Mass Communication Research Trends from 1980 to 1999

Article excerpt

This is a thematic meta-analysis of research trends in major mass communication journals during the 1980 to 1999 period. We analyzed study method, medium and area of focus, theoretical approach, funding source, and time period covered in research articles published in ten major mass communication journals during this twenty-year period. Predictions made about mass communication research in the 1990s were tested. We found that qualitative research methods continued to be much less common than quantitative methods throughout the period. Funding for research was relatively rare, with the university becoming the main source and private support decreasing significantly in the 1990s. The implications of such trends are discussed.

Scholars of mass communication-and indeed other fields-seem always to be interested in knowing research trends in their areas. Which methods are used most and least often? Which areas have been more or less studied? Which statistics are most and least in use? How does funding for research compare with that of other fields, and what kinds of studies are more or less likely to receive funding?

Studies published in journals provide a good, but not entirely comprehensive, data source to answer these questions. Each year hundreds of articles on a wide range of topics are published in academic communication journals. Viewing this literature from a distance, one can discern larger patterns and. trends in mass communication research. Knowing them can help researchers and students identify areas of strength and weakness, and of abundance and scarcity, in the research. Scholars may tackle topics that a meta-analysis shows have been ignored or they may refine a method to avoid problems identified in an analysis of dozens or even hundreds of individual studies.

One problem with generalizing from published journal articles to the whole mass communication field is that books, monographs, book chapters, and convention papers are excluded. Despite this drawback, many researchers argue that journal articles are a barometer of research trends1 and reflect the evolution of communication research.2 For most mass communication scholars, journal articles are the main channel for reporting current research after convention and conference papers.

Several systematic reviews or meta-analyses of mass communication journal articles have already been carried out, especially in the 1970s and 1990s.3 This monitoring has been important in a field that changes rapidly,4 but many of these studies have been limited in scope. Some have analyzed only one topic5 or one journal.6

The present thematic meta-analysis is wider in scope to provide a larger and more representative picture of recent research trends in mass communication. This study analyzes ten major mass communication journals during the decades of the 1980s and 1990s. These journals were chosen based on circulation, acceptance rate, and blind review process as the most widely read and highly esteemed in the mass communication field. The twenty-year time period covered by this present study was chosen to provide a long enough span to observe trends and also because the last decade has not yet been examined in detail. This time period also enables us to evaluate predictions made by previous meta-analyses about the future of mass communication research, if one keeps in mind that our findings are limited to the major journals of our field, publications whose focus most likely changes more slowly than conference papers, newer journals, and possibly books and book chapters.

Meta-Analyses of Mass Communication Research

Previous meta-analyses of mass communication research have focused on the following topics.

Qualitative versus Quantitative Methods, The emphasis on qualitative and quantitative research in mass communication journals has interested many researchers and scholars in general. Some studies have examined changes in methodology over time. …