Study Design
Written by Natalie Berner and Antonia Paal

The present study is based on a category system deducted from Giddens’ structuration theory. It connects the theoretical framework with our object of investigation, “the autonomy of journalists around the globe”. On top of that, the category system provides a guideline and orientation during the research process. Especially since the individual countries are evaluated by different researches the category system ensures comparability and inter-subjective comprehensibility. Generally our team consists of nine researchers based at Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich. Most of the country reports and interviews were conducted from 2015 and 2017.
Method and source triangulation
To get our results we used two methods: document analysis and expert interviews. Documents which function as unit of analysis can come from diverse sources. Besides the revisiting of existing media system analysis, we looked at legislative texts, press releases from state officials, or self-descriptions of institutions and authorities available online. One important source are the country reports of Freedom House, Reporters without Borders or IREX (International Research and Exchanges Board), which already have a particular focus on press freedom issues. In a similar way, the Human Development Index and reports about the economical and infrastructural situation were used. The document analysis serves in particular to get more recent information of the situation inside the country than can be found in academic literature. Documents which come directly from the government or are “pure” without any interpretation (like the constitution, the preamble or the already mentioned self-descriptions) provide a more profound knowledge of the country because of the lack of intermediaries which could dilute certain information.

Nevertheless, it is very important to have direct contacts to double-check the results from the document analysis. Issues like the perception of the journalists in the society or the obstacles journalists are facing in their daily routines can be carved out much better via interviews with involved persons or country experts. By combining analyzing documents and interviewing experts, the present study tries to gain the advantages of both methods (e.g. easy accessible information, personal insights), while relativizing the disadvantages (like selection bias or subjectivity).
Expert interviews
The expert interview is a semi-structured talk with persons who have exclusive knowledge of a certain social field. Since experts often have knowledge that is not necessarily written down and accessible to others, those interviews have a high potential of information, which can’t be found in documents. In our case, experts have inside knowledge on a particular country and its media system. They can point out important legal texts, studies or rankings, and additionally have in-depth knowledge on the culture and traditions of the country. As a researcher, this method simplifies the access to the field, the more so as experts are easy to identify and theoretically willing to share their expertise (Blöbaum et al., 2016). The questions are based on the category system, e.g. “How are journalists perceived by the public?” (perception of society) or “What about the education and the working conditions of journalists in this particular country?” (allocative resources). However, as there can’t be one questionnaire that fits for all experts and countries the questions had to be adjusted from case to case. Examples would be the influence of the many different languages in African countries, the impact of religion or certain rulers on a media system or even the expert’s life that affects the questions asked.

But who can be an expert? In the case of this study a wide range of people and professions could be considered: journalists, journalism or communication researchers, NGO workers, correspondents, employees at foreign offices, persons involved in media policy or even private persons, who can share their assessment on the country’s current situation. All those mentioned are in one way or the other players in the media system of a particular country ‑ and linking it with the theoretical framework, are agents in the social structure (Schädlich & Gordeeva, 2017).

The expert interviews were conducted via phone, e-mail, skype or in person. The acquisition of the experts could take place in different ways: sometimes there were publications one can refer to or personal relations; sometimes experts were recruited just via email or even twitter. Depending on the situation in the country, people were easy to gain for the project or not. Sometimes it was hard and plenty of requests had to be started. The success was influenced for example by the openness of the culture in the certain country or how the person considers the value and outcomes of such a research project. The report of Italy for example dropped in the period when several earthquakes hit the country. Of course it was harder to get experts during this time since the country was in the state of emergency.

The interview outcome always has to be contextualized with the background of the interviewee. An expert interview is a reactive method of data collection. Possible influences are the interview situation, the technical requirements (phone, skype), the interviewer-interviewee relation (gender, nationality, social status), and the interests of the interviewee which in turn are influenced by his or her current situation. Even the fact whether the interviewee’s name is mentioned relating to his or her statements can have an impact on what people say. In addition, it has to be kept in mind that every interviewed person wants to convey a particular impression of a media system – either consciously or not – and possibly promotes topics or opinions out of self-interest. For that reason, it is important to put the experts’ statements in the context of other information gathered in the research process. That’s why our study was multidimensional conceptualized, with literature, document analysis and expert interviews. After the country portrait based on the sources mentioned above was drafted, an internal review procedure observed quality standards and provided critical evaluation prior to the publishing.
  • Blöbaum, B., Nölleke, D., & Scheu, A. M. (2016). Das Experteninterview in der Kommunikationswissenschaft. In S. Averbeck Lietz & M. Meyen (Eds.), Handbuch nicht standardisierte Methoden in der Kommunikationswissenschaft (pp. 175-190). Wiesbaden: Springer.
  • Schädlich, H. & Gordeeva, D. (2017). A category system based on structuration theory. In: Michael Meyen (ed.), Mapping Media Freedom. LMU Munich: Department of Communication Studies and Media Research. [January 01, 2016].
Recommended citation form
Natalie Berner, Antonia Paal: Study Design. In: Michael Meyen (ed.), Mapping Media Freedom. LMU Munich: Department of Communication Studies and Media Research 2017. (access date)