Media Research Techniques


Arthur Asa Berger

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    I wrote the first edition of Media Research Techniques because I thought it would be a good idea to enable students to try their hands at doing research themselves. I didn't want students to be limited only to studying what other researchers had done. It is valuable and important to learn about the history of media research, but I felt that was not enough. And most of the textbooks I looked at struck me as too theoretical; they didn't put much emphasis on having students actually do research.

    So I designed a book that had a number of research projects that I thought students would find interesting and that they could do with minimum experience in a limited amount of time. In the years since the book was published, a number of colleagues and other scholars I've met at conferences have suggested that I add new chapters to the book. They have said things like, “If you had a chapter on experimentation I'd really be pleased” and “Why don't you add a chapter on historical research?” As a result of these comments, I have revised Media Research Techniques. My editor at Sage Publications, Margaret Seawell, asked a number of people who teach media research for their suggestions, and I've adopted a number of them in this second edition. I am grateful for the helpful comments of these scholars, and for their ideas for enhancing the book.

    I have added chapters on experimentation, historical research, comparative research, and participant observation to provide additional techniques for students to employ. The subjects and projects I offer for each of these methodologies are only suggestions; I know that many instructors ask their students to investigate different topics when they employ the various techniques described in this little book.

    For those who might be interested, I've written other books that explore different research techniques—semiotics, psychoanalytic theory, Marxist theory, and sociological theory—for analyzing popular culture and the mass media. In these books (which include Media Analysis Techniques, Cultural Criticism: A Primer of Key Concepts, and Seeing Is Believing: An Introduction to Semiotics), I explain these techniques and methodologies and apply them to everything from the television series The Prisoner and perfume advertisements to football and detective novels. I tend to use whichever technique, or combination of techniques, I think will be most useful in any given research effort (if you want to call what I do research, that is).

    In one of my books, written a number of years ago, I was being frivolous and ironic when I wrote, “I don't do research; I just make everything up as I go along and throw in charts to make social scientists happy.” Unfortunately, a number of people took me at my word, or pretended to, because I've gotten a lot of ribbing from my colleagues about not doing research. My point in mentioning this is to illustrate that research is a very broad and vague term. As I explain to colleagues in other departments, “When you watch television, you're wasting time; when I watch television, I'm doing research!” The fact of the matter is, a good deal of the time when I watch television, I actually am doing research.

    I am grateful for Margaret Seawell's encouragement, and for all the comments and suggestions made by various scholars (some known to me, others anonymous) that have helped me write this second edition of Media Research Techniques. I hope it will do an even better job than the first edition of assisting students and others who wish to experience the fascination, and sometimes even the excitement, of research.

    Let me close with a quote from Steven J. Rosenstone, dean of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota, on the excitement involved in research. In the spring 1997 issue of the college's publication CLA Today, he writes:

    For me research involves the delicious (though sometimes painful) process of learning and discovery, and the indescribable exhilaration that comes from new insight and fresh ideas. … my research proceeds out of the conviction that there is always a more robust and compelling way to make sense of the human condition.

    If you are interested in finding new ways of making sense of the human condition, I'd say you have the makings of a researcher, whatever your field.

  • References

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    Baudrillard, J. (1988). America. London: Verso.
    Berger, A. A. (1984). Signs in contemporary culture: An introduction to semiotics. New York: Annenberg-Longman.
    Berger, A. A. (1990). Scripts: Writing for radio and television. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
    Berger, P. L., & Berger, B. (1972). Sociology: A biographical approach. New York: Basic Books.
    Berkhofer, R. E., Jr. (1969). A behavioral approach to historical analysis. New York: Free Press.
    Bogart, L. (1985). Polls and the awareness of public opinion (
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    Tosuner-Fikes, L. (1982). A guide to anthropological fieldwork on contemporary American culture. In C. P.Kottak (Ed.), Researching American culture. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
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    Name Index

    • Aristotle, 64, 65
    • Baudrillard, Jean, 119
    • Berger, Brigitte, 47
    • Berger, Peter L., 47
    • Berkhofer Jr., Robert E., 110
    • Bogart, Leo, 34
    • Brewer, John, 98, 105
    • Carter, Jimmy, 88
    • DeFleur, Melvin, 28
    • Dominick, Joseph R., 89, 90
    • Durkheim, Emile, 47
    • Einstein, Albert, 152
    • Fairchild, Henry Pratt, 126
    • Freud, Sigmund, 57, 133, 162
    • Grotjahn, Martin, 162, 163
    • Hansen, Kathleen A., 86, 90
    • Hayakawa, S. I., 125
    • Hofstadter, Richard, 117
    • Holder, Carol, 16
    • Holyfield, Evander, 113
    • Hunter, Albert, 98, 105
    • Inch, Edward S., 148
    • Johnson, Mark, 122
    • Kane, Thomas S., 158
    • Kern, Montague, 88
    • Komidar, Joseph S., 78
    • Kottak, Conrad Phillip, 55
    • Kurosawa, Akira, 10
    • Lakoff, George, 122
    • Landon, Alf, 150
    • Layard, Austen H., 2
    • Leon, Robert L., 59
    • Lincoln, Abraham, 152
    • Lipset, Seymour Martin, 117, 118
    • Lowery, Shearon, 28
    • Mead, George Herbert, 46
    • Milgram, Stanley, 99, 100
    • Molière, 3
    • Mondale, Walter, 88
    • Moss, Andrew, 16
    • Nett, Roger, 27, 104
    • Peters, Leonard S., 158
    • Piele, L. J., 36
    • Progoff, Ira, 14
    • Reagan, Ronald, 152
    • Roosevelt, Franklin Delano, 150
    • Root Jr., Robert L., 64
    • Rosenstone, Steven J., viii
    • Rubin, A. M., 36
    • Rubin, R. B., 36
    • Saussure, Ferdinand de, 118, 138
    • Schellenberg, James A., 96
    • Schwarz, Tony, 68
    • Simon, Julian L., 35
    • Sjoberg, Gideon, 27, 104
    • Spradley, James, 107
    • Tosuner-Fikes, Lebriz, 55
    • Turner, Ralph, 44
    • Tyson, Mike, 113
    • Ward, Jean, 86, 90
    • Warnick, Barbara, 148
    • Washington, George, 152
    • Wimmer, Roger D., 89, 90
    • Wright, Charles R., 22
    • Zaccaro, John, 88
    • Zinsser, William, 137
    • Zito, George V., 23, 24

    About the Author

    Arthur Asa Berger is Professor of Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts at San Francisco State University, where he has taught since 1965. He took early retirement in January 1998 and now teaches only during the fall semesters. He has published more than 100 articles, numerous book reviews, and more than 30 books. Among his latest books are Essentials of Mass Communication Theory (1995), Bloom's Morning: Coffee, Comforters and the Hidden Meaning of Everyday Life (1997), The Genius of the Jewish Joke (1997), Narratives in Popular Culture, Media, and Everyday Life (1997), The Art of Comedy Writing (1997), and a comic murder mystery about postmodernism, Postmortem for a Postmodernist (1997). A companion reader to this mystery, titled The Postmodern Presence: Readings on Postmodernism in American Culture and Society, is currently in press. He is now working on two other mysteries: The Hamlet Case, which deals with different ways of interpreting Shakespeare's Hamlet, and Murder ad Hominem, which shows how print advertisements and radio and TV commercials can be analyzed from the perspectives of multiple disciplines.

    Dr. Berger is married, has two children, and lives in Mill Valley, California. He has a page on the Internet that includes a list of his books and a number of his articles; his e-mail address is

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