Raising Research to the Next Level

Guest Commentary

Ask executives at stations, studios and rep firms how difficult it is to find qualified research people. Ask recent graduates how much they know about the business side of broadcasting. Ask a professor about the difficulty in getting students to think beyond being on-air talent and consider a degree track that would lead to becoming a media company CEO. Ask a new research director the extent of training for the job.

The experience and expertise levels of research directors at television stations are inconsistent. The position needs a model of standards and skills.

There is a strong need for the research community to develop an action plan to grow our profession. The Broadcast Research Initiative was established in 2000 to advance the function of the research department and build alliances with universities. Its mission is to maximize station performance by providing highly skilled, better-trained personnel who can address research needs for all facets of station operation.

NAB and its Committee on Local Television Audience Measurement have supported and participated in BRI regional meetings focused on training and building awareness of current research issues. We've built partnerships with the two leading academic associations, the Broadcast Education Association and the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications, and have held meetings in conjunction with their national conventions.

At such meetings, we encourage senior researchers to mentor both a newcomer in the field and a local professor. We also ask the research community to take an "Adopt-A-School Pledge" and do some of following each semester at an area university: guest lecture, mentor students, provide internships, participate in career fairs, donate rating books, review course curriculums, and work with professors to identify students with research potential.

Jim Fletcher, who recently retired from the University of Georgia, announced plans to develop a Broadcast Research Certificate Program over the next three years. A way to validate one's knowledge and expertise in the field, the program will yield a graduate or undergraduate certificate of 15 semester hours. Working professionals can obtain a certificate through correspondence courses completed at home, at a learning center, or in the office.

My challenge to the industry is that all research stakeholders—media and agency professionals, research vendors, the studio and rep community, and university professors and administration—work together to establish a professional research association that would administer a certificate program.

A first step for professionals in the field is to form relationships with local colleges and develop a database of case studies showing research solving business problems. Vendors, the academic community needs data and software to teach effectively.

I dedicate this column to Teddy Reynolds (1940-2003), a broadcast research pioneer who epitomized research excellence.