Abstracts from recent publications


Tully, M., & Vraga, E. K. (2018). A mixed-methods approach to examining the relationship between news media literacy and political efficacy. International Journal of Communication, 12, 766–787.

Employing a convergent parallel design that combines an experiment and interviews, this study examined the relationship between news media literacy (NML) and political efficacy. The experiment tested the effect of exposure to NML messages on self-perceived media literacy and political efficacy beliefs. Experimental results suggest that NML messages influence self-perceived media literacy, which mediates political efficacy. This study also used interviews to explore how people apply NML skills to their news consumption and the relationship between news media literacy and political efficacy. The experimental and interview findings give us a more complete understanding of the complex relationship between NML and political efficacy and offer insight into the kinds of NML interventions that could be developed using theoretically and empirically validated findings.

Young, R., Tully, M., & Dalrymple, K. E. (2018). #Engagement: Use of Twitter chats to construct nominal participatory spaces. Information, Communication & Society, 21, 499–515. doi: 10.1080/1369118X.2017.1301518 (originally published online in 2017)

Although Twitter chats and other forms of social media engagement events are idealized in the literature as opportunities for dialogic communication between organizations and individuals, less is known about how engagement is operationalized within these spaces. Using textual and content analysis, we conducted two studies to explore how health organizations engage with the public via Twitter chats during the Ebola and Zika outbreaks. In official records of Ebola chats, the organization addressed both hostile and neutral public questions that pressed for specification of disease characteristics and protocol. However, in a content analysis of all public tweets sent during a later Zika chat, we found that questions were privileged, and other tweet forms and themes were excluded from the participatory space. Specifically, public comments demonstrating expertise or extending the topic of the chat were not addressed by the organization. Our analysis provides insight into the implicit rules governing how organizations engage with the public online during a rapidly evolving health crisis. We argue that the question–response dyad is a form of ideal communication that suggests engagement but maintains organizational expertise.


Tully, M., Harmsen, S., Singer, J. B., & Ekdale, B. (2017). Case study shows disconnect on civic journalism’s role. Newspaper Research Journal, 38, 484–496. doi: 10.1177/0739532917739881

This in-depth case study examines attempts to transform a traditional newsroom to one oriented around civic journalism principles, offering a unique look at the resistance toward those principles even in a digital environment that facilitates new audience relationships. Civic journalism emphasizes understanding and addressing community concerns from a citizen perspective. This study finds that journalists still struggle to integrate citizens’ contributions into newsroom practice in meaningful ways.

Tully, M., & Vraga, E. K. (2017). Who experiences growth in news media literacy and why does it matter? Examining education, individual differences, and democratic outcomes. Journalism & Mass Communication Educator. Advance online publication.  doi: 10.1177/1077695817706572

Developing news media literacy skills is recognized as an important part of becoming an informed citizen, but not enough research examines how growth in media literacy differs by individual characteristics. Using a panel study of undergraduate students, we examine which predispositions predict growth in news media literacy beliefs over the semester. We then test whether growth in news media literacy leads individuals to more highly value and engage in heterogeneous political discussion, a critical part of a functioning democracy. Our results suggest some individuals experience more growth in news media literacy, and that growth contributes to democratic attitudes and behaviors.

Tully, M., & Vraga, E. K. (2017). Effectiveness of a news media literacy advertisement in partisan versus nonpartisan online media contexts. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 61(1), 144–162. doi: 10.1080/08838151.2016.1273923

Moving media literacy messages out of the classroom and onto the Internet, where much news consumption happens, offers an opportunity to extend media literacy education to a wider public. However, in doing so it becomes important to consider how the context in which such messages are seen conditions their impact on media literacy attitudes and knowledge. The results of an experimental test suggest that a media literacy public service announcement was more effective in reinforcing media literacy beliefs when paired with a partisan, rather than a neutral, political program. The effects of presenting media literacy messages outside of the classroom are discussed.

Tuwei, D., & Tully, M. (2017). Producing communities and commodities: Safaricom and commercial nationalism in Kenya. Global Media and Communication, 31(1), 21–39. doi: 10.1177/1742766517694471

This research analyses Safaricom, one of the most established mobile operators in Kenya. Alongside the provision of mobile services, Safaricom has closely engaged with the government of Kenya, even getting involved in the nation’s politics. This study examines Safaricom’s advertisements from 2010-2014 to explore its use of national sentiment in its marketing. We argue that the ads reflect a commitment to promoting the country and its products through discourses of ‘commercial nationalism’, which present Safaricom as a driver of economic growth and development in Kenya. These discourses link Kenyan identity and distinctiveness to consumerism, commercial and economic success, profit and upward social mobility.

Walkner, T. J., Weare, A. M., & Tully, M. (2017). “You get old. You get invisible”: Social isolation and the challenge of communicating with aging women. Journal of Women & Aging. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1080/08952841.2017.1304785

Social isolation is a problem facing many older women. Isolation can contribute to poor health as adults age without social support. Increased and tailored communication offers service organizations more opportunities to provide social support to these adults. This research examines perceptions of aging to explore communication behaviors, barriers, and opportunities for improved communication and service provision for aging women. Using data from focus groups and interviews, this study finds that participants from community organizations rely on word of mouth and traditional media to communicate with their aging constituents, despite opportunities to use digital communication and to develop communication plans for this population.

Young, R., Tully, M., & Ramirez, M. (2017). School administrator perceptions of cyberbullying facilitators and barriers to preventative action: A qualitative study. Health Education & Behavior, 44(3), 476–484. doi: 10.1177/1090198116673814

Background. Schools are often held responsible for preventing or addressing cyberbullying, yet little is known about school administrator perceptions of cyberbullying and the challenges they face in addressing this public health issue. Aims. The goal of this study is to examine school administrators’ perceptions of the facilitators of cyberbullying and barriers to primary and secondary prevention strategies. Method. Public school administrators (N = 36) participated in in-depth interviews about bullying and discussed their experiences with cyberbullying and their perceptions of cyberbullying facilitators and barriers to prevention. Results. Three main themes arose from the analysis: (1) cyberbullying as a major challenge; (2) facilitators of cyberbullying and barriers to preventive action, including parents and technology; and (3) prevention efforts, including unclear jurisdiction for action, primary versus secondary prevention efforts, and technology attributes that facilitate school response to bullying. Discussion. Although administrators perceive cyberbullying as a major challenge facing their schools, they are often unsure about appropriate primary and secondary prevention efforts. Relationships with parents and police complicate response and prevention as schools attempt to navigate unclear jurisdiction. Additionally, technology presents a challenge to schools because it is seen as an enabler of cyberbullying, a facilitator of prevention, and a necessary part of education efforts. Conclusion. Lack of research on prevention strategies, parents’ knowledge and attitudes, and confusion about responsibility for addressing cyberbullying are barriers to action. Findings suggest administrators could benefit from additional clarity on which strategies are most effective for primary prevention of cyberbullying, and that prevention strategies should proactively involve parents to promote effective collaboration with schools.


Tully, M., & Tuwei, D. (2016). We are one Kenya: Representations of the nation, leadership, and de-ethnicized identity on reality TV. Media, Culture & Society, 38(8), 1119–1135. doi: 10.1177/0163443716635868

This research analyzes Uongozi, a massive multimodal civic education campaign that culminated in the Uongozi reality television show, situating the campaign within its sociopolitical context. Our analysis suggests that Uongozi framed and promoted a version of leadership that is tied to an idealized progressive, youth leader despite the lack of quality youth ‘candidates’ on the show. The campaign also endorsed a message of national unity and identity, articulated through the promotion of a nonethnic collective Kenyan identity. Uongozi contributed to a larger pre-election narrative promulgated through mass media efforts that encouraged Kenyans to move beyond ethnicity in their voting and participate in a peaceful election.

Vraga, E. K., & Tully, M. (2016). Effective messaging to communicate news media literacy concepts to diverse publics. Communication and the Public, 1(3), 305–322. doi: 10.1177/2057047316670409

In an evolving news environment, our understanding and application of “news media literacy” must also evolve to equip individuals with the skills to critically engage with news and participate in public life. Using an experimental design, this study tests different news media literacy messages to determine whether certain messages appeal to some groups over others and whether their effectiveness depends on the media context in which they are consumed by pairing these messages with a clip from The Daily Show. Our findings suggest that different news media literacy messages were seen as successful in conveying their message and promoting political engagement, but these effects also depend on media context and audience characteristics. This study fills a gap by developing and testing realistic news media literacy messages for their democratic potential.

Vraga, E. K., & Tully, M. (2016). Effectiveness of a non-classroom news media literacy intervention among different undergraduate populations. Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, 71(4), 440–452. doi: 10.1177/1077695815623399

In this study, we test the effectiveness of a short news media literacy message with audiences who differ in their media literacy education. We manipulate whether individuals are exposed to a news media literacy public service announcement (PSA) immediately before viewing a political program among two groups: students enrolled in media education courses versus students in a non-media course. Findings suggest that the ability of media literacy messages to influence students’ processing of the subsequent political program is conditioned by their preexisting media literacy education. This study provides insights for considering how classroom and nonclassroom media literacy interventions can work together to improve media literacy.

Dalrymple, K. E., Young, R., & Tully, M. (2016). “Facts, not fear”: Negotiating uncertainty on social media during the 2014 Ebola crisis. Science Communication, 38(4), 442–467. doi: 10.1177/1075547016655546

Trust in many government organizations is low, creating a challenging environment for communication during outbreaks of emerging infectious diseases, like Ebola. In a thematic analysis of 1,010 tweets and four Twitter chats during the 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak, we found that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention emphasized organizational competence, extant protocol, and facts about transmission to manage public fear. We argue that an emphasis on certainty in a rapidly changing situation leaves organizations vulnerable to charges of unpreparedness or obfuscation. Our results also speak to the contested definition of engagement online, particularly during health crises.


Tully, M. (2015). Investigating the role of innovation attributes in the adoption, rejection, and discontinued use of open source software for development. Information Technologies & International Development, 11(3), 55–69. (download here; open access)

Drawing on technology adoption research, particularly diffusion of innovations, this article analyzes organizational adoption decisions of a new ICT by organizations in Nairobi, Kenya. Through a multi-case study and interviews with potential adopters, this research assesses the influence of perceived innovation attributes on adoption decisions regarding the Ushahidi Platform, a tool designed for collecting, aggregating, and mapping information. Findings suggest that perceptions of trialability and observability, two attributes that have been found to be less predictive in past research, were influential in the decision process. Additionally, perceived flexibility is added to the list of attributes that should be considered, particularly for analyzing the adoption of free and open source technology.

Vraga, E. K., & Tully, M. (2015). Media literacy messages and hostile media perceptions: Processing of nonpartisan versus partisan political information. Mass Communication and Society, 18(4), 422–448. doi: 10.1080/15205436.2014.1001910 (available here or email me for a copy)

Partisans are poor judges of news content, rating neutral content as biased against their views (the hostile media perception) and forgiving biased content when it favors their side. This study tests whether a short news media literacy public service announcement appearing before political programming can influence credibility and hostility ratings of the program and program host. Our findings suggest that a media literacy PSA can be effective, but its impact depends on the position of the news program and on the political ideology of the viewers. In this case, the media literacy PSA only influenced conservatives’ evaluations of the political program, improving perceptions of a neutral or congruent (conservative) host while further depressing ratings of an incongruent (liberal) host. Liberals’ evaluations of the program were unaffected by the PSA. Implications for media literacy messaging and information processing are discussed.

Ekdale, B., Tully, M., Harmsen, S. & Singer, J. B. (2015). Newswork within a culture of job insecurity: Producing news amidst organization and industry uncertainty. Journalism Practice, 9(3), 383–398. doi: 10.1080/17512786.2014.963376 (available here or email me for a copy)

Rapid change in the news industry and the prevalence of layoffs, buyouts, and closings have led many newsworkers to experience job insecurity and worry about their long-term futures in journalism. Our research uses a case study of employees at an independently owned media company in the United States to explore the various ways newsworkers respond to this culture of job insecurity and how their responses affect efforts to change news practices. Findings demonstrate that those who believe their jobs are at risk are unlikely to change their practices and even some who perceive job security are reticent to initiate change. As a result, the culture of job insecurity in the news industry has a limiting effect on changes to journalism practice.


Tully, M., & Ekdale, B. (2014). Sites of playful engagement: Twitter hashtags as spaces of leisure and development in Kenya. Information Technologies & International Development, 10(3), 67–82. (download here; open access)

Through an analysis of popular Kenyan hashtags on Twitter, we argue that everyday leisure and entertainment practices interact with development and civic engagement in Kenya. This research draws from participation in the Kenyan Twittersphere, analysis of spaces created by hashtags, and fieldwork conducted in Nairobi between 2009 and 2012. Through hashtags, Kenyans on Twitter unite against perceived government corruption, respond to media misrepresentations of their country, share jokes, and participate in global conversations. We argue that sites emerge through the interaction of playful and serious content and that these sites should be examined within ICTD research. Playful activities should not be dismissed as irrelevant to development, as everyday use of Twitter is often imbued with topics tied to social, political, and economic development.

Tully, M. (2014). Conflict resolution and reconciliation through recognition: Assessing an integrated peace media strategy in Kenya. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 42(1), 41–59. (available here or email me for a copy)

This research analyzes a peace media initiative in Kenya designed to promote conflict resolution and reconciliation in the months following the 2007 post-election violence. This multifaceted intervention featured a 19-episode television talk show that aired in Kenya for six months; a series of open-air screenings of the show; and workshops held in eight areas heavily affected by the violence. Using criteria for evaluating “media for peace,” I evaluate the effectiveness of the program strategy and provide recommendations for practitioners and researchers (Becker, 2004; Fisher, 1990). Based on interview data, and analysis of internal documents and the talk show, I assess the program’s effectiveness and offer suggestions, which can be used by both practitioners and academics interested in peace media. In addition, the findings suggest that recognition of the other was an important part of the conflict resolution process as workshop members recognized their “enemies” and Kenyans from disparate parts of the country as similar to themselves in their experience of the violence. This research contributes to our understanding of the implementation of media-for-peace initiatives using a systemic evaluation process that academics and practitioners can use when designing, implementing and researching these types of programs.

Tully, M. & Ekdale, B. (2014). The Team online: Entertainment-education, social media, and cocreated messages. Television & New Media, 15(2), 139–156. (available here or email me for a copy)

This article examines an entertainment-education program, The Team, which began airing in Kenya after the 2007–2008 postelection violence. The show promotes cooperation and national unity among Kenyans through the metaphor of Kenya as a football (soccer) team. The focus of this article is twofold: viewers’ identification with and reaction to certain morally ambiguous characters and audience members’ interaction with the program through the online social networking site Facebook. We argue that the producers’ attempt to create less didactic storylines and more complex characters resulted in unanticipated audience opposition to the death of a character the producers understood to be negative but audience members viewed as sympathetic. Second, the adoption of social media resulted in less controlled discussions in which Facebook users occasionally questioned, challenged, and sought to reshape the producers’ goals and strategies.

Ekdale, B., & Tully, M. (2014). Makmende amerudi: Kenya’s collective reimagining as a meme of aspiration. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 31(4), 283–298.  (download here; open access)

In 2010, Kenya’s first internet meme arrived in the form of a vigilante named Makmende, the action-hero-inspired protagonist of a music video. Within days of the video’s release, fans started creating Makmende tales, videos, and artwork, and circulating these works online. In this article, we analyze the Makmende phenomenon to understand why this video inspired Kenya’s first internet meme, what the meme says about contemporary Kenya and politics, and how this meme broadens our understanding of global participatory culture. We argue that a group of young, urban Kenyans seized the moment to reappropriate stereotypes of weakness into aspirations of strength as they asserted Kenya into the global conversation online. Through this meme, Makmende became more than a fictional super hero—he became a symbol of Kenya’s present and future. We situate this meme in its cultural and social context to analyze how and why Kenyans used Makmende to represent themselves. The participatory playfulness around Makmende created a meme of aspiration through which a niche of Kenyans collectively reimagined a hypermasculine hero who embodied youth hopes and visions for the country. This article draws from multiple texts about and within the Makmende meme and observational research in Kenya before, during, and after the height of the Makmende craze.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.