Wednesday, September 5, 2012

"Where is the theory?"

My first reaction after reading the NYT article (which I shared with the entire faculty):
Great point (not because it's new but because it's so relevant to the problems in social science research) -- esp. the second argument in the article: "the analysis of empirical data can be valuable even in the absence of a grand theoretical model."

So often I see irrelevant models "installed" on a study because the researcher tries to avoid this common (sometimes cheap) question from peer reviewers: "Where is the theory?" What's worse, there are so few theories in communication.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The reason we do research

It is interesting to learn about the developments of new media research using the concepts and theories from economic perspectives. Actually, I think these concepts were applied and did make some contribution to Taiwan’s telecommunications industries. Taiwan opened its telecommunication market, privatized the national telecommunication company (Chung Hua Telecommunication) and introduced the Mobile services in late 1990.  Almost all of the media/telecom laws and regulations have to be revised. Most of the concepts which were mentioned in the chapter of the Küng et al. book were considered or implemented into the related regulations and thus effect Taiwan’s media/telecommunication industry directly.

What is the most important goal of a research? If a research meets all of the requirements of a “scientific research”, but does not provide any help in the real world, it should not be encouraged. However, I think social science has difficulty in defending itself compared with “hard science”. Borrowing the method from hard science should be a good way to conduct and develop the social science research. But there are some innate differences between social science and hard science which cannot be eliminated. Social science should not always yield to the hard science rule. Just like GRAY MATTER said in the article: Rather than attempt to imitate the hard sciences, social scientists would be better off doing what they do best: thinking deeply about what prompts human beings to behave the way they do.

Who envies whom?

I agree with Clarke & Primo's perspective on social sciences' "physics envy," but I wonder if the issue they raised is ultimately one of ontology, namely -- maybe the problem lies in social scientists' zealous idolization of positivism in their quests to find "The Truth" when they primarily deal with the most fickle, confused, and questionably rational subjects on this planet: human beings. After all, whether as the observer or the participant in a scientific study, who is to say what either party sees or reports is "objective" from a positivist lens? 

In other words, it is not about the "method" of choice, but the ontological drive that the researcher employs to examine the phenomenon at hand. Whereas in physics there may be ultimate "answers" (e.g., E=MC^2), in social sciences, quoting one of my favorite lines from Solaris -- "there are no answers, only choices [in how we see, measure, and interpret things]." 

To me one of the most exciting things about social sciences lies in its attempt to understand the intricacy, or 'grayness' of human world. And so who is to envy whom? Hard to say... 

Social scientists need to embrace the unique unpredictability of humanity in their quests to investigate the world from a systematic, replicable manner, and to see in every gray difficulty great opportunities rather than the other way around.

p.s. On an unrelated note, maybe it's because I've just taken Dr. Lasorsa's Theory Building class last semester... but if the purpose of theories is to explain AND predict things, then I think 'theories' a priori need to be empirically testable and replicable, contrary to what Clarke and Primo suggest. I'd be interested to hear what others think about this.

For whom is the creative destruction in media?

As I read the book chapter by Kung et al., I paid attention to one of  the concepts in evolutionary economics. The term ‘Creative Destruction’, which was derived from Marxist economic theory, was adapted by the Austrian-American economist Joseph Schumpeter and popularized as a theory of economic innovation and the business cycle in these days. According to Marx, the devaluation of wealth during capitalism's periodic economic crises was an inevitable outcome of the processes of wealth creation. Schumpeter, by contrast, seems to think that the creation comes first and the destruction is an almost incidental effect of the creation. Anyhow, it is assumed that they are bound up each other like Hindu god Shiva, who has the paradoxical aspect of simultaneous destroyer and creator.
Obviously, the next wave of creative destruction in media is currently underway as well. New media is defining a new era of business. However, Kung et al. insinuate that the element of monopoly is essential for innovation. If so, for whom is the creative destruction in media intended? Is it desirable to promote monopolistic structure for increasing competitiveness of technological innovation in media market by reason that monopolistic firms can readily finance innovation?

This article, which is about a book, may offer one of the various viewpoints on creative destruction and competition in media industry.

"The consumer, not the producer, is the beneficiary of greater competition"

This sounds familiar

The economics theories presented in the Kung chapter read as if they were developed by observing the last 20 years of media history. Of course many of the examples used are media-oriented, but at least to me, having worked in the news media for six years now, the applications of these theories were immediately apparent. Property rights? Only one of the most defining struggles of the digital age. Scale, network and bundling economies combined to make newspapers not only viable but intensely profitable -- both no longer true once those same economies can be achieved in other ways. In short, it's easy to see where these concepts apply.

Which made me wonder, why have I not encountered them before in scholarly research? Obviously that's part of the reason I'm taking this course -- to be exposed to applications of economics in media research. But it's something that has surprised me in the last year that I've been studying communications theory (and academics in general): Much academic work exists in silos, separated -- sometimes by circumstance, but often quite on purpose -- from everything surrounding it.

To me, this is where insights like those in the New York Times article are valuable. Of course we must be more open-minded in our research, both in conceiving our own and in evaluating our peers'. In fact, we might be well served to be even more open minded than the authors -- I agree that a strict devotion to the scientific method limits our field, but discarding it entirely throws the baby out with the bathwater. The scientific method brings important discipline to our work, particularly when trying to build on previous research. Rather than following a particular method or system that journals seem to like, we ought to focus on finding understanding and solving problems, then let our thoughts speak for themselves.

Haha, that sounds really hoity toity. But I think my opinion there grows out of a resistance to the "must do it this way" approach many people take to quantitative research. Isn't research supposed to be about figuring it out, even if that means figuring out not only which questions to ask but how to answer them? And I believe our work in both directions becomes better informed the more we include ideas and methods from other disciplines.

Human Behavior: The most complex science of all

"The social sciences are largely hokum."-Sheldon Cooper, The Big Bang Theory

Like the New York Time's article stated, social sciences tend to be looked down upon by scientist in more clear cut fields, like Physics or Biology. The latter fields follow the scientific method to see if a hypothesis is found true or rejected. As a member of the advertising field, we find ourselves using social sciences a lot because measuring the successfulness of a campaign can be difficult, especially with social marketing. The Truth anti-smoking campaign won a lot of awards, and the numbers show a decrease in the amount of teen smokers. However, at the same time the price of cigarettes increased by more than half. Was it the great campaigns that swayed smokers, or the cost in product? 

That being said, I do agree that social sciences are not really science, but observations that still have their purpose in research. Human behaviors are so complex, it could even be said that social sciences should be considered a more complex science than the "hard" sciences. 

Here's a good article by a psychology professor

A popular-scholarly divide in media economics?

I have read very little in the way of scholarship on media economics, but in reading through this chapter of the Küng et al. book, I was struck by how many of the concepts I recognized from popular writing about media and technology. From creative destruction to the information age to disruptive innovation to free-rider problems, I hadn't realized how much of the popular writing about new media is loosely based on a framework drawn from economic theory.

It makes sense, I suppose - so much of the mass-marketed wisdom in most fields has to be filtered through business lenses, because the easiest way to get someone to buy a book (or read an article) is to convince them they'll make some money from that investment. And when you look at the most popular thinkers in media and tech - Chris Anderson, Clay Shirky, Jeff Jarvis, Clay Christensen - they all approach things from a business/economics angle. Even the most popular of the more academically inclined writers in media, like Yochai Benkler and Lawrence Lessig, write from an economics-based perspective.

Yet it seems as though there's not a correspondingly significant amount of rigorous, scholarly work explicitly applying economic principles to media. Benkler and Lessig's focus is much broader than media in particular, and though there are a few major journals in this area, they don't seem to be widely cited in other areas of media studies. Several other areas of media studies - media effects, obviously, and also sociology and the study of media and democracy - have achieved a critical mass of well received, prominent scholarship, but I haven't seen that with media economics.

So what gives? I don't think media economics is destined to be fundamentally an area of popular interest rather than scholarly interest, but it hasn't taken off yet in the latter despite an enormous amount of attention for the former. It seems like there is a gap waiting to be filled by applying some of these concepts more explicitly and rigorously to actual media settings, connecting the conventional wisdom of the Shirkys and Jarvises of the world with the methods of scholarly study.

One more link: I found this Businessweek article on ESPN's business model really interesting, particularly the way it's built a media empire on something other than advertising, a market that keeps growing more uncertain. Less than a quarter of its revenue comes from advertising, and the rest is being paid by cable subscribers directly for its content. That's a business model other media organizations (especially news organizations) would kill for, but for ESPN it also comes with its own problems, namely, the conflicts between its business interests and the demands of covering news.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Happy hour for news media is over?

Theoretical perspectives on the impact of the internet on the mass media industries

Any organization, including media, has its own ecological cycle for an entire life upon the capability of adaptation into environmental change, which is mainly contributed from technological development. In consideration of the fact that few companies have been still up-listed on Dow Jones Industrial Average, major newspapers, however, had been in’ happy hours’ by keeping their influence still powerful for a long time. While they have survived for a long time, their dominant status as an opinion leader has dimed and financial status has been worse over time in emergence of the internet. Those aspects question their capability of adaptation to new technology.
From the perspective of environmental change, this article concisely touches every corner of media management/economics. However, this has a limitation to characterize the nature of media by broadly telling that media industry, especially news media, is a labor intensive industry. On the other hands, the media is called an industry which emphasizes human capital. However, can we replace the human capital emphasized industry with knowledge based industry? If so, what is innovation as a consequence of knowledge works in the news media? If innovation is embedded in the news organization, why media workers are paid less? Answers to those questions will be a starting point to determine the characteristics of media industry and to further investigate other related subjects.