I have embraced the combined category of scholarly/creative in my work, incorporating both traditional qualitative, quantitative, and experimental approaches as well as theoretical and critical explorations of media and media psychology. My decision to pursue a tenure model of teaching excellence was not made lightly; it involved countless hours of deliberation and serious self-reflection, especially as someone coming from a discipline that values “pure” (i.e., not applied) research. However, I have spent years working to elevate and improve our students and foster visionary communicators, and I have chosen projects that continue to work toward this goal.
In my third-year review (TYR), I described three specific research questions. Although I am still passionate about all three of these areas, I have focused my energies on the latter two questions over the past four years: (1) investigating the role of producer identity in the process of content creation, an evolution of my second research question in my TYR: “How do media affect psychological identity development, and how can we use media purposely to affect thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors?,” and (2) considering the unique impact of technological affordances in media adoption, an evolution of my third research question in my TYR: “How do twentieth century industry models” I have also continued to address and explore issues of intersectional identity, the first research question from my TYR, but this interest has largely been incorporated into producer identity and content creation.
Producer Identity and Content Creation
This area of research emerged from my interactions with the Newhouse community (both on campus and off). In engaging with the students and faculty, I found that the role of content producers to be fascinating, important, and largely under-researched. How do content producers, both professional and lay users, represent themselves through media? And how, despite the best intentions, do stereotypes continue to propagate through content?
Several projects that were in process during my TYR have now been published, specifically investigating how marginalized and underrepresented voices use digital and social media to display and defend identity. Raven Maragh-Lloyd, now an assistant professor at Gonzaga University, and I have a chapter entitled, “Developing and Defending Mixed Identity: Lessons from the Caribbean Diaspora” in The Handbook of Diasporas, Media and Culture published by Wiley-Blackwell and International Association for Media and Communication Research and another paper currently under review at Ethnic and Racial Studies entitled, “Embodying Resistance: Understanding the future of digital global citizenship through the lens of mixed and multiracial Caribbeans.” Using qualitative interviews and content analysis of tweets, this work investigates how mixed and multiracial Caribbeans develop a cohesive ethnic identity and how they affirm their identities and access community support through social media. Although the Caribbean has been at the crossroads of the Old and New Worlds for centuries with generations of intermixing, there is little research regarding mixed and multiracial development in this community, a significant gap in the research that tends to draw from the American or Western European experience.
My work with Steven Kendrat, now a master’s student in education at Le Moyne College, has also been published in an upcoming special edition of Emerald Studies in Media and Communication: Millennials and Media. Our paper, “I want my YouTube!: Trends in youth-created music videos” features a content analysis of a brief but spectacular sub-genre of YouTube videos documenting an important moment in history and describe connection between professionally-generated content and user-generated content. This research began as Kendrat’s thesis, which systematically documented trends and the evolution of this sub-genre from 2007 to 2013. However, in working together, we honed the paper to make claims about the nature of user-generated content and its relationship with, both as an inspiration for and inspired by, professionally-generated content. Interestingly, this genre seems to have largely disappeared from the platform, replaced by user-generated vlogs and independent musicians looking for their big break, revealing that this work now serves as a valuable historical analysis of the early days of YouTube.
This research area has also flourished through communications with industry leaders and the impact of producer identities on professionally-generated content. In 2014, I published an article at Think with Google, a resource for consumer trends, marketing insights and industry research for Google partners, entitled “I Share, Therefore I Am: Building Brand Engagement Campaigns,” which described how media professionals could create content that sampled and amplified their consumer base, thus strengthening the consumers brand identity and loyalty.
My recent book chapter in Race/Gender/Class/Media: Considering Diversity Across Audiences, Content, and Producers (4th Edition) entitled, “Target vs. Total Market: The Paradox of Diverse Mainstream Content” draws on data collected via interviews during my 6-week residency at Burrell Communications in Chicago in Summer 2015. I was hired as a consultant to help the company address 3 specific questions: (1) What makes Burrell Communications a unique and valuable agency? (2) How can Burrell Communications maintain its uniqueness and value in the face of “total market” strategies and an increasingly fragmented media environment? (3) How can we best convey the value of Burrell Communications to clients? I interviewed approximately one-third of the office to understand how a black-targeted ad agency represented blackness in advertising and represented their own worth to clients. The chapter describes the issues with deploying colorblindness in media content creation and outlines potential strategies for creating content that is inclusive without being tepid or safe.
Although categorized under teaching and not scholarly/creative, my Annual Conversations on Race and Entertainment Media are a unique opportunity to discuss these processes with professional content producers. I appreciate it when guests share stories about how they have had to actively work to limit the inadvertent repetition or reliance on stereotypes and the lengths that they have to go to in order to ensure that their work disrupts discourse. I find these interactions inspiring as I consider strategies for to share with students on how to engage in the workplace around these issues (e.g., Teaching Diversity and Promoting Inclusivity with Digital Artifacts; L’Pree, 2017).
Finally, I am particularly proud of a new line of work within this area of research: the production of satire. In my teaching letter, I describe how my class on the struggle with satire emerged from student needs and a misunderstanding of the potential, promise, and practice of satire. In developing this class for production students, I have been inspired to investigate satirical production across media (e.g., print, television, digital) to better understand how professionals and amateur satirists use humor, irony, or exaggeration to expose and criticize social absurdities. However, not all audience members may completely understand the phenomenon being criticized, so how do satirists address (or fail to address) this knowledge gap?
Addressing this question requires nuanced analytical methods. Former TRF student and current satirist (New Yorker, McSweeney’s) Patty Terhune (BS ’17) and I collaborated on a format analysis of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver which will be featured as a chapter in the upcoming book, Laughter, Outrage and Resistance: Post-Trump TV Satire in Political Discourse and Dissent. The project began with Terhune’s Capstone thesis dissecting segments of the program to understand the popular power and political impact of the program, for which she won top thesis in the professional programs at the Renee Crown Honors ceremony; it evolved into a comparative analysis of strategies pre- and post-Trump.
I have also been invited to present several referred papers on the complexity of teaching hopeful satirists on the role of satire as a means of promoting diversity and inclusion. As continually evidenced in popular culture and at Syracuse University itself (Over the Hill, 2005; Theta Tau, 2018), this is much more complicated than simply repeating or laughing at the absurd; satirists must actively and didactically demonstrate the absurdity of marginalization processes while continuing to entertain and amuse. Given the exponential increase in satire with social media, digital outlets, and streaming services, there is a need for a critical understand of satire especially as it relates to diversity, and I have recent signed a contract with Wiley to develop a textbook specifically targeting satire and diversity for content creators. The purpose of this textbook is twofold: (1) to apply key concepts in diversity and inclusion education to critically analyzing satire, and (2) outlining and encouraging ethical satire production practices.
Technological Affordances and “New” Media Practices
I have identified as a media psychologist for almost 20 years, embracing this interdisciplinary crossover long before it was a widely recognized academic field. However, as the field of communications embraces psychological approaches and methods, it also embraces psychology’s problematic trends regarding biases in participants and limited research questions. I am dedicated to disrupting this pattern by critically embracing the media psychology theory. How do we come to know what we think we know? How established patterns of investigation reify limited discourse and how can we get beyond this to push the bounds of understanding?
I am currently finalizing my first book, Consumer Verité: The American Psychosocial Relationship with Twentieth Century Media Technology to be published next year with Routledge. This work emerged from my 2016 class on the Psychology of Interactive Media, which closely examined different media technologies across the 20th century (i.e., theatrical film, recorded music, consumer market cameras, radio, network and cable television, magnetic tape, video games, and early internet) to describe how usage patterns impact psychological expectations and culture, which in turn influence the adoption and usage patterns of new technologies (see Figure).
This project has been arduous, as is the case with anyone’s first book, but I am proud and excited for the final version. I believe that it will encourage readers, including students, scholars, and media practitioners, to think about media differently and approach media technology, content, and business with fresh eyes. Inspired by this work along with the 2014 article on Brand Engagement Campaigns, I have also been investigating the phenomenon of avoidant engagement, or strategies that invite users to interact with advertising content under the auspices of avoiding further advertising; much of the research regarding ad avoidance has focused on how users circumvent content, researchers have not explored how clever brands and platforms deploy this desire and its effects. This research began as a collaborative research project with Prof. James Tsao and Associate Prof. Beth Egan of the advertising department to investigate the effects of native advertising. We found that allowing users to skip advertising endears them to the platform even if it reduces (or fails to improve) their attitudes toward the advertised brand. I have continued to explore this phenomenon and my findings will be published in the 2020 collection, Innovations and Implications of Persuasive Narrative.
I have also pursued the goal of revamping how we think and talk about media, through several methodological reviews as well as my ongoing collaborative work addressing interactive technology for social change.
In 2015, I delivered a TEDx talk (one of two faculty members at Newhouse with this unique honor) on the Psychology of Selfies. I am passionate about selfies and have been for decades, long before the term “selfie” was popularized. The talk was intended to disrupt the discourse regarding selfies and focus the audience on the affordances of digital camera phones; simplifying the production and sharing of self-portraiture democratizing opportunities for self-engagement, and instead of being dismissed as “mindlessly captured, compulsively shared, and quickly discarded narcissistic droppings” (L’Pree, 2015), should be seen as a means to increased self-satisfaction and even digital literacy. Since then, I have explored gaps in the psychological research regarding selfies. Working with Rikki Sargent, a Ph.D. student in the Psychology department, we have submitted a methodological review of selfies to Psychological Science. We found that, despite the academic attention given to selfies as a cultural phenomenon, the research tends to repeat and reiterate selfies-as-negative, in line with the popular discourse of selfies as narcissistic. Sargent and I are also working on two papers exploring the impact of selfies as reparative.
Although not as popular as meta analyses, methodological reviews are essential in understanding what we think we know. Quantitative methodologies are often given the benefit of the doubt in research, but by focusing and manipulating specific constructs, it is often difficult to see gaps in the larger picture. My chapter in Race and Gender in Electronic Media: Challenges and Opportunities (2016) entitled “Manipulating race and gender in media effects research: A methodological review using the Media FIT Taxonomy” demonstrates these issues. The chapter describes trends in the research methods and questions pertaining to representations of race and gender in media, but does so using a 3-dimensional model of media featuring format, industry, and technology (see Figure: greyed squares indicate no research has been conducted at this intersection), revealing a striking lack of research regarding analog entertainment, synchronized video, and digital advertising. In addition, an analysis of research questions demonstrated problematic biases. For example, whereas studies that investigate gender in journalism focus on the gender of the journalist, studies that investigate race in journalism focus on the race of the suspect; no reviewed studies investigated effects of gender differences in suspects, and only one study manipulating the racial compositions of journalists.
I regularly use this chapter in my classes to demonstrate the gaps in research and draw attention to the concessions that we give to “research.” My students often use the term, “prove,” when referring to an anecdote or a single study, albeit absentmindedly, and I incessantly harp on the fact that a single anecdote or a single study does not “prove” anything especially in social sciences, it only provides evidence for an argument. This chapter demonstrates that there are many gaps in the process of our knowledge construction, especially around complex topics of media, race, and gender.
Finally, I am particularly proud of my ongoing collaborative work on interactive technology for social change. Originally inspired by my independent project with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston and the MIT Media Lab in 2002, the capacity of interactive media to affect the world and democratize opportunity is important to me and I am eager for every opportunity to help produce and promote these endeavors. My 2006 article in Academic Medicine co-authored with Tiffany Grunwald entitled, “Guidelines for cognitively efficient multimedia learning tools: A review of literature relating to educational strategies, cognitive load, and interface design,” continues to be cited as a resource for the affordances of interactive technology, and my continued collaboration with the SOLVE Lab at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California led by Professor of Communications Lynn Miller continues to yield important and valuable insights into the changing world of communications, psychology, methodology, and application.
These projects expanded the understanding of health communications and video games and the potential, promise, and practice of media technology. I have continued to be a part of this research team and new projects and we currently have a major theoretical manuscript in its second round of review at Psychological Inquiry (Impact Factor: 16.455) proposing a novel methodology that draws on the affordances of digital technology to simultaneously represent reality and manipulate experiences, thus increasing both generalizability and arguments of causation.
While at Newhouse, I have published four peer-reviewed journal articles, six book chapters, and one book review, for a total of nine peer-reviewed journal articles, nine book chapters, and two book reviews. I currently have four articles under review and two books under contract, one of which will be completed and in publication by the end of the year. Much of my work has been collaborative, which is common in psychology (my initial discipline), and I continue to be inspired by others and eagerly collaborate with colleagues and students. Having said that, four of six of my most recent book chapters have been solo-authored, as are my books under contract with Routledge and Wiley. My work has been cited over 250 times, 170 times since 2014.
Although my third-year review letter expressed concerns that my research addressed “a wide range of different areas,” and “the lack of a common thread in these research areas could hamper you in your ability to develop a national reputation,” I am proud to have produced research that addresses questions raised by students and published this work at every available opportunity to ensure that this research can be a part of academic and professional conversations. In short, I am proud of my research because it focuses on addressing gaps in the literature and subsequently the public discourse around media, psychology, diversity, and inclusion. Despite the abundance of conversation around issues of producer identity and technological affordances in the public sphere, students consistently raise questions for which there is no research and I am honored to do the work to provide (or help them provide) some answers.