Friday, January 18, 2019

URSP Student Lauren Back Analyzes the Discovery Channel's Shark Week Content Shift from Education to Entertainment an its Affect on Public Perception of the Program

My name is Lauren Back, I’m a senior studying Communication with a double concentration in public relations and journalism and a minor in environmental science. My research project is analyzing Discovery Channel’s Shark Week’s content shift from education to entertainment, and how it is affecting public perception of the program. To do this, I created a survey for the general public who watches Shark Week about things they have noticed or not noticed in recent programming. 

This project started when I was at home with my parents watching new episodes of Shark Week over the summer. Discovery Channel always plays reruns before the new episodes come out, and I noticed a huge difference between the reruns and the new programs. In older episodes, there was an emphasis on facts and new research, highlighting important findings. The newer shows have changed drastically, focusing on sensationalism, mock shark attacks, and false facts. Newer shows feature a lot more celebrities, and less scientists. I wanted to know if I was noticing this because of my background in media, or if this was something the everyday person would pick up on. 

On a weekly basis, I watched at least one and a half seasons of Shark Week, taking notes on things I noticed and changes that were happening. I also worked with the Institutional Review Board (IRB), to create my survey that was sent out to the general public. I had to identify groups and places I could send my survey in order to get enough responses. 

Long-term, I’m hoping to work in science communication. I’m hoping to stay at George Mason to get my master’s in strategic communication. My plan is to research shark ecotourism in the U.S versus in other countries where it’s wildly successful. I want to find ways the U.S. could improve its shark diving industry, and if Shark Week’s programs being mostly abroad has anything to do with people not shark diving in the U.S. as frequently as in places featured on Shark Week. 

I’ve discovered so much through this project. I’ve hit a lot of road blocks, so I learned how to adapt and change things as necessary. I also learned that it’s okay not to be 100% sure before jumping into a project. I had no idea if I was right or wrong when this started, but my mentor Dr. Richard Craig helped me to trust my gut and to push myself.