1. 1.      Strengths and Weaknesses of Media Ethnography as Media Audience Research

Media ethnography as media audience research has its strengths and weaknesses. The mostly, the weaknesses tend to outshine the strengths and this is the reason why its popularity still depends on theories. The work of an ethnographer is to develop close relationships with individuals in the field. Dedicating time to work away from home and the station one works at demands a lot of commitment and this is likely to impact the research positively or negatively. As recent researches have suggested, the general outcome of fieldwork is the development of closeness between an ethnographer and the informants in the field.

            Weaknesses: Becker (1998) carried out a media ethnography research at the Corner Street Society upon which he faced several weaknesses of his study. Initially he was undertaking the study to find out what kind of media content people in this area were interested in listening to, watching or reading. As time went on, the weakness of is study started to come out; fist of all he was supposed to have informants who he would work with from the society who were responsible for taking him around the community. What started as professional research turned into a game of chances upon which he started developing unnecessary closeness with one his informants. The informant convinced him that he was safe with her and that they could visit places in order undertake further research. What he didn’t realize about the weakness of his study was that, it was going to be time consuming, and in order to get enough information and data out of the study he had to live around the place for a long time. (Becker, 1998)

            Becker started his research with some information and the goal of his study as classified information that he was not willing to share with anyone. With time, relationship with an informant blossomed and he could disclose and/or ask for advice form the informant. Generally the weakness of media ethnography as media research is that it cannot be undertaken with short spans of time. The goal of the study and the information that is regarded as classified tend to get tot the other party if boundaries are not manned well. As time goes on and the researcher gets acquainted to the lifestyle of the people he/she is researching, there is likelihood that he/she would lose his/her focus towards the work. Other commitments may be prioritized that are not research related.

            Clifford (2004) with his wife Joanne decided to take similar study as Becker did. They took their study in a remote community in the highly contested Diamond region of Sierra Leon. As they got there, their main goal was to research about media to the people to the people of the area. One weakness of their research is that they focused too much to the task at hand and forgot to research on other factors. As long as they never asked about the area no one among the informants seems to want to give details of what happened to the area. Too much focus on the research work blurred their conscious and they didn’t care a lot about the people of that community nor themselves. (Clifford, 2004)

            By choosing to forego caution and overcommitting themselves to the research, war broke out between that community and another community over the diamond mines. The other community had rebels helping them and given the ever existing saga about Sierra Leon’s blood diamonds, their presence there threatened the lives of the community even more. Despite the fact that there was going to be war in that area, what bothered the area residents was the presence of Clifford and his wife during that time. The main weakness of media ethnography fromClifford’s story is too much focus on details about one thing while living behind another equally important aspect. As much as researcher would love to take their time in focusing to the work, their presence in the field poses equal threat to their work as it benefits them once it is done.

Strengths: Taking into account the above stories of Clifford (2004) and Becker (1998), it is likely that researcher have the upper hand of using media ethnography as media audience research due to the fact they get the information first hand from the community or society they are investigating. Time is a factor and resource that counts in this kind of research, the longer the time taken in the filed, the more precise data a researcher would end up with. The better the data one has, the more accurate and reliable their analysis becomes. With all other factors kept constant, allocating enough time to conduct the research yields better results than when time is limited and this means the general nature of media ethnography on time is strength by itself.

            When is focus too much focus? As we have seen what happened to Becker (1998), one can get easily distracted from his work or goal when conducting research. On the Clifford (2004) case; paying too much attention on the subject matter and goal of the research may be harmful. The only mistake that Clifford and his wife, Joanne, did was ignoring the fact of safety. If at all they took their research to another community that didn’t have disputes with another, their attention on the work would have paid off. Researchers undertake these studies with one thing in mind, proving their point or unclear theories. The strengths of media ethnography as media audience research lies mostly on the fact that the researcher gets a chance to face the audience itself and dedicate his/her time asking and observing about the activities related to the research.

            The nature of some situations does not always come clean to the reader or researcher on whether it carries weakness of strength towards the research. When ethnographers go to the field to conduct heir study, they are obligated to provide the participants with information as to why they are conducting the research, the kind of information they require from the participants. It is up to the researcher to choose the participants and convince them to participate fully. Would this situation be classified as strength of the research or a weakness? Still at the same situation, it is the choice of the participant to choose whether he/she would like to participate fill or partially. The suggested participant may be the one who understands and speaks the language of the researcher, declining to participate in the research means that the whole idea and goal of the researcher falls in jeopardy. The fact that the researcher’s fate lies on the level of cooperation of the participants shows the level of weakness media audience research has relative to media ethnography research. (Becker, 1998; Clifford, 2004)

  1. 2.      Types of Studies That Demonstrate Diverse Nature of Media Audience Formations

Age-Specific Studies

            Hall (2002) conducted study whose aim was to distinguish the preference of media content among different age groups. The other aim of the study was to demonstrate the different formations of media audiences. Taking the study to both urban and up country areas, Hall, discovers that age played a significant role when it came to the fact of showcasing media audience diversity in formations. Ethnicity, tastes and preferences were emerging issues that counted but to a minimal degree.

In New York, Hall (2002), conducted his age-specific study at work places, colleges, high schools and 5th grade institutions upon with the age estimates ranged as follows; 4-12, 13-17, 18-22 and 23-and above respectively. Age 23 and above was assumed to be the dominant population age group in work places. Age 18-22 was assumed to be the dominant age group in the universities and colleges. Age 13-17 was expected to be the dominant age group in  high school. Age  4-12 was expected to be the dominant age group in the all classes before high school.

 The result of  this study showed that New York dwellers of age 23 and above provided the highest number of written media audience with only a few confessing that they hated reading. Above 80 percent of the possible 13,000 participants belonging to this age group admitted to have a liking in reading rather than listening or watching. The remaining 20 percent admitted not to have specific form of media that they preferred better that the other. Proceeding to the next age group comprising mostly of university and college students, is was found out that above 90 percent liked audio visual media better than reading. The remaining 10 percent were distributed roughly amongst the rest of media forms. There was no significant difference between the age groups of 4-12 and 13-17 because they seemed to like same kind of media forms with only slight difference arising in terms preference, taste and seasons. With preferences, some claimed to like audio media only while others like audio visual more. In terms of tastes, despite liking the same form of media, some claimed to like music or TV programs that were of certain nature and those which reflected on their ethnicity. (Hall, 2002)

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The level of sophistication between the urban dwellers and the up country dweller differed moistly in taste. Up country dweller of age 5-10 like cartoons on TV upon which language didn’t matter. Age 11-20 liked cartoon with language a contributing factor. Age 20-30 liked to listen to music and watch only specific programs on the TV. Age 30 and above like to read newspapers and books of wisdom during the limited time scale they had due to commitment to their work.

Location-Specific Studies

            A location-specific study is a study that shows the influence of people and the nature of media audience by specifically researching within geographical criteria. Location in this context refers to the exact social setting an individual belongs to. Different cultures are situated in different geographical area and belong to different social setting. For instance, an urban Chinese man would be working in an office of a technological firm. His preferred media would be audio because of the fact he must dedicate his vision to doing his job. An upcountry Chinese man would be somewhere tending to his farm or at the coast fishing. While at home he would like to watch television and listen to radio at the same time to know the state of finance in order to estimatethe worth of his farm products. The nature of media content that the urban and the upcountry man choose depends on their location. This factor is brought by the fact that social setting of both differ. The urban guy listens to music as he works to keep his focus. The upcountry guy listens and watches so that he could know the sate of affairs in the finance sector. (Nespor, 1997)

Sex-Specific Studies

The media tend to air anything that they presume it will interest it audience. This is not the fact and the realization of this has led to sex-specific studies. Generally, what do men like to listen or watch? What is liked by both women and men? What do women like to watch and listen to. These are the questions that push the media personnel into conducting research; first to know what the margin of their audience is and distinguish how the sexes fair. Sometimes there could be a balance between the number of men and the number of women listening, watching, or reading the media content of a certain media house. The aim of the research at this level is to evaluate the reason why other media houses have a larger audience than they do; why in there are more men than women in their audience; how they could make women be interested to their content.

When media address issues or focuses more on content that reflects the preferences of one sex, it is likely that the other sex would be left out and in the long run there would be a decline of audience margin of that sex. To balance the score of sexes in the media audience of a particular media house, it is the duty of the researchers to conduct studies whose aim would be to acknowledge what each sex likes. Women like fashion, so there is a chance that in a city of 2 million women, 70 percent would buy fashion magazines, watch fashion shows on television or attend fashion exhibitions. If the above situation is the business strategy of a media house to lure women into being their audience, men would be left out and this would force the men to find some other media that addresses their issues. (Rabinow, 1977)

  1. 3.      Theories and Research Methods Used To Investigate Audience Formations

Theoretically speaking, research methods that distinguish the researcher form the participant are not as productive as those where the researcher merges in with the participants. It is the role of the researcher when investigating about media audience to make sure that he/she keeps cover of his goals. During research, most participants  tend to get biased in one way or another to impress the researcher. Without the knowledge of whether one is a researcher, participants are likely to give correct information on the subject matter. With this in mind, researchers tend to take advantage of the situation to use observation as one method research to get the information they want. In order to conduct research effectively in any environment where people are mostly busy, the researcher may seek to work around that place. For example, the researcher may enroll in a college so that he conducts his study as a student. It would be easier and much more effective if the freedom of movement and interactions is not limited in anyway. (Holsti, 1983)

Once working or learning in the field he/she intends to research on, a researcher would have to be discreet about privacy infringement of the other participants or parties within the field. Research is a sensitive undertaking that should be carried out professionally. This is becausefinding work in certain institution or government office in order to research about the formation of media audience; has the potential of being confused with spying. Volunteering to be a teacher for a year, volunteering to work as an assistance nurse in a hospital, choosing to work with or as an intern in an IT firm are some of the activities that can bring the researcher close to the information. The purpose of this is to effectively conduct specific types of studies.

Once inside these places, researcher would engage the people they are either learning or working with in some form of conversations. By talking to people, watching them and the activities they do, reading reports and available records helps the researcher to compile the data. The views of the people according the nature of research related questions the researcher asks, reflect to the goal of the researcher. In the analysis process it is the responsibility of the researcher to classify the data, to fit his or her criterion. (John, 1963)

  1. 4.      First Hand Experience of Media Research Practices and Their Strengths and Weakness

The focus of researchers on one aspect in their studies tends to conflict with the general factors that influence the audience. Media ethnography is an example of media research practices that are mostly used. By undertaking research within specific ethnic boundaries, it is possible that the data collected does not reflect the views of the entire audience. More specifically is the issue of people not knowing what they actually want in media; so if a media audience researcher or ethnographer encounters such people, the accuracy of the data provided may be unreliable.

Recently, a group of four and I conducted a researcher with which we aimed at identifying the margin of audience that watched ABC (American Broadcasting Channel). The five of us set off to the Manhattan District of New York. The method we embarked to conduct the research using was interview and observing, the main weakness of this media research practice was the language barrier of most of the people we assumed would be potential participants. Another weakness of this practice was the fact that all depended on us to earn trust of the participants. Given the cultural diversity of the people living in Manhattan, interpretation of our questions was mostly incorrect by the participants. Venturing into research that requires human involvement as the only source of information is faced with challenges of language, interpretation and lack of trust between the researcher and the participant. (Krippendorf, 1975)

  1. 5.      Equipping, Evaluating, Analyzing and Planning Audience Research Initiatives

            When media audience research is to be conducted, researchers should be able to come up with a plan that would render the research successful once it is completed. In the planning of this kind of research, the researchers need to do a background check on previous research; whether conducted by them or not. A schedule is then drafted in which it is fair to all members of the research team. Finally on the aspect of planning, the target group has to be established and any emerging issues that may arise in the field be addressed.

            The team has to be equipped. Equipment here refers to tools of data collection. Questionnaires, audio recorders, video cameras and calculators are some of the equipmentrequired in this research.

            Evaluation and Analyzation should use accurate data that can be verified by each team member as valid and accurate. When evaluating, different members of the team should ensure that data used is correctly entered and that records are neat. Analyzation uses the evaluated data and is supposed to be done with caution. Different members of the research team can do this so that the final compilation of the research related report does not bear false information.

            Records should clearly distinguish assumptions from facts, purposive from theoretical, statistical from speculated forms of data. By being careful with these points of organized data entry, data presentation and understanding becomes easier for the presenter and his/her audience respectively. (Journalism Quarterly, 1978)

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