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Focus Groups Guide

Part 5 Data Analysis and Reporting

Coding The Interviews

Once the focus group has concluded, you will need to transcribe your audio recordings for a detailed analysis of your participants’ responses. To analyze your data, you will review the transcript or “code” it, moving line by line to take note of themes or concepts. For example, codes could be for specific topics such as “citizen journalism” or “Facebook news access” or broader ones such as “lack of trust in news.” Coding should progress through two stages: “open coding” and “closed coding.” Open coding is a stage in which you review data for any identifiable themes, no matter how disparate or unrelated to your research questions or goals. The second closed coding stage applies the specific themes that relate to your research questions or goals. The open codes can be analytically useful because they may reveal ideas that relate to your goals but were outside the scope of your initial questions. Some researchers choose to use “intercoder-reliability” — that is, have two coders review the transcripts independently and compare their notes to ensure the reliability of the codes.

As you move through the coding process, you may have to refine or revise codes. For example, an early code may be “positive news.” But later you may determine that this code is too broad to capture the complexity of the issue. Therefore, you can create sub-codes under “positive news” such as “positive news about community events” or “positive news unrelated to crime.” Rather than creating very specific codes, it is useful to consider loose, descriptive codes that may capture a broader — but important — dimension of a problem or question.

Finally, drawing on both open and closed codes, individual memos can be written to synthesize research findings. These memos can then be revised, edited, and integrated into a single collective narrative. When possible, your final report should include excerpts from participant quotes to reinforce particular analytic points.

Using The Data in the Newsroom

Once you have the coded transcripts and a narrative that draws out key themes, you have to decide how to use those findings in your newsroom. Acknowledging the likely mix of critical and constructive feedback in the focus group report, it is helpful to have advance buy-in from newsroom stakeholders. If people do not value this process from the start, it will be difficult to use community feedback for meaningful change in the newsroom.

The best focus groups produce useful lessons and themes for discussion across the newsroom, providing insights that have business implications, suggest editorial ideas, and raise engagement issues. Use the focus group report to host a series of strategic discussions with relevant departments, with a focus on creating action plans based on user feedback. Some departmental overlap may be worthwhile to ensure that conversations about the report are not isolated and that teams can work together on their responses. Keep in mind that one outcome from a focus group may be more information gathering to better understand a trend identified by the research discussions. In many cases, however, focus groups can give a newsroom enough information to begin testing prototypes of new story ideas, revenue models, and engagement strategies.

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