Part 3: Methodology

How does the 18 to 24-year-old age group respond to interactive visual data journalism produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) for BBC News online?

The resarch conducted in this paper had two main objectives. The first one was to discover how the BBC has incorporated interactive data journalism into its portfolio, specifically those founds under the banner of BBC News. The second element was to take those first findings and discover how young adults in the UK, specifically those aged between 18 and 24 responded to an interactive portfolio that the BBC has created.

Using a mixture of secondary sources in the form of published articles and statistical data in conjunction with primary research, which took the form of questionnaires and interviews allowed me to build on already established findings while adding my own knowledge and findings to media academia.

In total, I combined three different types of research methods. An interview with the head of the BBC’s visual journalism unit, Amanda Farnsworth, a questionnaire providing insight into the general attitude of 18–24-year-olds in relation to visual journalism and two focus groups which reflected on both previous research methods, while providing discussion and insight in relation to them. These methods were selected because they provided original, primary data that could support or disprove established research.

For my research, the age range of 18–24 was selected due to the premise that they would be the most active within mobile technology and thus would provide the most insight into my research. This premise was made for a number of reasons. Firstly, BBC news reports that this age range spends a large amount of time using the applications that digital interactive journalism can be found on. In an article dated back to 2014, the website writes, “Almost all of this 16% (1,300 young adults, aged 18-to 25-year-olds) admitted to spending over 15 hours a day online.” (BBC News, 2014: NP) At the same time, Marketing Magazine also published the results of research which show how the 18 to 24 age range is a powerful age group for publishers wanting to have an engaged audience. Eder writes, “The Beans Group shows that with relevant messages and via platforms that they actually use, 18- to 24-year-olds can be a highly engaged audience for brands.” (Eder, 2013: NP) As a result BBC News and Eder, along with the personal time restrictions of this study, I focused this case study on young adults. As a result, my final study will be detailed, cohesive and insightful as compared if I was to focus on a larger age range with the same time parameter, where the results would be broader and less focused.

As a case study, the scope of this research was restricted due to the limited time allocated for this project. The focus group research was conducted via moderator-led discussions. The interview was conducted over the telephone and questionnaires delivered on the web. While suitable for the type of research I’ve produced, it does present several issues. A concerning factor and something that I found with both the focus group and the interview was that the volume of data gathered, can make interpretation and analysis extremely time-consuming. At the same time, the large amount of personal contact associated with this methodology can also raise issues relating to anonymity and confidentiality of those subjects within my research.

The first research method was an original, 7 question survey that was completed by 27 adults aged between 18 and 24 years old. The survey was done prior to my interview with Amanda Farnsworth. The purpose of this method was to gain a broad overview of how 18 to 24-year-olds are currently engaging with web 2.0, mobile news and interactive journalism. It was designed to guide my questions in the interview with Amanda Farnsworth, give insight into current trends and also provide background research for when I would later conduct the focus group.

The biggest problem with conducting the survey online was that there was a severe risk of people outside the 18 to 24 age group from inputting their views into the survey, something which would compromise the validity of any knowledge gained. Whilst I could, and did, put an age verification system into the survey, it still remained possible for that given person to lie about their age. As such, there is no solid guarantee that out of the 37 surveys I have collected, that they were all done by people within my pre-selected age range. Another downside bought on by the restricted timeframe to produce this report, but qualified by the pilot status of this research was getting enough correspondents to reach the balance between quantity of responses and quality of responses. Whilst the 37 respondents did provide useful guidance for both the interview and focus-group, this number does not represent the majority of the age group and thus, my final report may be based on the views of a select few and not the majority. At the same time, another problem is honesty. There is no guarantee that what I’ve gathered is the true opinion of those who have given it. The risk of simply selecting an answer without fully reading it could present bias in any answers given.

The second method was an interview with the head of the BBC’s visual journalism, Amanda Farnsworth. As the head of the unit associated with my research into the BBC, she has the responsibility of overseeing both journalists, who create the story and developers, who create the story. This unique knowledge provided great insight into the working of both the BBC and the journalism industry as a whole. At the same time, it was also interesting to see just how much influence that the developers have, even though one would think journalists would be at the forefront of the unit.

As this subject area itself is a newly researched area of media academia, an interview was the best option because it allowed myself and Amanda Farnsworth to follow both different paths of conversation while engaging and gathering open-ended information. Due to the time constraints, the interview was recorded, with permission (Appendix A) on the 10th of December 2015 at 12:30pm. A full transcript of the conversation can be found in the appendix of the document. (Appendix B)

However, this method did present several issues. By far the most concerning one was that she would not be critical of the BBC, her employees. However, this was alleviated by careful planning and selection of my questions which were designed to extract the most information, which was relevant to my study, whilst still not forcing her into a position where she would not feel confident to give an accurate and honest answer due to it possibly impacting her position at the BBC. Due to my prior introduction to Amanda Farnsworth, there was an established relationship however the risk of not being able to conduct an effective interview due to the non-conformity of an established relationship was present during my research. The length of the interview totalled over 14 minutes meaning it was extremely time-consuming to transcribe the interview.

As a pilot study, a focus group was ideal as it allowed me to gather a large number of first-hand opinions in a short amount of time. Over another questionnaire, a focus group also allows me to probe answer in more depth then when compared to a survey which tends to have more closed questions. For this research, I conducted one focus group which consisted of five participants. Whilst I aimed to gather an equal gender balance, there was an overarching female (3) to male (2) ratio. Another issue worth noting is that all of my participants identified themselves ethically as white, meaning that my final study is not ethnically diverse.

Another important element to note is that I have a personal relationship with all the members of the focus group, that being I know them in a personal capacity. This was due to their availability at the time of the focus and a personal issue of not having any public respondents to a focus group invitation, meaning that without them, the focus group would not be able to happen.

The focus groups took place between the 2nd of February 2016. To ensure that privacy regulation was met, all participants signed a consent form giving me permission to publish what was said. (Appendix C) As such, the focus groups were fully transcribed into text. (Appendix D)

Within the focus group, two articles, both created by the BBC, were used as points of discussion. The first being an interactive article, titled, Footballers wages calculator. (Appendix E) I selected this article because of Amanda’s direct use of it as an example in the interview where she says, “You know if you’re a sports fan then you’re going to be really interested in for example are footballer wages, calculator.” (Farnsworth, 2015) I also selected it so that I could apply the same concept, the appeal of subject to my focus group, allowing me to bring in direct comparison to what Amanda said. The second article is an interactive video-timeline-graphic about the rise of IS (ISIS) (Appendix F) was selected for two reasons. Firstly, unlike the football wages article, this one involves no personal involvement (Inputting a football team of your choice) instead it’s a set visual and interactive element that also incorporates several different types of interactive journalism.

As with any research method, focus groups presented several issues. The first being that people may not be open to the honest opinions when surrounded by their peers leading to dishonest and inaccurate information being presented. Equally focus groups, once started, tend to become influenced by one dominant people and thus their opinion is heard the most whilst the others opinions are not heard on an equal level. One particular problem with my focus groups were the low numbers. The obvious issue being a lack of diverse opinion to qualify the information as both valid and reliable. However, the counter argument for this would be that the low number of people in the focus groups resulted in people being able to feel free in what they said and have more time to voice their opinion and thus I as a result got more personal and in-depth answers.

David Morgan, author of, Focus Groups, reaffirms the importance of a focus group, especially in a case study such as mine where we are focusing on a marginalised group of people, in this case, young adults aged 18–30. He writes, “An important theme that reappears in many of these uses of focus groups is their ability to “give a voice” to marginalized groups.” (David, L.M, 1996: NP)

It’s also clear that the advantage of a focus group is the open-ended and sometimes unexpected answers that they can bring. Lynne Connelly gives us a view of their benefits stating that “The discussion within a group to generate data the researcher might not obtain otherwise.” (Lynne, M.C, 2015: NP) In the same journal, she goes on to explain the type of information users can bring through a focus group, something exclusive to this hand-on approach of interviewing. She writes, “Research questions can focus on specific experiences the group members share, as well as attitudes, perceptions, beliefs, and opinions.” (Lynne, M.C, 2015: NP) David Morgan reaffirms this point in his publication, writing that, “Researchers have noted the appeal of focus groups because they allow participants to exercise a fair degree of control over their own interactions.” (David, L.M, 1996: NP)

Whilst three separate primary research methods might be overwhelming in the amount of the data they provide, it was vital as they all relate together and resulted in me getting valid data that is cross-comparable with each other. The initial survey will provide me a very broad look at the general digital viewing habits of the audience. This will allow me to inform the questions that I ask both objects of study, the interview with Amanda Farnsworth and my focus group. The survey will allow me to refine questions and get informed answers within the time constraints of this study. The use of the interview and focus group was selected due to the need to create reliable primary research for both object of studies within this paper, the BBC and the 18 to 24-year-old audience. Likewise, it will allow me to cross-examine the information gained through both research methods to discover new insight into interactive digital visual journalism.