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Two Communications Students Present SURE Research

Two School of Communications students were among the 30 who gave their Summer Undergraduate Research Experience final presentations July 29 in McKinnon Hall.

Senior communications major Gabrielle Dean, who was mentored by School of Communications associate professor Brooke Barnett, worked on a 22-minute documentary that centered on the history of the United Church of Chapel Hill, which is part of the United Church of Christ. The UCC is a denomination known for its socially progressive view of faith. For decades, UCC churches have been on the forefront of social struggles for important issues such as racial equality, war and peace, nuclear disarmament, women’s rights, gay rights and environmental protection.

Gabrielle Dean discusses her documentary.

Since its founding in 1910, the actions of the congregation of UCCH have exemplified these efforts. The church’s history provides a lens through which to view some the most important issues and events of the last century in Chapel Hill and the world.

Dean did in-depth interviews with key participants in the church, completed participant observation at church services and looked at primary and local church history records, photographs, oral histories and videos. She used grounded theory in her documentary work, which forces researchers to go into projects without preconceived notions about what they might find. Instead, they must view all subject matter with an open mind and interpret themes.

Dean will continue her work for her honor’s thesis, and she will look at more specific instances of courage based on faith.

“Working with Dr. Barnett has been a very interesting and rewarding experience,” Dean said. ‘I have learned so much about documentary film making this summer and I cannot wait to work on more projects with her in the future.”

Senior journalism major Alexa Milan, who was mentored by School of Communications associate dean Connie Book, worked on research in conjunction with her honor’s thesis titled “How moviemakers frame the media: An analysis of the portrayal of journalism in Vietnam-era cinema.” Milan is looking at how journalism as a profession and different types of media are portrayed in film.

Milan grounded her research in framing theory, or the idea that communicators can take certain aspects of an idea and make them more salient to an audience. For her SURE research, she viewed and coded the highest grossing films from 1968-1975 by asking questions such as what type of media were used, if they were in the foreground or background of a scene, if they used hard or soft news, if sensationalism was present, or if their use moved the scene’s action forward.

Alexa Milan goes over her research.

Some of Milan’s key findings are:

• Found 362 instances of media in 40 films
• Media instances spiked in 1970 (these films would have been in production around the time of the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War) and 1973 (in 1971, when these films would have been in pre-production, approval of Nixon’s handling of the war was 34 percent)
• Drama films used media the most by far with 41 percent of the instances occurring in these films. Comedy was second at 21 percent. Animated films and western films used media the least at 1 percent.

(Read the rest of Milan’s findings HERE.)

Milan will continue her research for her honor’s thesis and will look at films from 1976-1978.

“Working on this project with Dr. Book has been a great experience,” Milan said. “She pushes me really hard, but I know I’m going to end up with a better project because of it. She even pushed me to send my thesis proposal to some of the scholars whose work I studied and they all gave me positive feedback, so that definitely gave me more confidence in the work I’m doing. I can tell she’s just as passionate about this subject as I am, so I think that gives us a strong mentor-mentee relationship.

Colin Donohue,
7/29/2009 3:37 PM