Newhouse professors earn DHS funding to help stem extremist content in virtual spaces

Two professors at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University have been awarded nearly $600,000 in funding from the Department of Homeland Security’s Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention (TVTP) Grant Program.

Kelly Leahy
Kelly Leahy

Kelly Leahy, assistant professor of television, radio and film, and T. Makana Chock, David J. Levidow Endowed Professor and director of the Newhouse School’s Extended Reality Lab, will study how media literacy can offer a method for mediating cognitive and emotional responses in an extended (virtual, augmented and mixed) reality environment.

Leahy, Chock and a team of student researchers will create and test media literacy interventions focused on harmful information in virtual spaces in order to inform the prevention of extremism and violent content in the metaverse.

Makana Chock
T. Makana Chock

“Immersive virtual spaces such as virtual reality and the metaverse create more visceral emotions than traditional online spaces such as the internet,” Chock says. “This makes the virtual world a potentially high-risk environment for manipulation.”

Adds Leahy, “Terrorist recruiters and violent extremists are active in online social spaces and will most certainly target new forms of technology for their efforts to spread conspiracy theories, air grievances and craft misinformation, disinformation and ‘malinformation’ (reality-based information used to inflict harm).”

The study will identify key concepts and techniques specifically related to persuasion in extended reality contexts and apply these findings to create gamified interventions based on existing research from media literacy. These experiences will be piloted for young adults who are members of the extended reality community.

Emerging evidence suggests that people tend to feel increased empathy in virtual spaces, which could lead to increased manipulation, according to Leahy. Past research has shown that young adults are more likely to be targeted for terrorist recruitment, she adds.

“Extended reality impacts us in ways we are only just beginning to understand,” says Newhouse dean Mark J. Lodato. “The work of Professors Leahy and Chock will play an important role in increasing that understanding and shaping the way we use and moderate these spaces, especially when it comes to young people.”

TVTP seeks to help prevent incidents of domestic violent extremism and bolster efforts to counter online radicalization and mobilization to violence. The Newhouse award was one of 43 grants totaling $20 million awarded this year by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

“Working in partnership with one another is how we best prevent acts of terrorism and targeted violence,” said DHS Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas in a press release when the grants were announced. “We are equipping local communities and organizations—including those historically underserved—with needed resources so they can become more effective partners, strengthen our security and help the American people feel safe and secure in our daily lives.”

Syracuse University Part of a Team Awarded $60 Million USDA Grant to Promote Climate-Smart Commodities

Three Newhouse School faculty members—Jason Davis, Regina Luttrell and Erika Schneider—are investigators on the project.

Syracuse University is a leading partner in a multi-university project that aims to increase supply and demand for climate-smart commodities produced and manufactured in New York state, supported by a new grant from the USDA’s Partnership for Climate-Smart Commodities. The $60 million project is led by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Agriculture and Markets.

A climate-smart commodity is an agricultural commodity that is produced using farming, ranching or forestry practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions or sequester carbon. As project partner, Syracuse will lead one of the four primary focus areas. Over the next five years, Syracuse University researchers will develop and expand existing markets and develop new markets for climate-smart commodities produced in New York State—benefiting the environment, farmers and manufacturing sectors alike.

“Both governments and industry around the world are rapidly committing to a net-zero carbon economy, and in order to meet these grand challenges, the industries of today will need to find low carbon and green-tech alternatives for which biobased feedstocks and products will play a critical role,” says Jay Golden, Pontarelli Professor of Environmental Sustainability and Finance in Syracuse University’s Maxwell School and director of the Dynamic Sustainability Lab, who is the project’s principal investigator from Syracuse.

The interdisciplinary team from Syracuse, working in collaboration with Cornell University, SUNY-ESF, New York State agencies and additional public and private partners, includes faculty and student researchers from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, the School of Information Studies, the Newhouse School of Public Communications and the Whitman School of Management. In addition, the team will work in partnership with Syracuse University Libraries’ Blackstone LaunchPad to develop a pipeline of new green tech and climate-smart innovators with a focus on developing new climate-smart businesses in underserved communities.

Faculty from Syracuse University include:

“Our Syracuse team will be at the global forefront of this effort by providing public and private decision makers the ability to track and verify low and zero carbon feedstocks through the value chain; to develop important incentives and polices to support market demand; and to model the environmental, climate and economic/jobs benefit to New York and America,” Golden continued. “The anticipated climate-smart commodities will serve as a platform for a new generation of low-carbon chemicals, fuels and energy sources, as well as building and construction materials and a vast array of consumer products to support the transition to a net-zero carbon economy,” he added.

Brown, L’Pree receive summer funding awards

Harriet Brown and Charisse L’Pree are the inaugural recipients of summer funding awards from the Newhouse School’s Office of Research and Creative Activity.

Brown, a professor of magazine, news and digital journalism, is working on a project with photographer and Newhouse visiting professional Lynn Johnson.

“Weed Kids” takes a deep dive into the layered and challenging world of families who use cannabis to help their medically fragile children. Through photographs and longform narrative, Lynn Johnson and Harriet Brown tell the stories of children with life-altering conditions like the intractable seizures of Dravet’s syndrome, the violence of severe autism and the ravages of incurable cancers and catastrophic genetic disorders. Many of these families, watching their children suffer unimaginably, have gone to extraordinary lengths to improve the quality of their lives. They’ve risked prison and medical censure by turning to cannabis. Their stories are timely, given the rapidly changing legal status of cannabis and the exploding markets for both medical and recreational marijuana. They explore important issues: What happens when families clash with the medical mainstream? How can we navigate the contradictory and confusing network of state and federal regulations around cannabis? And, maybe most important, what is the value of a life?

L’Pree, an associate professor of communications, is exploring stereotypes and attitudes about women in STEM among media professionals.

The importance of the public discourse regarding women in STEM cannot be overstated because of the underutilization of the talent pool required for the knowledge economy workforce (Martinez, & Christnacht, 2021). The way we talk about (and think about) women in STEM impacts whether or not women seek careers in STEM fields, their treatment when working, their choices to stay or leave STEM fields and ultimately their ability to convey their stories to others, including aspiring scientists. Prior work has focused on quantifying the media representations of women in STEM in journalism (Benson-Greenwald, Joshi, & Diekman, 2022; Mitchell & McKinnon, 2019) and entertainment content including film (Chambers, 2022) and television, as well as the effects of these stereotypical representations on women pursuing careers in STEM and interventions to disrupt these patterns (Cheryan, Master, & Meltzoff, 2015; Cheryan, Plaut, Handron, & Hudson, 2013; Steinke, 2017). However, this work focuses on combatting the outcomes of media production, not the upstream phenomena that exist within media institutions, and few scholars have explored stereotypes and attitudes about women in STEM among media professionals, including those working in and training for journalism, entertainment, advertising and public relations. The current research describes attitudes about science and women in STEM by surveying media professionals and interviewing women working in STEM about their experiences engaging with media professionals.

Funding expands for Newhouse professors’ work on technology to combat fake news

Two professors from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications who are working on the development of technology to detect manipulated media and combat the spread of fake news are supported by a subcontract that now tops $1.1 million, thanks to a recent expansion.

Jason Davis, research professor and co-director of the Real Chemistry Emerging Insights Lab, and Regina Luttrell, associate dean for research and creative activity, will continue to work on refining a theoretical framework for the creation and testing of AI algorithms that can identify manipulated media. The work is part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Semantic Forensics program.

“While the challenges associated with fake news and misinformation may not be new, the speed, scale and global impact created by digital media channels certainly is,” Davis says. “This research effort underscores Newhouse’s continuing commitment to addressing some of today’s most challenging problems and contributing to solutions with global impact. It is our intention that this research will help develop solutions that can detect and combat the effects of disinformation across a rapidly evolving digital landscape.”

Over the last semester, the program explored new methods for evaluating
artificial intelligence/machine learning-driven analytics and their ability to
detect and characterize various intents associated with falsified media using common propaganda tactics. Davis, Luttrell and a student research team created controlled data sets using both text and image manipulations to embed two distinct intents into news articles using four common technical propaganda tactics: bandwagoning, diktat, scapegoating or name-calling. During the data creation campaign, the research team added specific manipulations that were designed to create either a “call to action” intent or a “discredit entity” intent.

The research team’s data set provided over 600 individual probes that will be used to test a wide range of analytics and their ability to accurately detect and predict the intent behind specific media manipulations. The results of this research effort will help lay the groundwork for the development of new digital tools to help combat the threat of mis/disinformation on a global scale.

(Updated July 2022)

Knight-Newhouse College Athletics Database tracks college sports finances

The Newhouse School has announced a multi-year $840,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in support of the Knight-Newhouse College Athletics Database project. Spearheaded by Jodi Upton, Knight Chair in Data and Explanatory Journalism, the project tracks more than 15 years of college sports finances.

“The mission of this project is educational—to make sure policy-makers, journalists, researchers and fans understand how college sports are financed, and to monitor the impact of fundamental changes happening in college sports,” Upton says. “The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics has played a major role in boosting financial transparency for college sports to show how universities support college athletes’ education, health and safety.”  

“This latest collaboration reaffirms the Newhouse School’s longstanding relationship with the Knight Foundation and underscores our commitment ensuring our students are trained in the important field of data journalism,” says Newhouse dean Mark J. Lodato.

Newhouse students at both the graduate and undergraduate levels are working on the project. To get a full picture of revenue and spending, they collect reports for more than 230 public schools in NCAA Division I.

Meyer McCaulsky
Meyer McCaulsky, a graduate student in magazine, news and digital journalism, discusses investigative sports reporting in a class with Washington Post columnist Kevin Blackistone. McCaulsky has written for, the NewsHouse and—like all the students in the class—had recent credits in USA TODAY for data journalism work. Undergraduate students Micah Goldstein and Sean Manzella look on. (Photo by Leigh Vo)

The grant will also support research using the data, as well as the Newhouse School’s first postdoctoral fellow, who will work with other scholars and Ph.D. students to develop a research agenda and publishable work.

In addition, the project provides user-friendly features to help professional journalists and researchers access college sports data. The downloadable data includes detailed revenue and expenses as well as interactive charts and graphs identifying trends among schools, conferences and subdivisions. The website is unique in its tracking of athletics debt, accessibility, visual explanations and custom reports.

This effort and related projects provide benefits and opportunities for Newhouse students. Students in the sports data course will also get credit in a USA TODAY article this spring for their data work monitoring the money in college sports. Additionally, two sports journalism students who have experience with open records and data will have the opportunity to intern at USA TODAY and Gray TV this summer. Developing student expertise with these data have led to other projects, such as a recent USA TODAY article on women’s basketball coach pay equity and today’s investigative story detailing Title IX shortfalls that have led to inequities in spending between men’s and women’s sports 50 years after the law was passed.

The database project continues work started by the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, a Knight Foundation-funded group created in 1989 to strengthen the educational mission of college sports. The commission has a legacy of influencing major policy changes, including athlete graduation benchmarks in order to participate in championship games and revising revenue distribution to include financial incentives for graduation outcomes.

“We are excited that this new partnership will greatly enhance financial transparency at this pivotal moment in Division I college sports,” says Knight Commission CEO Amy Privette Perko. “Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about college sports finances, and understanding the finances is critical to developing solutions for the future.”

The Knight-Newhouse College Athletics Database can be found at Stay up-to-date on the project on Twitter via #KnightNewhouseData.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
We are social investors who support democracy by funding free expression and journalism, arts and culture in community, research in areas of media and democracy, and in the success of American cities and towns where the Knight brothers once published newspapers. Learn more at and follow @knightfdn on social media.

Faculty-student research team will examine media portrayal of Native Americans

Representations of indigenous populations in the news media is the focus of a funded research project spearheaded by Hector Rendon, assistant professor of communications at the Newhouse School.

Hector Rendon

The project, to be conducted from January to May, is funded by a grant from the Syracuse Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Engagement (The SOURCE).

Rendon will hire two undergraduate students to help conduct research about representations of indigenous populations in TV news stories. Examining the country’s four major news networks—ABC News, NBC News, FOX News and CNN—the team will seek to identify patterns of news media coverage of indigenous populations, and compare specific patterns of Native American representations among networks.

“This is a great opportunity for undergraduate students from Newhouse who want to develop research skills,” Rendon says. “I believe that this kind of project, focused on social justice, can have a positive impact on the students’ careers, and also on the community, because this will help us further our understanding about how Native American populations are generally portrayed by the news industry.”

Once the team finishes the research project, Rendon says the intention is for the study to be published in an academic journal with the student researchers as co-authors. “Publishing in an academic journal while still at the undergraduate level will give our students a great advantage in their careers,” Rendon says.

The SOURCE’s mission is to foster and support diverse undergraduate participation in faculty-guided scholarly research and creative inquiry. Student participants progress from training in research or other creative skills to designing and revising the structure of their projects to research, creative and professional contributions that are original and timely.

STUDY: Media and Modern Racism: Understanding Anti-Asian Attitudes and Behaviors During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Lars Willnat

Lars Willnat


John Ben Snow Endowed Research Chair

Who worked on the project?

Jian Shi, doctoral student and Lars Willnat, John Ben Snow Research Professor.

What was the focus of the project?

According to a recent report by Stop AAPI Hate, more than 9,000 anti-Asian incidents have been reported across the United States since the coronavirus pandemic began. These anti-Asian incidents represented about 16% of all reported hate crimes in 2020, making Asian Americans the third-most racially targeted group, following black Americans and Jewish Americans (Donlevy, 2020).

In light of this unprecedented rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, our study examines how exposure to partisan news media and the growing political polarization of the American public might affect xenophobia toward Asian Americans through perceptions of symbolic and realistic threat.

What questions did your project seek to address? What were the research questions, hypotheses, etc?

We argue that the consistent media coverage of President Trump’s attacks on China and his frequent use of discriminatory terms such as “Chinese virus” or “Kung Flu” has boosted anti-Asian attitudes by increasing perceived levels of symbolic and realistic threats associated with Asian Americans. Specifically, we hypothesize that the news media can “prime” audiences to stigmatize Asian Americans through repeated displays of prejudicial text and images of Asian Americans.

We also argue that this mediated stigmatization is associated with higher levels of perceived symbolic (values or beliefs) and realistic (economic and physical well-being) threat coming from Asian Americans, which, in turn, might increase anti-Asian attitudes.

What were your findings?

The study is based on a national online survey with 1,200 randomly selected U.S. adults conducted in August 2021.

Our findings indicate that exposure to news about the pandemic on Fox News and social media was associated with higher levels of anti-Asian stigmatization related to the pandemic.

What do you think are the implications for the discipline/profession?

As predicted, this mediated anti-Asian stigmatization significantly boosted participants’ perceptions of realistic and symbolic threats coming from Asian Americans, which, in turn, increased respondents’ racist and hostile attitudes toward Asian Americans. Specifically, more than one-fifth of respondents expressed that they had sometimes or frequently felt fear, nervousness, or discomfort toward people of Asian descent.

This study has received a 2021 CUSE Grant.

Newhouse Professor is part of a research team examining media literacy in the U.S.

Communications scholar and Newhouse faculty member Srividya Ramasubramanian is part of a diverse team of researchers, educators, professionals and activists who conducted a yearlong research project, “Mapping Impactful Media Literacy Practice.”


The resulting report, “Equity and Impact in Media Literacy Practice: Mapping the Field in the United States,” has been published by the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE), along with the “Field Guide for Equitable Media Literacy Practice.”

The project consisted of a scoping review of existing research, stakeholder interviews and a survey, which drew 741 respondents from a range of organizations who engage in a diverse set of practices.

The research was led by three core questions:

“This is one of the most comprehensive research projects on equity, impact and media literacy in the U.S.,” Ramasubramanian says. “Equity is often overlooked within media literacy research. However, it is important to recognize that social inequities shape differential impacts of media literacy practices on individuals and communities. I am most excited about the research-driven ‘Field Guide to Equitable Media Literacy Practices,’ which is a self-paced interactive map to guide those interested in learning more.”

Key findings from the report will be presented at a virtual event Oct. 28 at 5 p.m. ET.

Ramasubramanian is the Newhouse Professor, an endowed chair position. She is widely recognized for her pioneering work on race and media, media literacy initiatives, implicit bias reduction and scholar-activism. She is editor-in-chief of Communication Monographs, the flagship journal of the discipline.

$1.8M NSF grant supports the study of technology’s impact on journalism

Keren Henderson

Keren Henderson, associate professor of broadcast and digital journalism at the Newhouse School, is part of a research team studying the impact of technology on journalism. The work is supported by a $1.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Kevin Crowston, distinguished professor of information science and associate dean for research at the School of Information Studies, is principal investigator. He and Henderson are working with colleagues from Columbia University and the Stevens Institute of Technology to explore the technologies journalists use, innovations in computational journalism and how these technologies can support narrative discovery for news workers.

The grant is part of NSF’s Future of Work at the Human-Technology Frontier program, which is focused on research exploring challenges and opportunities for the future of work.

Henderson’s interest in the project comes from her previous work in the journalism industry. “As a former local TV news producer, I am excited to help journalists find innovative ways to tell important stories,” she says.

Crowston and Henderson will perform fieldwork, visiting various newsrooms to understand how journalists utilize existing computational journalism tools. After gaining a better understanding of how these technologies aid current journalism work, they will explore how future tools can accommodate journalists’ needs by partnering with their Columbia and Stevens colleagues to develop new systems for these newsrooms to try.

(Updated July 2022)