Research

Overview

A balance of theory and practice has driven my research agenda to this point in my career. My theoretical knowledge and research have informed my practical community-based scholarship in applied journalism. Without one, I cannot have the other. My research output thus far demonstrates this balance. Because the University of Memphis Department of Journalism and Strategic Media is a professionally focused program and places a high importance on journalism skills and applied research, my agenda adds to the overall mission and purpose of the department as well as the greater mass communication academic community.

My research has three major foci: LGBTQ+ media studies and history, experiential learning in the journalism classroom, and podcast storytelling as a way of meaning and world making. My research journey began in my master’s program with my first adventure in LGBTQ+ journalism history, looking at coverage of Harvey Milk. Since then, my research agenda has expanded to include best practices for classroom activities and experiential learning as well as student outcomes in applied journalism skills courses.

Born out of classroom experiences, I recently began working on a new branch of research that more closely examines podcasting as a means of storytelling and a mode of meaning and world making. In addition to giving me a new area of expertise, this new research stream has allowed me to combine my other interests in a new medium, which has spawned work in Queer podcasting, podcasting in the classroom, and a National Endowment for the Humanities grant proposal examining podcasting in the humanities.

Beyond traditional academic research, I have also engaged in a number of community-based scholarship projects, which are highly valued by the University of Memphis. These projects have blended elements of my research agenda with teaching applied journalism to UofM students. Projects have included websites and podcasts that examine issues of race, gender, sexuality, class, ability, and religion. These projects have not only expanded my own research agenda and given my students needed skills for the journalism industry, but also have tackled key social and political issues in the Memphis community — offering insight, awareness, and solutions to our city’s challenges.

LGBTQ+ Media History

My work in LGBTQ+ media history began with a research project in my master’s media history class. The project examined the coverage of Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay men elected to public office in the United States, by the then-only nationally distributed gay and lesbian magazine, The Advocate. In the piece, I argued The Advocate only began covering Milk in a positive light after his death in 1978 as a way to better promote the larger gay and lesbian movement in the late-1970s. The paper won top student paper at AEJMC Southeast Colloquium and was accepted to the AEJMC national conference that year; I was hooked. That’s when I decided to pursue a Ph.D. and continue this research trajectory.

For my master’s thesis, I examined the local news coverage of the AIDS epidemic from 1981 to 1990 in New Orleans. I examined mainstream newspaper coverage from the city’s two daily newspapers as well as coverage from the gay and lesbian press and alternative press. So much LGBTQ+ history centers on the coastal hubs of American LGBTQ+ life, and little attention is given to other locales—especially Southern cities and rural areas. I identified this gap in research and sought to make it my historical niche. I followed my thesis with a closer examination of the UpStairs Lounge fire in New Orleans. The UpStairs Lounge was a gay bar that burned in June 1973, killing more than 30 people—mostly gay men. My research not only explored the immediate local news coverage of the fire and deaths, but also it explored the public memory created and maintained by the media coverage that has followed in the years since the tragedy. These pieces are earmarked for an eventual book that explores LGBTQ+ media across the South.

Expanding beyond New Orleans, I have begun to explore other Southern locales. In 2016, I lead colleague Melissa Janoske and one of our graduate students in a project examining the rise and fall of Anita Bryant, a religious right leader and former beauty pageant contestant who emerged in the 1970s anti-gay and lesbian movement. The historical analysis looked closely at the news coverage of Bryant’s campaign to repeal a gay and lesbian equal rights ordinance in Miami/Dade County, Florida. We argued that Bryant’s person-centered movement, like others before it, had a short life. It was successful in the beginning at swaying public opinion and grabbing media attention, but over time, it failed because Bryant — as a symbol — could not withstand the ongoing media attention and scrutiny (Byrd, Janoske, & Chaney, 2019). This piece was published a chapter in Kamden K. Strunk’s Queering Spirituality and Community in the Deep South (2019), which is the second volume of edited works examining Queer history and politics in the Deep South. I contributed the bulk of the introduction, historical context and background, historical analysis and conclusions.

At present, I am expanding this research to LGBTQ+ history in Memphis. In late 2018, I and a group of University of Memphis scholars launched an LGBTQ+ archive on the UofM campus. This archive is the first Queer collection on the UofM campus and contains materials that have not been publicly available for more than 50 years. Thus far, the collection includes a range gay and lesbian periodicals from various times in Memphis’ history. Within the next year, I plan to explore this Queer press collection to better understand the Mid-South Queer community — a community with little documented history.

In addition to the Memphis Queer press and New Orleans projects, I plan to produce a collection of Queer Southern media histories through an edited volume published by an academic press. The stories and histories go beyond the journalism and Queer presses of the South, to include the stories of Southern Queer people who are so often rendered invisible in the current literature. I want to help make those histories visible.

Queer Media Representations

An extension of my primary research interest in Queer media history is an interest in contemporary cultural and critical studies particularly Queer media representations. This work began with my doctoral dissertation, in which I examined Queer representations in popular television situational comedies. The project examines Queer representations in five network sitcoms. I explored issues of intersectionality (race, gender, sexuality, and class) in the project to offer a more complex critique of the discourse created by the programs. Work from my dissertation has yielded two book chapters published in peer-reviewed, edited volumes focused on cultural and critical examinations of the contemporary media.

In 2016, the first chapter was published in Christopher Campbell’s edited volume The Routledge Companion to Media and Race. The chapter, Race and Sexuality: Whitewashing Representation, is an examination of a selection of Queer media literature regarding the intersectionality of race and sexuality. The chapter problematizes previous Queer research that approaches Queer identity as a monolith without regard for other identities or attention to the oppression of people of color, no matter their sexual identity.

The second chapter was published in 2019 in Loren Saxton Coleman and Christopher Campbell’s Media, Myth, and Millennials. The chapter offers a Quare reading of the Netflix reboot Queer Eye. Quare theory challenges Queer theory’s homogenizing effects on queer identity. In addition to reading the show via a Quare lens, I also provided the reading through a fairly new theoretical lens via moral licensing, a developmental psychology theory that posits people who behave in a moral way often later engage in immoral behaviors because they feel licensed to do so by the previous “good” behavior. My overall argument in the piece is that Queer Eye provides viewers with a vicarious moral license to support issues, politicians, and proposals that are detrimental to LGBTQ+ people of color.

Experiential Learning

In an effort to align some of my classroom praxis with my research agenda, I began a line of classroom-informed research in 2017. This interest is part of a desire to better understand and evaluate experiential projects and efforts in the journalism and strategic media curriculum.

The first project, a collaborative project with departmental colleagues Melissa Janoske and Stephanie Madden (2019) looked closely at Twitter chats as a tool for student engagement and community building. In the UofM graduate program, students participate in classes both live, in-person and synchronously online. Many of the online students reported feeling disconnected or ill-informed when it came to the department and the program. To create a more welcoming environment for all students, the department began graduate Twitter chats in Fall 2015 to promote interaction and engagement between all students and faculty. The piece, published in Journal of Public Relations Education, through a mixed-method approach, concluded that the Twitter chats gave students an outlet to interact and feel more part of the program, as well as practice interacting on social media—something that was new for many of them when the chats began. For this project, my role was to write portions of the literature review, the qualitative portion of the findings, and contribute to the conclusions.

I lead a study with UofM colleague Pam Denney examining our use of an Instagram assignment in advanced reporting and writing classes to see how it yielded the desired outcomes. We team-taught our journalism capstone course for three semesters, where we developed an Instagram storytelling assignment that required students to not only take photos, but also to write short, concise, and compelling stories to accompany the photos. We used a short, open-ended post-only-questionnaire to asses skills learned during the course of the assignment. Students reported that the assignment achieved its intended outcomes by honing both photography and interviewing skills, but it also made them more keenly aware of space and time when telling a story via Instagram. This study was published in Teaching Journalism and Mass Communication. I took the lead on this project, writing the majority of the paper. My co-author helped to run the assignment and collect data.

Moving forward, I’d like to continue this research stream by exploring newly developed courses and curriculum changes. For Spring 2019, I developed a podcasting in journalism class; no clear guide or template exists for the course, so, I have adjusted the course as we learned together. Because of the Spring 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, the course changed directions drastically to focus on at-home, remote podcasting. This shift will be the focus of a future research project; I plan to interview students in the class about their experiences producing a podcast during a pandemic and the lessons they learned about trauma interviewing and reporting.

Podcast Storytelling

The podcasting in journalism class has also informed by most recent research interest in podcast storytelling. I was inspired by how my students were coming up with ideas about podcasts to produce. So many of them not only wanted to go deeper into things that interested them, but also subjects that they closely identified with. They wanted to produce shows about parts of their identities that they just could not find in other places. Their ideas made me think about podcast producers’ motivations for starting and maintaining podcasts—especially podcast producers from under-represented groups.

I’m currently working on three podcast-related projects. One is an oral history-in situ project with Queer podcast producers. I’m exploring their motivations for starting and maintaining the podcasts, particularly through a Queer world-making lens—carving out Queer spaces where Queer spaces may not have previously been.

Similarly, a second project looks specifically at podcasts produced about the COVID-19 quarantine, specifically those that tell personal stories about those affected during the global shutdown. I plan to examine the podcasts as sites of meaning making, borrowing literature from social psychology regarding meaning making during a crisis. I plan to start interviews with producers in Summer 2020.

Finally, I’ve collaborated with Amanda Nell Edger and Justin Eckstein to propose a project that examines the role of podcasting in the humanities from the prospective of both the listeners and the producers. The project is a blend of our three areas of expertise—mine in podcast productions and theirs in sound and audience studies. The project is part of a National Endowment for the Humanities grant proposal that was submitted in Fall 2019. We’re hoping to hear back from NEH in summer 2020. Part of the proposal is a book project to publish our results. We have several university presses interested in the book.

Community-Based Scholarship

The University of Memphis Department of Journalism and Strategic Media values community-based scholarship as part of our scholarly and creative activity. It defines community-based scholarship as “significant projects that identify problems and offer solutions to these identified needs within the community.” I have led my students in several of these projects. Students have used a variety of data-gathering tools and research methods to collect interviews and data to produce projects ranging from in-depth multimedia websites to issues-based podcasts. The following is a list of the projects that have been completed since Fall 2015.

MemphisMirror.com

Fall 2015-Present. This site is the capstone project for the department’s journalism students. I started the site my first semester in the department. Students contribute multimedia projects that contribute to the site’s mission, which is to cover people, communities and issues that might not always get coverage in other media outlets. This site has been recognized in the AEJMC Best of Digital competition.

MirrorMirror Season One: Public Transportation in Memphis

Fall 2017. Students produced an in-depth multimedia project focused on public transportation in Memphis. Students not only covered bi-monthly transit authority meetings, they also collected archival materials, interviews with users and activists, and transit user data. The information was collected and used to create a multimedia site that incorporated elements of text, photo, video, audio, and data visualization. Students also produced a five-episode podcast to accompany the site.

Rivalries Ranked

Spring 2019. Students in my sports writing and reporting class collaborated with students in a sports marketing class who were studying rivalry in sport to produce a multi-episode podcast on sport rivalries. Students researched major sport rivalries and a produced a weekly podcast where they ranked the top five rivalries in each league. Their podcast won honors from the Tennessee Associated Press in 2020.

Life in Quarantine: Our Stories from the New Plague

Spring 2020. Students in my Innovative Storytelling Class (podcasting in journalism) are in the midst of producing a seven-episode podcast that tells the stories of peoples’ struggles during the ongoing COVID-19 quarantine. Each week focused on a different theme. Students conducted long interviews with subject via Zencastr, which records remote interviews on two channels to avoid poor quality phone interviews. The long interviews are edited by two student producers who also host the show.

Other publications

Non-peer reviewed journal

Byrd, R.D. (2013). Don’t Be a Tool . . . Dress Like a Guy: Denotative and Connotative Readings of Old Navy’s Süpar Tool Advertisement. Synergy 4 (1), 73-80.

Book reviews

Byrd, R.D. (2017) Jason A. Peterson, Full Court Press: Mississippi State University, the Press, and the Battle to Integrate College Basketball. Newspaper Research Journal, 38 (1), 134-135.

Work in progress

At the time of submission, I have six manuscripts either under review or soon-to-be under review.

  • Janoske, M., Byrd, R.D., & Cooper, D. (2018). Identity formation and voter suppression: The iconography of fake memes in the 2016 presidential election (under review).
  • Madden, S., Byrd, R.D., & Brown, L. Purchasing power: Etsy activism and the symbolic politics of consumption in white feminism.
  • Byrd, R. D. “We knew them as people”: Local media coverage and the national commemoration of the New Orleans Up Stairs Lounge fire victims since 1973.
  • Byrd, R. D. Queer as a football bat: Hegemonic gayness and homophobic Narrative in Out Magazine’s “Sports Issue.”
  • Byrd, R. D. From outsider to martyr: The Advocate’s coverage of Harvey Milk from 1977 to 1979.
  • Byrd, R. D. and Marks-Malone, K. “Selling public relations”: A case study of Obsidian Public Relations’ in-house podcast.

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