Why online isn’t the cure for all NRS’s ills

Paul Seabrook of CCB extols the “many benefits” of online media research in the context of the debate on the future of the National Readership Survey (NRS) in his letter (MW August 10).

Paul Seabrook of CCB extols the “many benefits” of online media research in the context of the debate on the future of the National Readership Survey (NRS) in his letter (MW August 10).

In our society there are, for sure, benefits in being able to contact respondents in this way, but it is important to be quite clear about the overall process and what issues there may be for the quality of the resulting information. It may be that the “anonymity” of the online data capture approach has the advantage of removing interviewer bias, though in contrast to Paul’s assertion I do not believe there is much evidence of any systematic effect of this kind. On the other hand, a potential disadvantage of online is that we will usually have little or no reassurance that the response has actually been provided by the person intended. Beyond this there are much more fundamental issues to be addressed concerning the representativeness of the sample that can be achieved using online panels.

How carefully people respond to varying techniques is difficult to judge. The current NRS does filter out “irrelevant questions” using CAPI – indeed has done so since 1992. It is true that the NRS interview can nonetheless seem rather tedious – especially if you are a “heavy” reader. That is the penalty for having a systematic approach that is essential in research in general, and media

research in particular. One of the concerns about the online approach is that it may be treated less seriously given the absence of an interviewer and the ability of the respondent to dip in and out at will. It would be interesting to hear more of Paul’s experience using his online tool.

None of this is to suggest that the NRS doesn’t need improvement – its chairman and managing director have both admitted it does. Online may play a part in its future. However, it is essential to identify the issues that need to be addressed and then the extent to which online approaches can help with these, rather than assuming that it is necessarily the only solution to all known or supposed NRS ills.

Roger Gane

Research director

RSMB Audience Research

London WC2

mw.editorial@centaur.co.uk include your home/business address

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