a new era in research on the media and social movements
If you are a social movement researcher, you often want data from the media. But there are serious logistical problems, not to mention the regular problems one has when one tries to interpret media data. Obtaining media data is hard. You need a lot of resources to do any but the most basic analyses. Doug McAdam’s group had a large NSF grant to support a detailed coding of the NY Times. In my own research, I had a team of undegraduates work for a year to scour three major newspapers for reports of Black student protest events.
That era is now over. As long as the media your are interested in is digitized and accessible, you can compile a data set in days, if not hours. There are two general approaches. First, you can use search engines to generate lists of articles with key words. Then the human coders take their turn. Second, if you are merely counting words that clearly tag a concept (e.g., “the Tea Party”) then you can write (or pay someone to write) a program called a “web scraper” to load websites and extract the text you need. For older media, such as newspaper, say, pre-1990, this is hard. But if you have a question about a recent movement, then it’s orders of magnitude easier. I forsee an era where sociologists routinely partner with computer science geeks to generate powerful data sets cheaply and complete research in months, rather than years.
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