The Influence of the Media

Photo of Harlen Makemson, Professor, School of Communications

Media can have wide-ranging influence – positively and negatively – on the health and mental well-being of their audiences. Six undergraduate researchers at Elon University explore some of these effects in the spring 2023 issue, employing a range of methods and approaches.

Three authors use quantitative content analysis to examine the language choices journalists make in covering these topics. Jake Twer compared how news organizations cover depression, discovering that traditional antidepressants are framed more negatively than ketamine treatments, which are not FDA-approved. In a similar manner, Molly Craig analyzed crime coverage in The Baltimore Sun both before and after the newspaper apologized for a historical pattern of racial bias in its coverage that had harmed people of color in the community, finding evidence that reporters were following the promise to “do better” by the paper’s editorial board. Meanwhile, Anna Cave analyzed Cosmopolitan magazine and found that its cover blurbs regarding sex had transitioned through the decades from sexual empowerment, to female objectification, and then to inclusiveness for all sexual identities.

In contrast, Diana Lynch used qualitative content analysis to explore 10 narrative films with prominent bisexual characters. She found common themes of bisexual erasure, the unfaithful lover, oversexualization of bisexual women, and negative sentiments toward bisexual men, each of which could be harmful to those who identify as bisexual.

Olivia Nevin employed focus-group methodology in her study of social media, finding that cognitive needs, social integration, and tension-free needs were the main reasons college students used social media during pandemic lockdowns in 2020. Furthermore, it was found that social media habits have changed dramatically since the pandemic.

In addition, Lindsay Bennett conducted a secondary statistical analysis on a decade of national survey data, revealing a lasting disparity in the internet access that disabled people have in comparison to the rest of the population. However, there was a steady decrease in the gap between disabled and non-disabled people in terms of their proportion of internet access at home.

While these authors have tackled seemingly disparate topics, their collective work is connected by what Elon values in undergraduate research – curiosity, diligence, attention to detail – and also a remarkable sense of empathy. In that spirit, please enjoy our students’ scholarship.

Harlen Makemson
Editor, Elon Journal