Calling all research participants

Monday, 28 March 2016
One of my advisors at the Fulbright Commission in Colombo set up a meeting for me with an editor of one of the weekly papers. I was nervous meeting him but went to his office, had tea (part of the culture here is to have a cup of tea at meetings, usually with cake), talked about his role at the newspaper and his history as a journalist. Before I left, he was kind enough to call one of the representatives of the Sri Lanka Press Institute and handed the phone to me. Voila! I now had meeting number two scheduled in my quest to find journalists. (You probably remember that my research focuses on journalists who cover conflict.)

My meeting at the press institute was successful and I had an opportunity to meet with professional, kind, helpful people. One gentlemen asked me to plan and conduct two 1/2 day media training sessions (no need to pay a fee to a Fulbright scholar conducting research). In exchange, they helped me out with what I needed the most: contact details for journalists who might be interested in participating in research.

I am slowly learning that things work a little differently here than in the U.S. First, email is not the prevalent mode of communication. We take for granted that most folks in the West check their email 999 times a day and respond in less than a few hours. In Sri Lanka, it is more common to simply call the person. Call. As in, use the telephone, dial the person up, and talk to them. That person may or may not answer and probably doesn't have voice mail so it is like the pre-answering machine days of telephone calls. They don't answer? You just call back again, and again until they do. Also, for someone who only speaks English (you really notice how ignorant you are when you're the only person in a group that speaks just one language), I am at a disadvantage. While several people in Colombo speak English, that is not the first language or second language here. I will also be working with journalists who speak Sinhalese and Tamil.

So, not only do I hate calling people (When did that happen, anyway? I used to love talking on the phone...), I have to call people who may or may not speak English, have no idea who I am, and have no reason in the world to speak with me. This is cold calling at its best. I don't even have a product to offer, I'm just hoping that out of the goodness of people's hearts they'll want to talk with me for research's sake. Right...

This is taking quite a bit of bravery on my part but I've been scheduling interviews with journalists and asking who they might recommend as someone else to talk to. Not all of the information or meetings are helpful. That's something else I've learned... here the idea of "telling a story" is important. Answering questions in a direct way is not as common. This is challenging as a researcher - or interviewer for that matter - but I'm drawing on my experience to keep learning and keep going.

I hope you are having a wonderful start to the week. Everyone faces challenges on the job - maybe you too are able to draw on your experience to figure out solutions, keep learning, or just stay sane. 

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