Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sebastian's questions

  1. Tracy Everbach’s study on the all-female management team of the Sarasota Herald-Tribute (SHT) found that female leaders changed the newsroom culture by bringing their feminine perspective to the workplace and creating an environment of teamwork, consensus, and balance of work and family. Yet, I wonder if she could have concluded otherwise. By studying one newspaper only, she is bound to attribute any particularities in the organizational culture of the SHT to the existence of an all-female leadership. That is, she doesn’t have a benchmark or another all-female run newspaper to which to compare her findings of the SHT. By having clear expectations of what she was going to find and relying on interviews, it was highly likely that her interviewees would agree with her on what changed the newsroom culture. Moreover, the fact that in a content analysis of the SHT (which she published in another article) Everbach didn’t find any substantial differences in terms of news values and gatekeeping compared to male-dominated papers, makes me question the degree to which gender was a really salient aspect for the newsroom.
  2. In Hopf’s overview of qualitative interviews, there’s an explanation of focused interviews and that they were originally conceived as group interviews. We know that individuals behave and communicate differently when interviewed alone or in a group. For instance, some people may perceive that their opinion is not shared by other interviewees and prefer to silence their opinions. Or one may end up with a discussion monopilizer. Fontana and Frey argue that group interviews provide another perspective of the research problem not available through individual interviews. They mention the benefits of being inexpensive, data rich, stimulating, etc. I was wondering, should group interviews be combined with individual interviews? Which research questions are suited for individual interviews and which for group interviews? Do, e.g., reception analyses favor group interviews?
  3. Fontana and Frey delve into the issue of framing interviews and present two schools on how the interviewer should behave: a traditional approach, in which the researchers does not engage in a true conversation, and a more realistic approach, in which the researcher has more leeway to voice personal opinions. I see the benefits of adopting the second approach. However, it may be unrealistic too, because it assumes an equal level of power to set the conversation topics and tone between interviewer and interviewee, when there are many instances in which both are on different levels. It is one thing for a PhD student to interview a group of immigrants or people of lower SES on how they watch TV than to interview a group of business executives and scientists. So, power relationships should be an element that needs to be incorporated when deciding which type of interview to conduct.
  4. In the Adlers’ description of observational techniques, there’s a discussion on the issues of validity and reliability. It’s ironic to me that these concepts, which are part of the quantitative holy trinity (the third being empiricism), are also important issues for a qualitative approach to observation. The authors suggest that one way of increasing the validity and reliability of one’s observations is by having several observers, studying the same group at different times and over varying conditions. But if we take this advice literally, the task of observation becomes more expensive, time-consuming and complicated. At that point, it’s not a case study anymore, it’s a type of survey, which leads me to the following question: can studies based solely on naturalistic observations stand on their own feet, or they necessarily need to be matched with other methods?
  5. On a minor note, I’m wondering how to apply in a communication setting the Adlers’ description of what is it that ethnomethodologists try to do. I had to re-read Potter’s desription of ethnomethodology but still couldn’t figure out why, how and for what purpose such a technique would be helpful for communication scholars. I’d like to read examples of work using this method.


  1. Hi Sebastian, Dr. Harp asked me to chime in on some of these comments. Your point about comparison is valid and in fact, this was raised by members of my dissertation committee because this was part of my dissertation. However, the simple fact is that this was the ONLY newspaper in the entire country that had a female management team. I believe that is telling in itself. Also, I did not go in with a preconceived notion about this nor did I ask leading questions. I simply let the subjects comment on their own.

  2. Hi Dr. Everbach. Thanks for your response to my comments. Now, I was wondering if you have ever thought about doing a follow-up piece, considering that now that the news industry is in such a flux, perhaps an all-female management handles the situation differently than a male management.