Friday, November 6, 2009

Owning a TV Station

It's kinda cool, and a bit retro, that my college bought a TV station.  Given our Internet age, it's as if we're living That 70's Show

But there are some interesting research possibilities in having your own station, concepts you can study by having control over content and programming.  A lot of these possibilities are beyond the scope of what people know and get into other research areas, such as management and audience studies, but I think if the folks who work with the station and video can figure out ways to manipulate programming we can better understand how people learn about certain issues -- our main topics usually being poverty and health.

How do you do that?

Not the old fashioned way, like in print, where you might randomly assign readers to different versions of stories or even editions of the newspaper.  That's hard to do with a television signal.  But the folks who do this stuff can devise a series of programs on an issue and explore how much this raises audience awareness or likelihood to seek out some health care.  Even better, from a research standpoint, they could craft webcasts where you do get real manipulation of content to explore what works and what doesn't work, hopefully something beyond the tired old studies of college sophomores sitting in a laboratory, watching TV and filling out a questionnaire.

Political learning is a bit more difficult, but I think it might be interesting to do one week of newscasts in one style, measure responses, and then do the next week in a somewhat different style, and measure responses (learning, interest, etc.).  Maybe one week could focus more on straight news, the next week on more narrative styles of storytelling, and see then which seems to work.  The stories themselves would not be equivalent -- so it's hardly a perfect experiment -- but you gain a lot in generalizability.

But the area most ripe for this kind of research is priming.  TV news, in particular, has a powerful priming effect, as was detailed at length in the excellent book, News That Matters.  I'd love to see a research program using WNEG that attacks some area -- health or public affairs or whatever -- along these conceptual lines, given the access and control one can have over content in a station owned by a mass comm program like Grady.

1 comment:

LaSonya said...

Good commentary. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

LaSonya Thompson, Esq.
New York, NY