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Dissertations by communications faculty recognized at national conference

Assistant Professor Denise Hill and Adjunct Instructor Lorraine Ahearn received honorable mention awards in the 2017 Margaret A. Blanchard Doctoral Dissertation Prize competition.

Two School of Communications faculty members were recently presented honorable mention awards for their papers submitted to the American Journalism Historians Association (AJHA) for the 2017 Margaret A. Blanchard Doctoral Dissertation Prize. The annual award competition recognizes the best dissertations in the realm of mass communication history.

During the American Journalism Historians Association’s annual convention in October, Adjunct Instructor Lorraine Ahearn (left) and Assistant Professor Denise Hill (right) were honored in the 2017 Margaret A. Blanchard Doctoral Dissertation Prize competition. Also pictured is Barbara Friedman, associate professor in UNC’s School of Media and Journalism, who directed their dissertation research. Photo courtesy of Dan Haygood

Denise Hill, assistant professor of communications, and Lorraine Ahearn, adjunct instructor in communications, were two of three honorable mention award winners. The top prize was awarded to Matthew Pressman, an assistant professor of journalism at Seton Hall University, for his dissertation, “Remaking the News: The Transformation of American Journalism, 1960-1980.”

Hill, Ahearn and others were honored on Oct. 13 before nearly 100 fellow educators and peers at the annual AJHA convention in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Hill’s dissertation, titled “Public Relations, Racial Injustice, and the 1958 North Carolina Kissing Case,” examines the public relations campaigns used after two young African-American boys were arrested, convicted and sentenced for exchanging a kiss with a young white girl during a game. Her research looks extensively at the Committee to Combat Racial Injustice (CCRI), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), North Carolina Governor Luther Hodges, and the United States Information Agency (USIA).

According to the abstract, “The CCRI launched a public relations campaign to gain the boys’ freedom, and the NAACP implemented public relations tactics on the boys’ behalf. News of the kissing case spread overseas, drawing unwanted international attention to U.S. racial problems at a time when the country was promoting worldwide democracy. In response, Gov. Hodges launched a public relations campaign to defend the actions of North Carolina authorities, and the USIA employed public relations tactics to manage the country’s reputation overseas.”

Using racial formation theory as a foundation, Hill’s study also explores how race was reflected in the four groups’ public relations efforts. The dissertation adds to the scholarship on public relations history, illustrating public relations practice of the 1950s and providing an example of how public relations was used for social change, specifically how public relations was used to help African Americans gain civil rights.

Ahearn was honored for her doctoral dissertation titled “Narrative Paths of Native American Resistance: Agency and Commemoration in Journalism Texts in Eastern North Carolina, 1872-1988.” Her study spans more than a century of media self-representation on the part of American Indians who are today known as Lumbees, the largest tribe east of the Mississippi River. Ahearn engaged the literature of narrative erasure of minoritized groups by mainstream media, but posed a reverse question: How did a tribe with a contested history appropriate media to declare sovereignty, and how did this alter standpoint and objectivity in mainstream journalism itself?

Through the theoretical lens of collective memory, the study examines four eras in which Indians in Robeson County, North Carolina, leveraged media to assert their presence amid white repression: Reconstruction-era resistance waged by Lumbee hero Henry Berry Lowry, chronicled in the New York Herald; Indians’ 1958 routing of the Ku Klux Klan at Maxton, gaining Lumbees worldwide attention ranging from Life magazine to the Soviet TASS News Agency; the 1970s rise of the independent weekly Carolina Indian Voice, a long-running advocacy newspaper; and the 1988 armed takeover of the white-owned Robesonian newspaper by two Tuscaroras, resulting in  international publicity and probes into corruption and abuse of power by local law enforcement.

The dissertation prize is named in honor of the late professor Margaret A. Blanchard of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who was a mentor to generations of doctoral students of journalism history.

Associate Professor Dan Haygood, who presented at the AJHA convention, studied under Blanchard while earning his master’s and doctoral degrees. He commended his Elon colleagues’ extensive work, adding “I know that Dr. Blanchard is so happy and proud for these two women, both of whom represent both UNC and Elon in the most professional way.”

Haygood continued, “This is a day of celebration for everyone associated with both UNC’s School of Media & Journalism and Elon’s School of Communications, two schools that I believe are the best in their field in the Southeast and perhaps the nation.”

Barbara Friedman, associate professor in the School of Media and Journalism at UNC, directed Hill and Ahearn’s dissertation research. 

Founded in 1981, the American Journalism Historians Association seeks to advance education and research in mass communication history. Members work to raise historical standards and ensure that all scholars and students recognize the vast importance of media history and apply this knowledge to the advancement of society. For more information on AJHA, visit ajhaonline.org.

Tommy Kopetskie,
11/8/2017 2:40 PM