International Media Researcher

Updated June 26, 2020 | Infoplease Staff


Tell us about your work-what do you do? I am an international media researcher and the director of audience research at an international radio station. I am responsible for learning about the audience for my station and about the media environments to which the station broadcasts. I present research findings to management and the broadcasters. I get this information by commissioning surveys , organizing focus groups and depth interview projects , coordinating databases of listener contacts with the station and collecting miscellaneous additional articles related to broadcasting and research in our target countries. I also frequently travel to the broadcast region to interview officials and others who may have additional information that is useful for learning about our audience. While media research is the main focus of my job, I also am responsible for managing the departmental budget and personnel, making decisions about spending and hiring, and drafting contracts with outside firms and individuals. What skills are needed? Media research can be divided into two major types; 1) quantitative research focuses on measuring the audience; 2) qualitative research looks at how the audience feels about different programs. Quantitative media research requires a background in quantitative social science methods, such as statistics , survey drafting , population sampling and data analysis . You can learn these skills in number of different ways-statistics courses, sociology or political science methodology courses, advanced marketing courses, etc. The skills for qualitative media research are a little harder to pin down. The research requires methodological training , but it also requires less tangible strengths such as strong people skills and interviewing techniques . International work requires some understanding of the culture of the countries where the research is conducted. Presentations require the ability to communicate with people from other countries as well as some computer graphic and presentation software skills . Finally, managing a department requires the ability to handle money and coordinate the work of many different individuals. How did you get started in your career? I have to say that my interest in life overseas and adventure was the passion that led me to my current job. I studied foreign language and lived overseas for a number of years before I decided to return to do graduate work. I did not get a quick start on my career. I was ambitious, but, whenever I thought about most traditional jobs, I felt bored and depressed. I was more excited by interesting experiences and seeing the world than by getting a job and settling down. I went back to school because I wanted to understand my experiences overseas in a more systematic way-through a better understanding of the region and of comparative politics. With my training in surveys and also in journalism, media research was a good fit, but it was the international component to my job that made it most attractive to me. I began working for my current employer part-time while writing my dissertation. What experience do you need in this job? This is a hard question to answer. People in similar positions have come from a variety of job backgrounds. Some have international management backgrounds; some worked their way up doing media research. I personally have experience in journalism and doing doctoral research interviews in the region, extensive personal experience in the region we broadcast to, as well as training in conducting surveys. Describe your "typical" workday: Part of what I like about this job is that there is no typical workday. When in the home office, my day usually begins by checking my e-mail for correspondence from overseas and making phonecalls. I then review notes from the day before to consider which tasks take priority. At around 10:30, I have my daily departmental meeting, which usually lasts about 20 minutes, where I assign tasks and ask for progress reports. More time than I would like is taken up with contracts and money matters for numerous contractors. If there is a new report from the field, I read it, write memos on findings and share the results with management and the head of the language service that is being studied. If there is a review meeting for a language service, I present a 30-minute talk describing research findings and take part in the extended discussion of the language service's strengths and weaknesses. I work with our external affairs office on the presentation of new research findings to the media. It is in the nature of international work of this sort that things don't always go as planned and I spent a fair amount of time dealing with problems originating from poor translation and poor communication. It also is incumbent upon me to ensure the quality of materials coming in from overseas. When traveling, my work usually focuses on preparing a field team for a research project, observing a project or meeting new people who might do projects in the future. Sometimes this means that I sit behind a two-way mirror watching a focus group as a translator explains what is happening. Sometimes, it means I check in with contractors on how survey sampling has been done. Sometimes it means having extensive one-on-one conversations with listeners themselves about their reactions to programs. Because the research environments in the countries I work in are sometimes not safe, I also visit refugee camps and other unusual places to get information. What is the hardest aspect of your job? The hardest part of my job is getting untrained people to understand and appreciate research findings. Many people are exposed to surveys, but don't really understand statistics and how to interpret them. Some people are cynical and dismiss the results regardless of the quality of the work. Others believe the results that they want to believe, even if the quality of the work is poor. People sometimes treat qualitative findings as if they came from solid quantitative surveys. Having to explain things repeatedly can be frustrating. Another tedious part of my job is ensuring that invoices, contracts and checks flow as they should. Other parts of my job are extremely difficult but don't bother me. For example, figuring out how to organize surveys in dangerous places without putting people at risk is very difficult and sometimes impossible. However, that is what makes my job challenging and interesting for me. What is the most rewarding aspect of your job? The most rewarding aspect of my job is helping broadcasters better understand their audience so they can produce more relevant and interesting programs. Because many of the broadcasters at my station have not lived in their homelands for a number of years, they are very grateful for information about how these countries are changing. They are thrilled to hear that people are listening and they take audience suggestions very seriously. The broadcasters work to improve their programs based on my presentations, so it is also very rewarding to hear when listeners respond positively to their program changes. Another part of my job that is rewarding is hearing the gratitude that many listeners have for the broadcasts from my station and conveying that to the people who work on the programs. It also is very satisfying to get a project going when others said it couldn't be done. What are your suggestions for someone considering this field? Preparation for a career in media research is fairly straightforward: study research methodology-either for business or for social science-and get as much training as possible on all aspects of conducting surveys; become familiar with the media yourself and perhaps explore the possibility of an internship at a market or media research company such as AC Nielsen. People with outgoing personalities may be well suited to focus group work. Preparation for international work in any field adds another layer to this. I think that the main thing to recognize in international careers is that, unless you are going to be a translator, you will need to have more to offer than just linguistic ability and knowledge of a country. Most people who are successful in international work have international experience and language, but also one other skill: surveys, computer, graphic design, accounting, journalism, medicine, business, law, cooking, etc. That said, I think that expanding your horizons by taking some time to live overseas after college will add to your life in ways you cannot imagine. Peace Corps offers one route, but certainly not the only one. There are numerous places where you can get paid reasonably well simply because you speak English. If you are at the top of your class, there also are a limited number of international fellowships for study abroad . While you certainly want to be building a career, you also are living the only life you have. Making that life an interesting one not only is more fun, it also might make you a more attractive job candidate down the road.
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