April 2005 Volume 1, Issue 1


prof pollockThirteen hardworking students and one very dedicated professor spent the fall 2004 semester working with the United Nations (UN), conducting research on worldwide news coverage of the UN’s efforts to combat HIV/AIDS.

John C. Pollock, a communications studies professor in his 13th year at the College, was chosen as one of three scholars to conduct the research on behalf of the International Communications Association (ICA) and the United Nations’ Department of Public Information (DPI).

The project was completed over the course of one semester, with students dedicating anywhere between five and upward of 10 hours per week, both inside and outside of Pollock’s International Communications class. Contributors were separated into four teams, each focusing its research on the coverage of certain themes surrounding the November–December 2003 UN media blitz on World AIDS Day. In particular, the UN was interested in the way World AIDS Day announcements and speeches were reported globally in regard to AIDS funding, access to treatment and the social stigma associated with AIDS.

According to Pollock, the findings revealed, among other things, that countries with lower productivity rates seemed to have a greater appreciation for the UN’s efforts than those wealthier countries examined.

In tackling the research, students used a “community structure approach,” a methodology that Pollock has helped pioneer. Using this tactic, the teams studied 10 foreign newspapers and explored how each paper’s AIDS coverage corresponded to the UN’s mission of raising global AIDS awareness.They observed a variety of article characteristics, including placement, length, headline, presence or absence of graphics, and the direction of the article— that is, whether it could be considered favorable, unfavorable, balanced, or neutral. After gauging the journalistic traits, students compared their findings to the traits of the nations whose newspapers were studied, hence the “community structure” piece of the methodology.They explored national characteristics, such as gross domestic product and literacy rates, in an effort to understand how certain issues may be linked to the direction of a nation’s reporting on political and social issues.

Upon completing the project, students submitted papers that detailed their research. The submissions were then edited and compiled into one large paper by Pollock, which was subsequently accepted for presentation at the 55th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association, taking place on May 26–30 in New York City. Pollock stated that the acceptance of an undergraduate paper to this conference is relatively unheard of, and he is confident that the students will leave quite an impression. Stefanie Gratale, junior communications studies major from Fort Lee, served as coordinator for the UN AIDS project and is expected to present the results of her team’s research at the conference.

Coined the “Pollock Model” by Raquel Cohen-Orantes, chief of the Evaluation and Communications Research Unit in the UN’s DPI, the UN hopes to build on the HIV/AIDS research conducted at TCNJ as an example of vigorous and rewarding professor-student involvement that may catch on at other institutions down the line. In December 2004, each of the seven student team leaders received a letter from Cohen-Orantes expressing appreciation on behalf of the entire UN DPI.

“Your research will help DPI evaluate the effectiveness of its strategies to transmit UNspecific messages throughout the world....I wish to extend my gratitude for your interest and valuable contribution to this important research endeavor,” she wrote.

At the request of the UN, Pollock and several of his independent study students are currently working on a similar initiative, this time focused on UN communications about tsunami relief efforts.

For the tsunami research, students will identify their own major themes and gather coverage from databases such as Lexis-Nexis.They will also travel to the UN to use its databases and those made available by ECHO Research, a content analysis firm doing pro bono work for the UN. Students have already had the opportunity to work with ECHO representatives, learning complex content analysis coding procedures that they will use to chart their findings electronically.

Further down the line is a study of the global coverage of women’s rights in the decade since the 1995 conference on women’s rights in Beijing, China, tentatively titled a “Beijing Plus Ten” evaluation.

Pollock plans to organize these initiatives as an umbrella study tentatively named the ‘Project on UN Global Coverage of Humanitarian Assistance.’

“I hope that ambition will become a reality after our students have completed these current projects, demonstrating to both the UN and the College that an ongoing relationship with the UN deserves a programmatic emphasis,” said Pollock. “I am eager to help lead any effort to sustain that relationship.”

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