Dissertation focused on local digital journalism earns Davis Award

April 26, 2021

A dissertation by a graduate of Colorado State University earned this year’s Penn State Davis Ethics Award, which annually recognizes the best ethics-related dissertation successfully defended each year in the fields of communication and media.

Rhema Zlaten of the Department of Journalism and Media Communications at Colorado State won the award for her dissertation titled “Autonomy in Local Digital Journalism: A Mixed-Method Triangulation Exploration of the Organizational Culture and Individual Moral Psychology Factors of Digital News Workers.” Her work uses ethnographic and survey approaches to explore the moral judgments, journalistic norms and organizational dynamics of a hybrid local news outlet to assess journalistic autonomy as news business models shift. Zlaten is now an assistant professor in mass communication at Colorado Mesa University.

For this year’s award, a panel of three independent media ethics scholars separately judged the dissertation award applications, all of which were prepared for blind review. Among the reviewer comments for Zlaten’s work were:

“I was impressed with the amount of effort and triangulation of methods. This dissertation involved participant observation for a year, interviews, and administering survey instruments. [The] methods were rigorously conducted.”

“The findings are organized and thorough, with ample ‘thick description’ supporting the interpretations made and appropriate inferences drawn from the quantitative component of the study. The discussion chapter does a good job of situating the findings in the existing literature, with theoretical and practical implications explained.” 

This is the third year for the Davis Award. Previous recipients were Philip Todd of Oklahoma University and Anita Varma of Stanford University. The Davis Award provides a $1,000 honorarium and a fully supported future guest-lecture visit to the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications at Penn State. Zlaten also will be invited to give a virtual presentation based on her dissertation by the Media Ethics Division at the annual conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication in August.

  • Rhema Zlaten headshot

    Rhema Zlaten

    IMAGE: Photo Provided
Last Updated April 26, 2021