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Lumen Scholar studies media coverage of Indian terror attack

In the thick of a breaking news story such as the Mumbai bombings that killed scores of people, it can be tough for reporters to critique their own work, and that’s where Elon University senior Hannah Williams fills a need. Williams is the fifth student to be featured in a series of E-net profiles on the inaugural class of Lumen Scholars.

Elon senior Hannah Williams, left, with her Lumen Mentor, associate professor Brooke Barnett.

A journalism and English professional writing rhetoric major, the Minnesota native is working with her Lumen Mentor, associate professor of communications Brooke Barnett, to conduct a rhetorical analysis of news coverage from magazines in the United States, the United Kingdom and India following the 2008 attack.

“The attacks haven’t been studied very extensively in terms of analysis or critique,” said Williams, who focused her scholarship on the first two weeks of newsmagazine coverage in all three countries.

In choosing which magazines to study, Williams and Barnett considered the circulation and political bent of publications in each country, eventually selecting household names such as Time, Newsweek and The New Yorker in the United States; New Statesmen, The Spectator and The Economist in the United Kingdom; and India Today, Outlook and Tehelka in India.

Williams traveled to London, Delhi and Mumbai, where she collected hard copies of publications and interviewed editors, reporters, and contributors to discover their coverage intentions. She probed the editorial processes of each news magazine, from how decisions are made to story placement, coverage of stories, angles and assignments.

“It was really interesting to learn the importance of beat reporting from people who have covered terrorism on a longstanding track,” Williams said. “They followed up and kept on top of it so they would be able to contextualize the event and critique the event as it was going on.”

Media coverage of terror events is complex, Williams said, which is one reason she and Barnett believe the research is important to understanding various worldviews and ideologies backing terrorist regimes. “More research is needed into the rhetoric of terrorism,” Williams said.

Her analysis is still being completed, but broad themes have emerged, she said. The coverage of the attacks in the United States, the United Kingdom and India differed significantly in the amount of news space it received in the publications. The Indian news media focused heavily on the attacks and dedicated entire editions to Mumbai and the political response.

“The U.S. and U.K. publications focused on what the attacks meant in India as well what they meant for India-Pakistan relations,” said Williams, explaining how the accused Indian attackers had allegedly trained with an Islamist militant organization based in Pakistan. “The U.S. and U.K. publications focused on how this is going to play out in international sphere.”

The Lumen Prize, awarded for the first time in 2008, provides selected students with a $15,000 scholarship to support and celebrate their academic and creative achievements.

Lumen Scholars work closely with faculty mentors to pursue and complete their projects. Efforts include course work, study abroad, research both on campus and abroad as well as during the regular academic year and summers, internships locally and abroad, program development, and creative productions and performances.

“As a professor, I am so pleased when the student takes the initiative,” said Barnett. “Stellar students like Hannah can take basic direction and problem solve, which has given her a richer Elon experience.”

The name for the Lumen Prize comes from Elon’s historic motto, “Numen Lumen,” Latin words for “spiritual light” and “intellectual light.”

The Lumen has been a great benefit for me with this project, which is an immense topic with lots of territory to cover,” said Williams.

Williams, who is now back in the states, is putting the finishing touches on the interview analysis of her work. She and Barnett are still drafting, editing and revising a journal article, which contains information received from multiple interviews. Their next step will be finding publishers for their research and possibly presenting at conferences.

Outside of her scholarship, Williams has been involved in several Elon organizations, from her position as special projects editor for the Pendulum to working with Elon Volunteers! and the Writing Center. Her hope is to work abroad following Commencement in May and to eventually apply to a graduate program that accommodates her interests.

For more information about the Lumen Prize and other undergraduate research opportunities at Elon University, click on the link to the right of this page under E-Cast.

- Written by Sarah Costello '11

Eric Townsend,
1/15/2010 3:14 PM