Helping Newspapers Become More Responsive to Community Concerns: An In-Depth Interview Research Project with Sedgwick County Residents.Report as inadecuate

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Noting that the trend in the newspaper industry from the predictive-control model to the explanative-naturalistic model mirrors a trend in the communication discipline toward qualitative research and more meaningful connections between industry and academia, a study investigated Sedgwick County, Kansas residents' concerns regarding politics and politicians. Focused, personal interviews were conducted with residents served by the "The Wichita Eagle." The newspaper requested that a large, random sample be used so that results could serve for quantitative purposes as well as for qualitative interviews. Advantages and disadvantages of the personal interview method were discovered: for example, a large number of the interviewers reported a "therapeutic effect" of the study on the respondents; also, the face-to-face interview method allowed for an explanation of how and why citizens speak out on certain subjects. Conversely, the methods used tended to reduce the representation of certain groups--the elderly, the handicapped, the poor; and the presence of the interviewer may have affected how some subjects responded to questions. However, a composite picture emerged indicating that: (1) most respondents were registered voters who looked to the mass media for their information; (2) economic and moral problems pervaded their conversation; (3) they felt detached from government and alienated from their elected officials; (4) in order of importance, crime, education, taxes, economy, abortion, family, status of government leadership, and health care concerned the respondents; and (5) most respondents spoke confidently and definitively about how they viewed the paper's coverage and offered suggestions for improvement. Two of the most provocative findings were that the issues identified by respondents were often entwined with larger issues, and that "how" people talk about issues was more meaningful than "what" people identified as issues. (Contains 20 references.) (RS)

Descriptors: Audience Analysis, Communication Research, Community Attitudes, Higher Education, Information Sources, Interviews, Mass Media Use, Newspapers, Political Attitudes, Political Issues, Qualitative Research, Research Methodology

Author: Huxman, Susan Schultz; Iorio, Sharon Hartin


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