University of Southern California
Annenberg School for Communication


Research Areas

Crisis Communication

The level of threat and ambiguity in everyday life suggests a kind of chronic crisis condition where people need information from media (new and traditional), organizations, and neighbors, friends, and family to make sense of their worlds. This chronic crisis condition is explored in our research. For example, we have studied the effects of the closure of an important medical clinic on residents’ communication behaviors. There are, however, acute crises and we have done in-depth studies of one of them “the terrorist event of September 11, 2001 (911). When 911 occurred we were in the middle of gathering data in a telephone survey of residents in our Glendale study area in Los Angeles County. We suspended data collection due to the crisis conditions, but resumed ten days later. This allowed us to make a number of observations about the effect of 911 on people’s communication behaviors and on their level of participation in civic activities concerning the people and communities affected by 911.

In addition, we have examined the long-term effects of the 1965 and the 1992 urban disturbances in Los Angeles. Our studies use socio-spatial mapping techniques to assess residents’ level of fear and comfort in the different residential areas of Los Angeles. We find significant distortion in people’s perceptions. For example, the likelihood of crime victimization is not correlated with residents’ level of fear. Also Watts is still the epicenter of fear, even though the Watts ‘riot’ was in 1965. What seems to be happening is that television stories label some areas as safe and others an unsafe and these stories get passed along in conversations at the ‘water cooler.’

New lines of research that we are developing concern the conflicts and protests surrounding immigration issues and the relationships between racial/ethnic and new immigrant/old immigrant groups that share the same geographic space.

Research Team

- Carmen Gonzalez

- Christopher Chavez

- Elisia Cohen

- Nancy Chen

- Sandra Ball-Rokeach

- Sorin Matei

- Yong Chan Kim



Published Papers Cohen, E. L., Ball-Rokeach, S. J., Jung, J.-Y., & Kim, Y.-C. (2003). Civic actions after September 11: A communication infrastructure perspective. In A. M. Noll (Ed.), Crisis communications: Lessons from September 11 (pp. 31-43). Chicago, IL: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. Cohen, E.L., Ball-Rokeach, S.J., Jung, J. Y., & Kim, Y. C. (2002). Civic actions after September 11th: Exploring the role of multi-level storytelling. Prometheus, 20(3), 221-228. Cohen, E.L., Ball-Rokeach, S.J., Kim, Y. C., & Jung, J. Y. (2003). Storytelling September 11th: A multilevel perspective. In A.M. Noll, (Ed.), Crisis communications: Lessons from September 11 (pp. 31-45). Chicago: Rowman & Littlefield. Jung, J. & Moro, M. (2014). Multi-level functionality of social media: In the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake. Disasters, 38(S2), S123-S143. Jung, J.-Y., Toriumi, K, & Mizukoshi, S. (2013). Neighborhood storytelling networks, internet connectedness, and civic participation after the Great East Japan Earthquake. Asian Journal of Communication. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1080/01292986.2013.819930 Kim, Y.C., Ball-Rokeach, S.J., Cohen, E.L., & Jung, J.Y. (2002). Metamorphosis of civic actions post September 11th: From local storytelling networks to national action. In B. Greenberg (Ed.), Communication and terrorism (pp. 289-304). Cresskill: Hampton Press. Kim, Y.C., Jung, J., Cohen, E., & Ball-Rokeach, S.J. (2004). Internet connectedness before and after September 11, 2001. New Media and Society, 6(5), 612-632. Matei, S., & Ball-Rokeach, S. J. (2007). Communication channels, spatial stereotyping, and urban conflict: A cross-scale and spatio-temporal analysis. Journal of Dispute Resolution, 1, 195-210. Matei, S., Ball-Rokeach, S.J., & Qiu, J. (2001). Fear and misperception of Los Angeles urban space: A spatial statistical study of communication-shaped mental maps. Communication Research, 28(4), 429-463. matei_fear_CR.pdf Matei, S.A., & Ball-Rokeach, S.J. (2005). Watts, the 1965 Los Angeles riots and the communicative construction of the fear epicenter of Los Angeles. Communication Monographs, 72(3), 301-323. Matei_Ball_Rokeach_2005_Watts_The_1965_LA_Riots_Communicative_0259.pdf Matsaganis, M., & Payne, J. G. (2005). Agenda setting in a culture of fear: The lasting effects of September 11 on American Politics and Journalism. American Behavioral Scientist, 49(3), 379-392.
Papers Presented at Professional Meetings Cohen, E.L., Ball-Rokeach, S.J., & Hayden, C. (2003). South Central Los Angeles and the Westside as floating signifiers in the Los Angeles Times. Paper presented at the International Communication Association Conference, San Diego. Cohen, E.L., Ball-Rokeach, S.J., Jung, J.Y., & Kim, Y.C. (2002). Civic actions after September 11th: Exploring the role of multi-level storytelling. Paper presented to the Communications on September 11 Conference, New York. Cohen, E.L., Hayden, C., Ball-Rokeach, S.J. (2004). Floating signifiers of urban community. Paper presented to the International Communication Association Conference, New Orleans. Friedland, L. A., Napoli, P. M., Ognyanova, K., Weil, C., & Wilson III, E. J. (2012). Review of the literature regarding critical information needs of the American public. Washington, DC: Federal Communications Commission. Kim, Y.C., Ball-Rokeach, S.J., Jung, J. Y., & Cohen, E.L. (2002). Internet connectedness in a crisis: Connectors connected more after September 11th. Paper presented to the Convention Chair Sponsored Special Session, Broadcast Education Association Convention, Las Vegas. Villanueva, G. (2009). Public Responses to the 1992 Los Angeles Riots and the Transformation of the Urban Public Sphere for the 21st Century. Paper Presented at National Communication Association. Chicago, Illinois. Wilkin, H.A., Stringer, K., O'Quin, K., Hunt, K., & Montgomery, S. (2010). Should We Chase Ambulances? The Challenge of Locating Residents for a 911 (mis)use Intervention Project. Paper presented at the International Communication Association Conference. Singapore.
Dissertations Cheong, P. (2004). Media relations, threat and health problem-solving behaviors: Extension and application of communication infrastructure theory and research. Dissertation Abstracts International, 65 (09), 3202.