University of Oregon professor receives grant to study Restorative Narrative
Nicole Dahmen will spend this year studying Restorative Narrative.
We are excited to announce that University of Oregon professor Nicole Dahmen has received a grant to study Restorative Narrative — a term that Images & Voices of Hope (ivoh) coined to describe a genre of stories that show how people and communities are rebuilding and recovering in the aftermath or midst of difficult times.
Dahmen, who is an assistant professor in the School of Journalism & Communication (SOJC), is one of three faculty members who were selected for a fellowship from SOJC’s Agora Journalism Center. She’s joined by Deborah Morrison and Kim Sheehan, who will pursue different research projects.
“We received a number of excellent applications that aligned well with the center’s mission and purpose,” Andrew DeVigal, Chair in Journalism Innovation and Civic Engagement and professor of practice in the SOJC, said in a press release. “We’re excited about funding these fellowships that will help foster a culture of innovation and strengthen SOJC’s position in innovation in communication and civic engagement.”
Dahmen said she first found out about Restorative Narrative after reading a Columbia Journalism Review article about the genre. Intrigued, she decided to learn more.
“My proposed research will measure the impact of restorative narratives through theory-based study of both message construction by journalists and message impact on individuals and communities,” Dahmen told ivoh.
“Ultimately, my work intends to study Restorative Narratives within the mindset that journalism is a critical component in the response and recovery of individuals and communities following large impact events. With Restorative Narratives, journalism moves from that of simply information provider to that of community builder. And perhaps this research may find that Restorative Narratives are serving a critical journalistic function in the evolving future of journalism.”
She went on to say:
“My proposed research on Restorative Narratives is an ideal match for the Agora Journalism Center Faculty Fellowship grant, which supports innovative and impactful research at the intersection of journalism and civic life. I am honored to have been selected for the Agora Faculty Fellowship, and I look forward to working with ivoh.”
As part of her research, Dahmen will study the work of ivoh’s Restorative Narrative Fellows. Five talented journalists make up our inaugural class of fellows: the University of Oregon’s Alex Tizon, the Detroit Free Press’ Rochelle Riley, the Tampa Bay Times’ Ben Montgomery, WFYI’s Jake Harper, and the University of Cincinnati’s Elissa Yancey.
They have each received a stipend to spend six months telling Restorative Narratives in various communities. They’ll present their work at ivoh’s annual media summit this June, which is open to anyone who would like to attend.
Dahmen’s research will be an important part of ivoh’s ongoing exploration into Restorative Narrative. We believe research in general will help us get a better sense of the quantitative and qualitative impact of this genre.
We’re interested in how Restorative Narratives are received — how much traffic they generate, how often they’re shared on social media, etc. But on a deeper level, we’re also interested in how these narratives are impacting people and communities.
A growing body of research suggests that repeated exposure to traumatic news can contribute to daily stress, trigger flashbacks, and encourage fear conditioning. Research suggests that when people experience negative emotions, they become more withdrawn and less social. By contrast, when they experience positive emotions (like those in Restorative Narratives), they feel more engaged and hopeful.
Positive psychology research has also shown that resilience is an acquired skill. With that in mind, we believe that Restorative Narratives can teach people and communities what it means to be resilient, and mobilize them in ways that traditional doom and gloom stories can’t. Our founding director Judy Rodgers and Restorative Narrative Fellows coach Jacqui Banaszynski explored this notion while speaking on a panel at the New England Newspaper and Press Association conference last month.
Restorative Narratives aren’t happy-go-lucky feature stories that tie everything up at the end with a pretty bow. They explore the tragedy, problem, or crime at hand, but they move the storyline from “what happened” to “what’s possible.”
These narratives aren’t told nearly enough, but we are encouraged by the many journalists, photographers, and documentary filmmakers who have recently told us they want to start integrating Restorative Narrative into their work. More media practitioners are realizing that by telling Restorative Narratives, they can take a more balanced, holistic approach to storytelling and news coverage.
We are eager to continue developing the Restorative Narrative genre — through research, training, the fellowship, and events. We look forward to deepening our understanding of this genre, and expanding the practice of it, with Dahmen and the University of Oregon’s help.
If you’d like to contribute to ivoh’s work around Restorative Narrative, you can do so by making a tax-deductible donation here.