New book edited by Don Grady examines audience and media analytics

Published in December by Routledge, “The Golden Age of Data: Media Analytics in Study & Practice” features research and contributions from several School of Communications faculty members and alumni.

Before there was a book, there was a daylong symposium that would serve as the foundation of the book.

Don Grady

That’s how Associate Dean Don A. Grady began his reflection on “The Golden Age of Data: Media Analytics in Study & Practice,” the new 278-page publication he edited that offers insights from top analytics practitioners examining the current state of legacy media analysis and social media analytics. The book was released on Dec. 16 by Routledge.

In advance of the Broadcast Education Association’s spring 2018 conference, Grady was selected to chair the event’s one-day research symposium dedicated to the study of big data and analytics. His charge was to coordinate programming to explore topics delving into audience and media analytics that specifically impact media academic programs and professions.

Thanks to an agreement between BEA and Routledge, a book is published each year examining the topics highlighted at the research symposium.

“The symposium and the book both attempt to address legacy media metrics and more contemporary social media analytics,” Grady said. “Hopefully, the new book will be a resource to guide future programs that are interested in helping students understand audiences in today’s media landscape.”

Ordinarily, books published in the BEA Electronic Media Research Series only include research papers that have been presented at the symposium, explained Grady.

“However, the symposium we did was oriented in a slightly different way – because of the evolving nature of media analytics,” he said. “The book includes not only thoughtful papers about the evolution and use of analytics in the professions and academia, but also panel discussions from professionals working in the field, and student papers that were competitively reviewed. The chapters in the book are based on those three things.”

“The Golden Age of Data: Media Analytics in Study & Practice” features research and contributions from several School of Communications faculty members and alumni.

The book explores an array of topics including the evolution of media measurement technologies, the teaching of media analytics, the transition taking place in audience research, and the use of media analytics to drive content creation and engage with users.

“Nowadays, when people think of analytics, they often think of social media analytics – and that has increasingly become important for all media professionals,” Grady said. “But we are also in a state of transition and must acknowledge that media companies and professionals have been doing what I would refer to as media analysis forever. It continues to be a valid concern because traditional media are still valid platforms. Understanding the audience in those legacy media platforms is an important part of what we now call media analytics. As a result, this book addresses both legacy media and social media.”

During the 2018 symposium, Lee Rainie, director of internet and technology research for the Pew Research Center and member of the school’s National Advisory Board, gave the event’s keynote address. He also authored a book chapter about digital revolution and the increasing complexity of digital media platforms and content, identifying important trends in the ways people use media today.

One of the challenges Grady faced editing the book was converting the discussion topics of two professional panels into coherent, readable chapters. Using selected comments from audience measurement leaders, Grady authored a chapter highlighting a conference panel titled “Research in the Real World of Local Media,” which was facilitated by Daniel McDonald, vice president of research at the National Association of Broadcasters. Additionally, Assistant Professor Kathleen Stansberry summarized a panel on how intuition is being replaced by media analytics for decision-making. The panel was facilitated by Jack MacKenzie, a member of the school’s National Advisory Board.

According to Grady, because the delivery of media content has been fragmented into multiple media platforms, it is vital for media professionals and academics to understand who their audiences are and what they are engaging with.

“It is important for two reasons,” Grady said. “For a media company to succeed financially, it must understand its audience. It is also important to understand what content is working for an audience; it is important to know what they are consuming and are likely to consume, and where audiences are today. That informs the type of content you will create for that audience.”

Grady said one of the reasons he was selected to lead the 2018 symposium was Elon’s distinction of housing the only undergraduate media analytics major in the country. While other programs, particularly business schools and computer science programs, study different types of analytics, Elon’s concentration on media analytics interested BEA’s research committee.

Not surprisingly, the symposium and subsequent book had heavy involvement from Elon faculty members and former students.

Stansberry and alumna Madison MacKenzie ’18 coauthored a book chapter on how communications and journalism programs can best prepare students with the skills needed for entry and mid-level careers. Likewise, Associate Professor Qian Xu and alumnus Bryan Anderson ’18 coauthored a chapter on how sports teams employ live-tweeting message strategies to compete for followers’ attention and audience engagement.

Associate Professor Byung Lee authored a chapter introducing the computer language R for numerical analysis and visualization. Assistant Professor Jane O’Boyle and Associate Professor Amanda Sturgill collaborated to write a chapter analyzing the websites and curricula for instruction in analytics of all ACEJMC-accredited programs. And Dianne Finch, a former Elon adjunct faculty member, penned a chapter on the ability of media users to remember stories told by visualized data.

The book also includes undergraduate student research papers that were competitively reviewed. Following a nationwide student competition led by Sturgill, three papers written by Elon students were selected and published:

  • “Using Analytics to Assess the AltGov vs. Official Government on Twitter,” by Andrew J. Scott ’18
  • “Comparing Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes Online Communities,” by Rachyl E. Jackson ’17
  • “#ThisIsWe: A Content Analysis of Live Tweets of This is Us,” by Madeline Hagy ’18, Ansley Hamilton ’18 and Caroline Miller ’18

“I think there is tremendous value in seeing what kinds of topics students are interested in and how they go about researching those topics,” Grady said.

“The Golden Age of Data: Media Analytics in Study & Practice” is available on the Routledge website, Amazon and other online sources.

Electronic Media Research Series

In 2008, the Broadcast Education Association initiated a program promoting original research, resulting in the creation of the BEA Research Symposium and publications. The purpose of the BEA Symposium is as a catalyst for future research, highlighting leading scholars and featuring their work. The Electronic Media Research Series was established in 2010. Along with the BEA Research Symposium Series, this initiative provides keystone research texts for those researching with the discipline.