University of Houston-Victoria

Sample - Research Grant Request


Interoffice Memorandum

to: Don Smith, provost; Academic Council
from:   Susan Opt
subject: Request for Faculty Development Research Funds
date:  October 3, 1997

I am requesting $640 in Faculty Development Research funds to conduct the research necessary to write a book chapter on “Public Perspectives of Investigative Reporting” for the book “The Big Chill: Corporate Media and Investigative Reporting,” to be published next year. (See attached letter and book proposal.)

Nature and Purpose of Research
The research I will be conducting involves a survey comparison on Houston city residents and Victoria city residents on the topic of investigative reporting. In specific, I want to find out how residents of a city that has no investigative reporting and little local media (Victoria) compare in their perceptions of investigative reporting to citizens of a city that has many outlets of investigative reporting (Houston).

The information gathered from this research will become part of a book chapter on “Public Perceptions of Investigative Reporting.” The chapter will also include a literature review of previous research on this topic (data for this part has already been collected) as well as speculations about trends and directions for future research.

Methodology and Expected Results
I have talked with Dr. Rick Harrington and Dr. Richard Murray, director of UH Center for Public Policy, for guidance in developing the methodology (and will continue to consult with them to refine).

A telephone survey will be conducted with 200 Houston residents and 200 Victoria residents, randomly selected from a current phone book and from random scrambling of the last two digits of the phone numbers. (This method was recommended by Dr. Murray. He has found it to be more accurate than phone lists purchased from marketing survey organizations). This sample size was selected to keep sampling error within a 6 to 7 percent range and by what could reasonably be accomplished. Telephone surveys are being used because rate of response is much greater than a mail survey (and they are cheaper). The survey instrument is still being developed and will be sent to the Human Subject Board for approval before use.

Previous research in this area has suggested that geographic location and exposure to such
reporting are major variables in which one sees investigative reporting as important (Weaver &
Daniels. 1992; see attached). However, this has never been tested.  I would expect the results to
either confirm or discount this assumption. In addition, the results should tell us more about the
influences of exposure to such reporting. For example, a major investigative case recently
completed trial in Houston with the finding that the media outlet was at fault.  Thus Houston and
Victoria should provide a good contrast in terms of public opinion.

Contribution to Knowledge, Teaching, Public Service
In doing the background research for this topic, I have found very little published on public perceptions of investigative reporting. Only one journal article (Weaver & Daniels. 1994) has appeared, and about three media polls on the topic have been published over the past 10 years.

While there is on/off discussion in popular media about the topic of investigative reporting, it is never from the point of view of public perception.  Thus, in terms of contribution to knowledge, the field is wide open in this research area. In fact, I would expect to do spin-off research from this particular study. In addition, this particular study is already guaranteed publication, and the findings from the study can be presented at convention.

In terms of teaching, just doing the background research for this project has made me aware of
many issues in today’s journalistic world (e.g., market-driven journalism, ethics) that have
developed since I did master’s degree in journalism in the early 1980s. I have already brought
some of this into the classroom in my current mass media course and will find it helpful for classes
planned in the future (such as Newswriting or graduate level seminars on the media). In addition, a
graduate student is working with me on this project as an independent study (he will get credit as a
co-author), so he is gaining experience. I would also expect the student workers who I hope to
have do the survey would also learn something about doing research from this project.

Finally, the project will bring recognition to the university. It will be mentioned in the book chapter
as a supporter of the research, and its name will be on any convention presentations. It will also
help lend credibility to the institution as we seek to develop the more public relations/journalistic
side of the communication program. In addition, local and Houston media may benefit from the

Explanation of Budget
The budget includes the following:

$65 Photocopying costs. I estimate that the survey will run no more than 3 pages. About 430 copies will need to be made (extra copies for incomplete or problematic surveys and for training interviewers).
430 surveys x 3 pages x .05 page = $64.50
$575 Assistance. I estimate it will take about 100 hours to do the telephone calls (figuring 4 calls an hour). This does not include time lost because of rejections or call backs. That time should be made up by the time I and the graduate student are spending making phone calls.  According to Laura Smith, the university pays student workers $5.75 an hour.
100 hours x 5.75 =$575

$0  Telephone calls. Local calls have no charge. Laura Smith said she would arrange for me to use the flat-fee data lines between here and Houston for after hours calling.

Timeline for Research

October:  Complete review of literature and develop survey questions.
November:   Send method design to book editors for final approval.
                    Submit survey/method to Human Subjects Board for approval.
                    Identify and train student workers.
                   Compile random sample list.
December:  Conduct telephone surveys the week of Dec. 15.
January:  Compile results.
Feb./March:  Write chapter, Draft to editors.
April:  Complete chapter.