Mackay, Hugh and Tong, Jingrong
Interactivity, the global conversation and World Service research: Digital China.
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This paper examines the relationship between a broadcaster’s research methods and aspects of the environment in which it operates, specifically its accountability to its funders and the growth of interactivity by its users. It is concerned with (1) how the BBC World Service’s funding by the UK government’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) means that it has to account for its activities to some extent in terms of the global conversation which it fosters; and (2) how the recent growth of interactive and social media enhances possibilities for worldwide engagement and conversation, but also increases the complexities of measurement. This is because users are dispersed across the globe (they are no longer confined to a geographical area of radio reception) and they are interactive: instead of merely listening or viewing, they talk back to the BBC, and they talk with one another. New tools and techniques are needed to measure these new flows and forms of interaction (and they also beg new professional and organisational practices). In a case study of the BBC’s Chinese service, the paper explores what the BBC knows of its audience or users; and, in a content analysis of online forums, it explores some of the issues and possibilities that arise in researching online interaction, the sort of research data and analysis that might be seen as necessary in the context of organisational accountability and the emerging interactive media environment.
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