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Hinck’s research on foreign media earns him Gundersen Award

Barry McNamara
MONMOUTH, Ill. – A Monmouth College professor whose research benefits the U.S. government is the recipient of the College’s Gundersen Junior Faculty Scholarship Award.

Assistant Professor of Communication Studies Robert Hinck received the prestigious award for his groundbreaking research, which resulted in an upcoming book about the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The Gundersen Award is presented annually to a Monmouth faculty member who has fewer than four years of service and has engaged in exemplary scholarship, research or creative work. The award includes a $1,500 stipend.

Hinck is co-author of Contesting Strategic Narratives in a Global Context: The World Watches the 2016 U.S. Election. Set to be published in 2019, the work’s other co-authors are Randolph Kluver and Skye Cooley, both of whom are professors at Oklahoma State University.

The book is a product of Hinck’s grant work with the Strategic Multilayer Assessment community, which focuses on examining foreign media reporting on issues critical to U.S. strategic interests.

“My work includes collecting and translating foreign media reports – primarily from China and Russia but also Iran – in order to identify and measure the strategic narratives present in their media discourse,” said Hinck.

Insights on Chinese and Russian media

Hinck and his colleagues were working on the book long before concerns that Russia tampered with the 2016 election surfaced in the news.

“Some of our main findings were that the Chinese media played up the ‘infotainment’ elements, things like House of Cards or making analogies to Chinese dynastic period dramas they have there,” said Hinck. “The Russians were the most antagonistic, the most critical. They were positive about Donald Trump, and extremely negative about Hillary Clinton.”

As for Middle East media, said Hinck, it was “a case of the same old, same old.”

“They felt that no matter which party was in charge, the U.S. was going to look after its own interests,” he said. “The Middle East would be left to help itself.”

Hinck said there is much to be learned from understanding how foreign countries view the United States. His type of open-source intelligence analysis helps determine how the government makes sense of politics and events around the world.

“Knowing how the rest of the world understands us helps us be more receptive to foreign governments,” he said. “And if we know how China views the U.S., we can also see how China views itself. The same thing is true with Russia.”

Research motivations

Hinck has also co-authored eight peer-reviewed journal articles, two book chapters, and several encyclopedia entries and research reports. He maintains close ties with faculty in his department and with research connections outside of the College.

“They motivate me,” he said. “I try to overburden myself with research obligations, so that when I do have some down time, I know there’s a project I need to be doing.”

One of those projects was an article co-written with Monmouth communication studies colleagues Josh Hawthorne and Hayley Hawthorne, which was recently published in the Journal of Public Deliberation.

In the spring semester, Hinck plans to implement independent study work for select Monmouth students.

“I plan to set up a study of Chinese media and Russian media and train the students in the research method behind it,” Hinck said. “The goal is to give them research to present on campus in April at the Conference of Undergraduate Research and Scholarship, sponsored by Monmouth’s Midwest Journal of Undergraduate Research.”

Established in 2014, the Gundersen Junior Faculty Scholarship Award was named in honor of 1968 Monmouth graduate Joan Rezner Gundersen, a noted historian who is recognized as a pioneer in the women’s studies movement.

The award was funded by visiting distinguished professor Lewis Gould, a nationally known historian and author. Its purpose – to honor and recognize scholarship and research by Monmouth tenure-track faculty early in their careers – grew out of Gould’s conviction that young Monmouth professors needed to be recognized, and that such an award would encourage them to pursue excellence.