Media, Audiences, and Effects: An Introduction to the Study of Media Content and Audience Analysis/Dictionary of Mass Communication and Media Research

Article excerpt

* Traudt, Paul J. (2004). Media, Audiences, and Effects: An Introduction to the Study of Media Content and Audience Analysis. Boston; Allyn & Bacon, pp. 224.

* Demers, David P. (2005). Dictionary of Mass Communication and Media Research. Spokane, WA: Marquette Books, p. 358.

The media effects class is a staple in the curriculum of communication programs. If I were asked to teach such a course today, selecting a text would be a difficult task for me as there are many to choose from that vary in quality, perspective, and emphasis. But most are common in approach by breaking the content into various themes, such as media and advertising; media and children; the effects of violent content; and, more recently, video games. Traudt's Media, Audiences, and Effects: An Introduction to the Study of Media Content and Audience Analysis is similar in that way, but it has one feature that to me makes it unique. Each chapter categorizes the material by methodological approach. Chapter 6 on "Children and Advertising" is typical, starting first with a page and a half that sets the context for the research that follows. It progresses to describe current research on children and advertising conducted using content analysis (e.g., how children are represented in advertising pre- and post-World War II), experiments (e.g., how prior exposure to certain messages influence a child's recall for advertising), surveys (parents' perceptions of and attitudes about businesses that try to get children to call "900" numbers), and qualitative methods (e.g., strategies kids use to influence the purchasing decisions of the parents). Each short chapter (ten to fifteen pages) provides a small sample of recent studies in the area. I would recommend this book to someone teaching a media effects course either for the first time or after a long hiatus and who needs a quick overview of recent developments and examples. Although very little attention is dedicated to older research and thus the reader gets little sense of the evolution of research in an area, a feature I think is lacking in this book, its focus on the various methodological approaches employed by media researchers makes it stand out.

Undergraduate communication programs vary in the timing and extent of training they give to students in research methods. Most programs offer and even require a basic overview course on research methods, and some even offer their own statistical methods courses. At my institution, research methods is a requirement of most communication majors, but it is a prerequisite to no course in the curriculum. As a result, no faculty member can assume students in his or her course have any exposure to research methods and must, therefore, devote valuable class time to overviewing the basics of methodology-surveys, experiments, content analysis, their weaknesses and strengths, and so forth. Without at least some background, how can you expect a burgeoning social scientist to understand the logic and assumptions the communication scientist makes when studying communication processes and effects in a substantive context? Most introductory media effects books cater to this by providing the obligatory chapter or two on research methods and data analysis. For Traudt's book this is particularly important given how each chapter is divided into studies with a common methodological approach. Unfortunately, the pages that are devoted to methods in books of this sort are typically too few and frequently misrepresent the business of communication science. No experimentalist that I know of, for instance, makes the "fundamental assumption" that "every potential subject for study has an equal chance of being included in the study" (p. 25). And a statistical purist would take issue with Traudt's equating of a p-value with the complement of the probability of replication (p. 20). Indeed, if you were to take chapters in any book such as this literally (and Traudt's is only one exemplar), you'd think that communication researchers are nothing other than glorified public opinion pollsters, interested in making population inferences from random samples of populations. …

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