July 14, 2010

CBC proud to release report by ERIN Research

As published in The Erin Advocate

The first phase of an innovative study by an Erin firm, measuring the "balance" of news presented on television, radio and the internet, has been released by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

The News Balance Interim Report, by ERIN Research, is based on a 10-week sample of news recorded from October 26, 2009, to January 17, 2010. The full study, to be released in the fall, will span the 25-week period ending May 2, 2010, covering about 440 hours of broadcast news and 2,400 internet news stories.

"The study will be the most detailed and comprehensive of its kind in Canada and likely among any in the world. It's already creating something of a buzz in the academic and research communities," said Jennifer McGuire, general manager and editor-in-chief of CBC News. "Overseen by an independent panel of media experts, the final study will include both detailed content analysis and audience perception research."

ERIN Research has a long history with the CBC – the broadcaster was their first client back in 1981. That work has included six major studies of fairness in coverage of federal elections, plus the Quebec Referendum in 1995.

The company was founded by Dr. George Spears, PhD, trained in cognitive psychology, and Kasia Seydegart, with a Masters in Social Work. The couple moved to Erin, then decided it was better to start their own company than to commute long distances to work. The core team now includes Director Pat Zulinov and Business Manager Brenda Nicholson. There is also a variable workforce of contract researchers hired for various projects. You can learn more about the company and its ventures at www.erinresearch.com.

In addition to research for various media groups, ERIN Research also works for large organizations including TD Canada Trust, Peel Region, the Upper Grand District School Board and the Ontario government, measuring the level of satisfaction or effectiveness perceived by end users of specific services.

"Organizations want an empirical basis for making decisions, grounded in fact, in the truth, removing it from the subjective," said Seydegart. "This enables decision makers to have common information."

She says the success of a study depends not just on knowledge of the field, but on the sophistication of the statistical analysis, which can produce more beneficial data for clients. The questions must not only be relevant, but worded to elicit clear answers.

ERIN Research has won several awards for innovation and performance. Dr. Spears is considered an expert in the analysis of news and public affairs broadcasting, and of music use in the media and on the internet.

The firm did four studies in a project called Citizens First, for the Institute for Citizen-Centred Service, analyzing what really drives public satisfaction with government services. The organization says it has established the "gold-standard" for research on public sector service delivery, not only in Canada, but around the world.

"It is a powerful tool for governments to see themselves from the public perspective," said Seydegart.

The high-profile work for the CBC results in some intense scrutiny. Follow the on-line link from the ERIN site to the CBC announcement, and you'll find a forum filled with critics who accuse the CBC of all sorts of biases. Some suggest the ERIN Research study cannot be valid, since they see it as the CBC analyzing itself.

"That is not the case – we are independent," said Seydegart. "They come to us to get objective advice. It is not slanted or biased."

The CBC study measures things like the amount of news exposure given to different parts of the country, the representation given to visible minorities and aboriginal people and the balance of air time given to various political parties. It even measures the "tone" of the introductions and wrap-up comments in news items. For example, on The National, it is 19 per cent positive, 62 per cent neutral and 19 per cent negative.

It also finds that the CBC leads its competitors in its proportion of appearances of female news anchors and program hosts: 49 per cent for network radio, 60 per cent for local radio, 58 per cent for network television and 75 per cent for local television. Men still dominate the content of the news, since they remain the primary players in major news categories such as politics and crime.