Comparing Contrasting Research Methods

Mass Media

There are two schools of thought when approaching new research. The positivism perspective (quantitative) and the interpretive paradigm (qualitative). For those of you who need a fun refresher, this video illustrates the differences in the two research methods.

I was wondering though, was one method stronger than the other? I went in with the hypothesis that quantitative research would be stronger of the two because of its basis in cold, hard facts. Hard to argue with numbers and logic when presented with anecdotes for comparison. I pulled two articles to read that I based my research on.

The Qualitative Method

For my deep dive into the qualitative method, I pulled the article titled “The Cameras Were Everywhere”: Media Conduct Through the Eyes of Homicide Victims’ Families: Switzerland, Italy, and Israel by Sigal Barak-Brandes and Galit Shaul.

In the article, the researchers used a qualitative research method of narrative research by collecting the perspectives and experiences that families of murder victims had about the role of the mass media on their process of coping and healing. The families were all located in Switzerland, Italy, and Israel. It was found that the media did in fact play a large role both positive and negative.

The media are able to give the victim's family a voice, but not much research had been conducted previously on the effects of the media's interactions with these grieving families. While media coverage is dramatic and major public interest, it is also quite personal and tragic, and tends to be widely covered in the media. This resulted in tension between the private lives of the families and public, and as such could potentially be problematic for the victims' families. This sudden invasion of privacy was often jarring and a startling exposure. It was argued that while we tend to analyze media messages, we often never stop to think about the way individuals are subject to media exposure and the lasting effects that can occur at the hands of the media, especially when media coverage is focused on such a personal and tragic event.

The researchers utilized a life story strategy to attempt to understand how the family perceived and retrospectively worked through the trauma of losing a close family member to murder as it became a biographical narrative played out by the media. By utilizing the life story strategy, the researchers were able to examine the individual's subjective perspective.

Ultimately, many families were left feeling the tragic event was taken from them, that it was not their own anymore but the public's. And often trials, lawsuits, and messy aftermaths were followed extensively by the media where it was felt by many to be an invasion of privacy. Overwhelmingly, it was found to exacerbate the personal trauma and grief of the families. The research also suggested that the family members interviewed felt excluded from the media narrative with the media downplaying their stories and highlighting the murderers' stories instead. Ultimately, the families revealed they tried to fend off the media intrusion, with the feeling that their privacy, their human rights, were being invaded. Media involvement clearly had negative post-traumatic effects on families.

When it comes to such subjective issues like experiences, I really felt the qualitative approach was the best method. It would definitely be hard to quantify a person's sufferings. Qualitative may just have surprised me!

The Quantitative Method

For my look into quantitative research, I found an article titled Scientists are talking, but mostly to each other:a quantitative analysis of research represented in mass media by Julie Suleski and Motomu Ibaraki. These researchers used a solely quantitative approach to attempt to show that "reliance on journal publication and subsequent coverage by the media as the sole form of communication en masse is failing to communicate science to the public."

They looked at the hundreds of thousands of scientific research papers published between 1990 and 2001, and had this to say:

If the output of science articles were the volume of a swimming pool, the total papers that made it to a mainstream audience through news media would fill only a quart, and the non health/medicine papers would be just two tablespoons.

Many charts were populated outlying their findings, and the numbers didn't lie. It was hard to argue with the cold, hard facts. Ultimately, they concluded that majority of scientific research never made it beyond the borders of the scientific community, and as such fails to get attention from others outside of those specialized fields. It was also found that scientific literacy has been declining despite the output of scientific research papers increasing.

The Results

I have to say that after comparing the two methods of qualitative and quantitative, I was mistaken with my hypothesis. I think both methods have merit, but when combing though all the graphs and reading all the numbers and statistics of the quantitative data, I admittedly felt a bit overwhelmed. I really felt that qualitative research methods were easier to understand and digest, and I think there can actually be a lot of great data gathered using qualitative approach methods.

I definitely found the qualitative data easier to understand, but this may be different with everyone. I am more of a right-brained person than a left-brained one. I strive in all things art and language and creative. Math and analysis and data comparisons were never my strongest points. I think as a right-brain creative, qualitative makes most sense to me as I can relate more to it than numbers on a graph.