Academics Arts and Humanities

Enhancing the work of journalists

Two School of Communication graduate students received microgrants from the Graduate School that will allow them to gather data for their theses.
Luis Garcia Conde and Kyle Walkine

As the climate gets warmer, the propensity for extreme weather increases. This will bring stronger hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and other catastrophic weather events.

Journalists are always at the forefront of these crises. Kyle Walkine, a second-year doctoral student, instructor at the University of Miami School of Communication, and former reporter and anchor for a Bahamian television station, learned that lesson in 2019 while covering Hurricane Dorian—the monster storm that hit the Bahamas.

“The hurricane killed a lot of people,” he said. “As part of a research project, I talked to many journalists, and among the findings was that there was a very serious lack of training on how to deal with covering a catastrophic event.”

Walkine will spend the summer conducting research in the Bahamas and Jamaica to determine what training, if any, journalists receive, and what training would help them in the future.

Walkine, along with Luis Garcia Conde, another doctoral student in the School of Communication, have received microgrants from the Graduate School to conduct research that will be the basis for their doctoral theses. Both projects will add to the academic work in communication that could serve journalists in their future endeavors.    

Garcia Conde’s research will focus on the presence of journalism for social justice independent of the state and market, that has emerged over the last decade in certain regions of Latin America. He will focus on the independent online communication platform “Mutante” in Bogotá, Colombia, which covers many subjects that mainstream media do not, often because they are considered controversial. “Mutante” won the 2024 Rey de España prize for Ibero-American media, considered the Pulitzer Prize of Spanish-language journalism.

“I am very interested in identifying journalistic projects that have to do with social change and social justice,” said Garcia Conde. “I want to identify how they work, what are their values. We don’t always pay attention to those changes in academia.”

A platform like “Mutante” gives a voice to oppressed social groups and marginalized people that would otherwise not be heard, he said. Some of the topics covered by Mutante include abortion, wage gaps between men and women as well as health issues.  

Sallie Hughes, professor and chair of the Department of Journalism and Media Management who is advisor for both projects, believes that creative and dedicated journalists are rethinking and renovating how journalism can support democracy, civic participation, and cross-cultural understanding.

She is thrilled that Garcia Conde and Walkine will be pursuing research that will enhance academia’s understanding of these projects.   

“Journalism at its best has always been about the public good, but a generation of journalists around the world want to use factual, fair, and deep reporting in support of positive social change and to oppose injustice,” said Hughes. “They are especially motivated to act by the existential threats of climate change, severe and growing inequalities, and the emboldening of authoritarianism. 

“At the same time, this generation is also questioning the idea that journalism should remain distant from its audiences. They are looking for ways to bring communities into the newsroom instead of barring them at the door. New technologies and fresh ways of thinking and doing support this,” she added.   

For Walkine, the grant will allow him time to talk to reporters and editors on how they prepare for the coverage of major catastrophic events such as a devastating hurricane. He will visit three newsrooms in the Bahamas and three in Jamaica. 

“My experience has been that there should be some editorial structure and guidance for journalists,” he said. “Most journalists are expected to think on their feet and tell the story. Many of them have told me they are not trained, and they feel like they need preparation.”  

He believes that journalists can receive training that would enhance their understanding of their stories about climate change and could add context rather than parrot what they hear from the talking heads.

Hughes believes that communicating about climate change in ways that support solutions is one of the most important tasks of today's journalists. 

“Journalists can be part of humanity's response to climate change by understanding scientific information and ‘translating’ it into compelling stories that engage and teach citizens, and by spotlighting community-based responses to environmental challenges that are already happening. 

“The Caribbean is one of the most vulnerable world regions in our students' lifetimes and deserves more attention in the academic literature on environmental journalism. Kyle's project helps to remedy that,” Hughes concluded.