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Middletown Media Studies


When the Lilly Endowment decided to bestow a huge grant on Ball State University, one of then Dean Scott Olson's ideas was a new journal on digital media (which became The International Digital Media & Arts Association Journal).  Scott established a small journal committee (of which I was a member) and charged us with creating that new journal.  I suggested that if we were really going to kick off a new enterprise like that, why not use some of the grant money to fund research that would really get the journal and Ball State noticed?  Having accepted that idea, the question became what should we do?  By now, the committee was down to three: Michael Holmes, Mark Popovich and me.

As someone who had been researching televsion for many years, I had always puzzled over the irreconcilable differences between the Nielsen ratings, which consistely showed that 91% of Americans watch TV each day and studies by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press which consistently reported that about 75% of Americans watched TV each day.  There were even greater differences between the two on how much time people spend watching TV.  With such an enormous variance, they couldn't both be right.  What if we could determine the answer?  With critical input from my wife, Carole Clark Papper (an expert in ethnographic research), she and I came up with the idea for a three-part study, asking people the Pew questions about media research, having them keep a diary (as Nielsen frequently did) and observing people using media.

The results, some of which can be found at the Ball State wesbite at would go on to catalog in detail the extreme unreliability of self-perception as it relates to media use as well as Michael Holmes' brilliant observation that we could gather data on concurrent media use to a degree never before done.  It was (and remains) exciting stuff, and TV Week called it the most groundbreaking audience research in 20 years.


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