Undergraduate research has taught Arts student Emma Kent how to answer questions that she thinks are important. So when she stumbled across a BuzzFeed article titled “Women Are Covering The Hell Out Of The Syria War — So Why Haven’t You Noticed?” while perusing the internet, she saw more than a story: she saw an idea for a research project.
The Buzzfeed article suggested that media outlets are more likely to pay attention to “bang bang” front-line stories, which are usually written by men, instead of the wider-angle, human interest stories typically done by women. “Making grand claims like that is one thing, but testing whether that’s true is another,” says Kent. Although she admits BuzzFeed, a social news and entertainment website, isn’t necessarily the most credible media source, she was interested in determining whether evidence backed up the article’s claim through her research project titled “Does reporter gender affect media conflict coverage?”
Kent chose to focus on the New York Times blog At War: Notes From the Front Lines, specifically the 136 posted stories from 2012, as a starting point. Contributors to the blog report from countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and other conflict areas.
Kent completed a content analysis of the 136 stories, categorizing them into 10 topics — such as power and politics, soldier health, and effect of war on civilians — and then broke them down further through three focuses: civilian-focused, military-focused, and institution-focused.
She determined that the majority of the stories were written by men, with only 21 per cent written by women. In addition, she learned that female journalists were more likely to represent war from a civilian perspective, whereas men were more likely to portray war from a military perspective. However, she notes that gender wasn’t a specific focus of most of the stories: “I tried to keep track of the main gender focus in the stories, and in so many cases, it was irrelevant and I found that interesting,” says Kent.
“What’s really important is that this divide to me is indicative of traditional gender roles that we’ve been assigned,” says Kent. “I also think that as more women get involved in the military and this public-private dichotomy lessens over time, I think we’ll see more of a convergence. It’s interesting how that is now and what that’ll mean for the future of how we look at conflict.”
“There’s lots of literature out there supporting the fact that women and men cover stories differently, so I’m not surprised to find that in conflict journalism too,” she adds. Kent emphasizes that she focused on a small pool of data because a blog was an easy format to analyze for her project, but she’s interested in expanding the project and looking at more standard news sources to determine whether they yield the same results.
Kent presented her research at a recent interdisciplinary undergraduate research conference, but this isn’t her first foray into research. Last year she won a grant from the Undergraduate Research Initiative that allowed her to travel to Cuba for the summer, pursuing a project that looked at mass organizations in Cuba and the role they play in social inclusion.
“As an undergrad, doing research has taught me…that if something is important to you, then you need to understand enough about it and you need to say something about it to get it changed. That’s why doing this sort of research is important,” suggests Kent.
Kent decided to pursue a BA with a major in English and minor in Political Science because she was passionate about learning about culture through literature and politics. But it wasn’t until she took an International Relations class with political science professor Siobhan Byrne — who also supervised both of Kent’s research projects — that the idea of studying culture through research came to her.
“As an undergrad, doing research has taught me…that if something is important to you, then you need to understand enough about it and you need to say something about it to get it changed.”
“[Siobhan] opened my mind to a lot of things that I never would have necessarily thought of,” says Kent, who also developed a strong interest in the area of International Relations by studying with Byrne. “International Relations is a really important field of study because, especially now and especially moving forward, our world is becoming increasingly interconnected and the way in which we relate to other countries and the way countries relate to one another is going to have huge impact on everything.”
That’s why she’s interested in pursuing a career in garment industry regulations, learning more about the labour movements in Canada and the U.S., as well as international regulations on garment production. Kent notes that it’s an emerging field, especially as consumers gain more influence in driving companies to change where and how their garments are produced.
“I think these issues are becoming more and more on the public consciousness and I hope to keep them coming more on the public consciousness to the point where action is taken to remedy them in the future.”
Interested in undergraduate research? Check out:
Roger S. Smith Undergraduate Student Researcher Award
Undergraduate Research Initiative