U Professor Awarded Journalism Research Fellowship at Oslo Met University


Photo courtesy of Sarah Shebek/University of Utah

By Christina Giardinelli


University of Utah professor, Avery E. Holton, has been selected as one of the seven international scholars who will serve as a Journalism Research Fellow at Oslo Met University. As part of the fellowship Dr. Holton will spent two to three weeks at Oslo met University in Norway, working with other scholars and presenting his research. The title of his presentation “Strangers to the game: Unpacking journalism’s peripheral actors” provides a window into some of the topics that Holton has been focused on in his research.

Holton was able to give the Chronicle a glimpse into what that research looks like during an interview. “The idea is to start looking at the way that individuals choose to contribute to the news and information cycle” he explained.

Holton specified that there are many different points of entry in today’s media world we can contribute to news by posting comments on a digital story, writing a story or contributing, producing or listening to a podcast. Holton’s research seeks to answer questions such as “who is producing this type of content in a sustained way and what is motivating them to do so?” Holton stated that “By looking at them [the various media contributors] and identifying who they are and how they fit together we can start to understand the ecosystem of journalism.”

Dr. Holton has led his own journey within the ecosystem of journalism, starting off with a B.A and M.A in Journalism at the University of Texas. Amongst his undergraduate achievements were publications in Time Magazine’s college section. After completing his M.A. Holton moved into the field, working as a Sports Journalist and writing weekly columns as well as working as the Director of Communications within the Houston Astro Organization.

After struggling with personal health issues and noticing the way that this shaped, changed and formed his identity Holton decided to take a more interdisciplinary approach when returning for a Ph.D. at the University of Texas. In describing his personal journey through these health issues Holton stated, “I just wasn’t able to communicate very well. I was [at the time] the director of communications with the Astros Organization and working with social media every day — if I was having trouble communicating, what was going on for everybody else? What was everybody else [with health issues] doing?”

In addition to a Ph.D., Holton completed a Doctoral Certification in Disabilities Studies and won the Gene Burd Outstanding dissertation award. His dissertation dealt with the intersections of health and journalism.

Here at the U Holton also wears many hats. He is a Vice President’s Clinical and Translational Research Scholar (VPCAT), he serves as the Undergraduate Journalism Sequence Coordinator, the Student Media Advisor and the appointed Humanities Scholar.

“VPCAT is typically for upper campus, like health sciences, nursing, doctors to help those folks to work on getting their research out to more people” explained Holton specifying that he is the first “lower campus” scholar to be accepted into the program. Holton stated that his role as a scholar within the program involves research that looks at both identity, information, social media and health. The research looks at how people going through a health crisis are “changing, navigating their identity, building community on social media or how individuals with disabilities or self-identifying as disabled, create networks, and how they create identity online and offline.”

As the Undergraduate Journalism Sequence Coordinator Holton helped craft a renewal of the journalism curriculum in 2016 along with Dr. Kimberley Mangun, Dr. Shannon McGregor, Dr. David J. Vergobbi and Dr. Glen M. Feighery. During the semester this was occurring Holton described traveling around the country to visit Universities with the “best journalism programs” in order to come up with creative ways to revitalize the U’s own Journalism Program.

“What we did was we reimagined the Journalism Sequence to be much more about getting the essential elements of journalism very early on, so learning about ethics, the legal sides, how to report, how to write a news release, those sorts of things in the first section,” Holton went on to explain that the second section focuses on the application of those skills in the classroom. The third has to do with putting them into practice in a professional setting with internships and by finding ways to allow students the means of telling their stories and getting their content out there.

Holton described his role as Student Media Advisor as one of advocacy for students who are producing media content such as the staff at the Chronicle, K-UTE Internet Radio, Wasatch Magazine and The Geekwave. He stated that both in advocating for student journalists and in teaching journalism classes his modus operandi is not to tell students how to think or create news but to allow students to find their own voice by giving them the tools and knowledge they need to do so.  

As the Humanities Scholar Holton works with incoming students from diverse backgrounds who are coming into the field of humanities as freshmen. The program helps give these students guidance and support as they enter this field of study.

Holton feels that the fellowship at Oslo Met University will provide him with the opportunity to expose his own research to the International Community but also to serve as an ambassador for the U. “I think it is important to be an international ambassador not just for my research but also for the department and for the University so I make a point of looking for international opportunities” Holton said.

Holton also conducts research under the UCEER program where he looks at ethical, legal and moral implications of genetic testing, expanding care screening and the way these are portrayed on social media.

Holton stated that the U’s Journalism Sequence has experienced a boom in enrollment over the last three years going from nine percent to about 20 percent enrollment rates. He attributes this partially to this generation’s renewed interest in the intense political climate as well as the revamping of the program that helped put the U on the map in terms of journalism studies.

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