fueled drug “crises,” the influence of public health scholarship on debates over gun legislation, and a powerful agenda-setting function in the way television news media drive public opinion about crime and violence.

 

Our most recent study, which was published January 2021, surveyed hundreds of Gen Z adults about their beliefs about illicit drug use and addiction, comparing qualitative answers and beliefs about risk to reported media consumption, demographic information, and other variables. We found significant relationships between demographic variables, reported media consumption, and beliefs about illicit drug use and drug users – as well as stark qualitative results that resulted from a second round of open-ended interviews.

 

A second ongoing study seeks to unpack similar variables at play in reported beliefs about terrorism, violence and risk. An accompanying survey of journalists at top newsrooms is currently underway, in which we ask working journalists and editors to articulate exactly how and when they choose to invoke the term “terror” or “terrorism.” We seek to carefully explore the decisions that go into the shifting use and application of this word in news coverage, to accompany our survey findings. We hope to expand this work into a book-length project that will use survey research to link beliefs about public policy, violence, crime, terrorism and drug epidemics to media consumption and information-seeking behaviors.

 

I often remind my students that everything we learn about the world, with the exception of our very limited firsthand experiences, is mediated in some way. Thus, I believe the work of communication scholars is to rigorously describe and investigate the effects of media representations on everything from cultural attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and even public policy.

 

Expertise related to UN SDGs

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Education/Academic qualification

PhD, University of Minnesota

Award Date: Jun 30 2015

Research Interest Keywords

  • terrorism
  • mass shootings
  • crime
  • mass media
  • race and religion

Fingerprint

The Fingerprint is created by mining the titles and abstracts of the person's research outputs and projects/funding awards to create an index of weighted terms from discipline-specific thesauri.
  • 12 Similar Profiles

Network

Recent external collaboration on country level. Dive into details by clicking on the dots.
If you made any changes in Pure these will be visible here soon.