Making Implicit Methods Explicit: Trade Press Analysis in the Political Economy of Communication

Thomas F. Corrigan


The political economy of communication (PEC) situates media systems and practices in their structural and historical contexts; however, PEC scholars rarely articulate or justify their research methods. To address this oversight, this article explains how PEC scholars use trade publications to study media industries, practices, policy making, and discourses thereof. Following a critical realist approach, PEC researchers “burrow down” in trade press advertisements and reports and “listen in” to the frank, insider discussions therein. This article evaluates the trade press against Scott’s four “quality control criteria” for documentary sources—authenticity, credibility, representativeness, and meaning. Trade publications employ daunting industry jargon, and they can be cozy with the industries they cover. Still, the trade press provide otherwise unobtainable insights into the structure and organization of media industries, how they are regulated, and the practices and worldviews of media executives and professionals. This article argues that by approaching the trade press ethnographically, PEC researchers can reap their benefits while avoiding pitfalls.


political economy of communication, trade press analysis, critical realism, documentary sources, ethnographic research

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