Seeking an oasis: SMSC professor conducts important research on Oklahoma news deserts
Thursday, November 9, 2023
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Dr. Rosemary Avance, an assistant professor in the School of Media and Strategic Communications at Oklahoma State University, recently performed a groundbreaking study for the Oklahoma Media Center alongside University of Oklahoma professor Dr. Allyson Shortle.
Avance and Shortle designed, implemented and executed a qualitative observational study on Oklahoma news deserts, or areas where residents have limited to no access to reliable local journalism. Their extensive research explored whether Oklahomans are receiving local news, which provides information necessary for residents to engage with and make informed decisions about their communities.
“I wanted to learn more about Oklahoma communities and the structure and function of local information systems,” Avance said. “Where do people get information? Do they have access to reliable, independent local journalism? What information sources do they trust? Why?
“All of this has implications for community and individual well-being, since being informed and engaged plays a major role in feelings of belonging, enfranchisement and agency. It also has broader implications for the future of civic engagement and democracy, which always starts at the local level — where we live and work.”
Avance explained that Oklahoma is an important case study in understanding how Americans engage with their local news ecosystems. In 1949, historian Angie Debo noted that examining Oklahoma can shine the “brightest of light” onto political and social dynamics across the U.S.
“Given the United States' current political and social upheaval, it's easy to see how Debo's vision of Oklahoma as an acute microcosm of American life still applies today,” Avance said. “Oklahoma is a young state, founded in 1907 — a full 124 years after the end of the Revolutionary War. Our study is an attempt to shine ‘the brightest of light’ on Oklahoma's news ecosystem to see what it might tell us about our identity and our role in the broader American narrative.”
Avance added that Oklahoma media’s future is uncertain, and while optimistic, she said that it is up to residents, lawmakers and the government to determine Oklahoma’s trajectory.
“Our citizens and decision-makers need to be intentional about interrupting the displacement of local journalism and providing sustainable support for its future,” Avance said. “A lot is at stake here.”
Avance and Shortle’s work serves OSU President Kayse Shrum’s strategic plan to make OSU America’s premiere land-grant university. Their research includes OSU principles of service, community engagement and innovation.
“Our land-grant mission is to improve the lives of Oklahomans,” Avance said. “We want to provide Oklahomans with the information and tools they need to strengthen their communities for future generations. This study is one step in that direction.”
Avance and Shortle will next partner with local organizations to address communities’ informational needs. Read more about their work on the Oklahoma Media Center’s website.
Story By: Jade Dudley, CAS Graduate Assistant | email@example.com