Mass media research is that part of communication research, which scientifically studies the process of mass communication and how mass media influence individuals and the society. According to R.D. Wimmer and J.R. Dominick, 'Research is an essential tool in all areas of mass media. Virtually all departments and positions in mass media are involved in research of some kind.' However, the media research is generally concerned to
1. The nature and production of media output; and
2. The way individuals interact with and respond to the content with which they are provided by the media.
Barrie Gunter has differentiated the different style and strategies of media research in terms of two perspectives: "one, message-based studies, which moved from an analysis of the content of messages to their effects on audiences; and two, audience-based studies which focused on the social characteristics environment and, subsequently, needs which audiences derived from, or brought to, the message."
The World War I prompted the need to understand the nature of propaganda. Researchers working from a stimulus-response point of view attempted to uncover the effects of the media on people.
The realization by advertisers in the 1950s and 1960s (that research data are useful in developing ways to persuade potential customers to buy products and services) also contributed to the development of mass media research. Consequently, advertisers encouraged studies of message effectiveness, audience demographics and size, placement of advertising to achieve the highest level exposure (efficiency), frequency of advertising necessary to persuade potential customers, and selection of the medium that offered the best chance of reaching the target audience.
During the early part of the 20th century, there was no interest in the size of an audience or in the types of people who make up the audience. Since then, mass media leaders have come to rely on research results for nearly every major decision they make. The increased demand for information has created a need for more researchers, both public and private.
Research in mass media is used to verify or refute gut feelings or intuition for decision makers. Although common sense is sometimes accurate, media decision makers need additional objective information to evaluate problems, especially when they make decisions that involve large sums of money. The past 50 years have witnessed the evolution of a decision-making approach that combines research and intuition to produce a higher probability of success.
Desire to face the challenge in solving the unsolved problems or concern over practical problems within the media industry also initiates some kind of research. The concern over the impact of mass media naturally persuades to research. For example, the increasing interest of people in the effects of media in the public, especially on children, played role in increasing the research projects related to violence and sexual content in television programs. Researchers have expanded their focus to include the pro-social to anti-social effects.
Research is not limited only to decision-making situations. It is also widely used in theoretical areas to attempt to describe the media, to analyze media effects on consumers, to understand audience behavior, and so on. Every day there are references in the media to audience surveys, public opinion polls, growth projections or status reports of one medium or another, or advertising or public relations campaigns.
Businesses often need information that directly addresses their own particular situation. Therefore, they must ‘research’ or hire someone to do it for them. For example take the competition among the media for audiences and advertising revenue, which continues to reach new levels of complexity. Getting success over the competitors is of prime concern or major problem of media professionals. Proper research is essential in business today in order to maintain or gain a competitive edge. Unless you know what the customer wants, then failure is predictable. The media “survival kit” today includes information about audiences’ changing tastes and values, shifts in demographic patterns, and developing trends in lifestyles.
Statisticians, among other complex activities, generate statistical procedures, or formulas, called algorithms to investigate research questions and hypothesis. The results of this cooperative effort are used to advance our understanding of the mass media.
For example, users of radio and television ratings continually complain about the instability of ratings information. The ratings and shares for radio and television stations in a given market often vary dramatically from one survey period to the next without any logical explanation. Users of ratings periodically ask statisticians and the ratings companies to help determine why this problem occurs and to offer suggestions for making syndicated media audience information more reliable. As recently as the fall of 2001, media statisticians recommended larger samples and more refined methods of selecting respondents to correct the instability. Although the problems have not been solved, it is clear that statisticians and researchers can work together.
In order to set the advertising rates, Radio and TV stations need to know how many people tune in to their programs. Likewise, publishers of newspapers and magazines also need evidence to convince the advertisers. They need information to decide on editorial policies. Here is the research helping you to cope with your practical problems.
The increased demand for information in every field of media business has widened the scope of research. To get trustworthy knowledge there is no alternative than turning to research for answers.
Research is not done only for professional purposes. There are many evidences to prove that desire to get intellectual joy of doing some creative work, desire to be of service to the society as well as desire to get respectability are also the motivating factors to do media research. The evolution of various communication theories is not basically from the contribution of researchers who did their research with a business view, rather those engaged in basic or fundamental research has contributed mostly in this regard.
Adhikary, Nirmal Mani. Understanding Mass Media Research.1st edition. Kathmandu: Prashanti Pustak Bhandar, 2062 B.S.
Wimmer, R.D., and J.R. Dominick. Mass Media Research: An Introduction. 7th edition. Belmont: Wadsworth, 2003.
Media Studies- 5th sem