Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Toward Ethical Cyberspace Audience Research: Strategies for Using the Internet for Television Audience Studies

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Toward Ethical Cyberspace Audience Research: Strategies for Using the Internet for Television Audience Studies

Article excerpt

The increasing dissemination of Internet technologies may provide the greatest revolution in the study of media audiences since critical media scholars began turning their attention to audiences in the early 1980s. As is often the case with new technologies and applications, computer-mediated communication (CMC) provides a previously unimaginable tool, but also forces a revision of the standards and practices that governed qualitative audience study prior to its introduction. Researchers in a variety of fields have begun adapting traditional methodological practices and ethics to the new research tool of CMC and the "field space" provided by the Internet, but using the Web to research audiences of television series poses specific challenges that this research has not addressed.

This particular article and the type of research it envisions require slightly revised concepts of field and audience. The changing nature of "going into the field" depends largely upon how researchers use the Internet and the new virtual spaces it offers. Throughout most of this article, we primarily focus on the Internet as a tool for research rather than as a space to research. In this approach, the Internet facilitates communication by helping to find audience members (who become respondents) and documenting their discussions of media texts. This makes Internet audience research unlike ethnography in many ways and much more akin to audience research that examines solicited letters or those sent to producers. (In other approaches, the space of the Internet functions more as a "field" because the research focuses on the spaces of the Internet or takes place in real time, as in the case of chat room discussions.)

But why open the Pandora's box of Internet-based audience research and what is to be gained? The Internet alleviates many logistical problems that seem insignificant singularly, but often compound until the complexity of an audience study detracts researchers from attempting these projects. However, Internet research simultaneously introduces new limitations, as researchers must be aware of who has the access, time, and knowledge to participate in Internet forums--especially when the research focuses on television viewers. Both the advantages and disadvantages acknowledged here illustrate the need for researchers to be reflexive and critical in research design and process. Internet-based audience research can be exceptionally helpful in gaining distinct snapshots of viewer response and understanding of texts. Broad analyses of various discussion forums for the same show may yield interesting contrasts or exceptional similarity, both findings that may be worthy of scholarly comment. The less labor intensive venue of Web forums may help researchers add audience study to a textual or institutional analysis, consequently expanding understandings of a show or phenomenon and increasing the voices heard.

Although a growing body of television audience research using Internet technologies is emerging, many studies have not specifically attended to the vast methodological variation encompassed among those who use "the Internet" in their studies. The works of Scodari (1998), Harris and Alexander (1998), Baym (2000), and Zweerink and Gatson (2002) illustrate the form and value of such studies but do not emphasize the specific ethical and/or methodological issues involved in this type of research. Instead, much of the work addressing ethical issues and Internet methodology has emerged in other academic fields, nonetheless providing invaluable guidelines that suggest starting points for the discussion of Internet audience research in the field of television studies (Ess & the AOIR Ethics Working Committee, 2002; Hine, 2000; Jones, 1999; Mann & Stewart, 2000; Markham, 1998). Consequently, we offer the following as the beginning of a conversation among researchers who use the Internet for audience research in order to build theory and method through frank dialogue about the methodological limits and challenges we face. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.