Lehigh University
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Prof. Littau cited for research into online communities

Jeremy Littau, assistant professor of journalism and communication, has won a national award for his Ph.D. thesis, which he wrote last year on online communities.

Littau will receive the 2010 Nafziger-White-Salwen Dissertation Award from the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) at the organization’s annual conference on Aug. 6 in Denver, Colorado.

The award recognizes outstanding dissertation research in journalism and mass communication. AEJMC is the primary professional society and academic publishing venue for the field’s interest areas.

“Jeremy’s understanding of the developing role of social media in journalism and online communities puts him at the forefront of a new generation of researchers in our field,” says Wally Trimble, professor and chair of the department of journalism and communication.

“The 2010 Nafziger-White-Salwen Dissertation Award recognizes both the quality and promise of his work. We’re very proud of this achievement.”

Littau completed his thesis, “The Virtual Social Capital of Online Communities: Media Use and Motivations as Predicators of Online and Offline Engagement via Six Measures of Community Strength,” at the University of Missouri in 2009.

Rewriting the old rules

The paper examines groups of heavy online community users, people who are part of blogging communities, discussion boards, or virtual communities that center on topics of common interest. Surveying nearly 2,000 users, Littau asked about media habits, including use of social networks, and concluded which social media factors had the greatest influence on their engagement.

Social media can lead to a more engaged public, but it is limited in scope, says Littau. Being involved in causes over distance is facilitated by the Internet but is not linked with involvement in local politics and issues. Littau found that people use traditional media like newspapers and television to gather information on local issues, while social media gives them another means on which to act on that information.

“This is a time of tremendous change in media, particularly in the fields of journalism and public relations,” says Littau. “We’re moving from a top-down approach of information flow based on scarcity and hierarchy that favors media elites and toward a model that is based on networks. The old rules are being rewritten.

“Understanding the role social media plays in this process is important for us as citizens, but it’s even more crucial for the journalists of tomorrow that have to learn how to engage audiences in new ways. I’m pleased that my research has been well received, but I’m even more pleased that my research can be used in the classroom to help our students be better prepared for this new media world.”

In his first year of teaching at Lehigh, Littau has developed two new courses informed by his research.

Media and Society introduces the roles of mass media in global and U.S. society, exploring the forces that shape newspapers, magazines, television, radio and the Internet.

Multimedia Reporting gives students hands-on experience in using multimedia platforms such as video, audio, digital images, social media, and written narrative to tell richer and deeper stories. Students learn more about the power of social media through the course.

Story by Tricia Long

Posted on Wednesday, July 07, 2010

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