An Interview With Professor Frank Russell

 Do you believe Twitter is a viable way to collect data for communications research? Journalist and CSUF Professor Frank Russell goes in-depth about his past experiences using Twitter and other social media sites for data research. 

Professor Russell had worked in the news industry for over 20 years for newspapers such as San Jose Mercury News, The Seattle Times, and The Los Angeles Daily, among other newspapers. Near the end of his time in journalism, he worked in digital journalism.

Transitioning to Research

After spending more than 20 years in the news industry Russell went back to Grad School at his alma mater, San Jose State University, wanting to do something else with journalism.

“I was thinking in terms of how I could build some more multimedia skills. It didn’t really turn out that way. Though, I actually ended up finding that I liked the research part. And that was in 2009,” Russell said.

In 2011, Russell worked on his master’s degree alongside work as a visiting professor at the University of Missouri. While at the University of Missouri, Russell observed some of the best research in journalism and that led him to apply to the Ph.D. program there.

Russell said that a Ph.D. is a research-intensive degree. The research intensiveness of a Ph.D. made him enjoy working toward it. Russell acquired his Ph.D. in 2016 and was hired as faculty at CSUF that same year.

Difficulties Transitioning to Research

Russell said that the transition to research from journalism was seamless. Russell noted that research and journalism are similar in execution; however, he also notes that Journalism communication conditions are no longer solely characterized by mass media but are increasingly complemented by social media. Social media such as Twitter made it even easier to find research.

Russell says that journalists are used to being neutral when it comes to their work. Journalists becoming researchers have to do the opposite. His advice to new researchers, especially journalists, is that concluding is a necessity.

Using Social Media for Research

Russell has been using Twitter and Reddit as sources of data. Russell also has used texts for data, for example, he has used a New York Times article as a source. Russell says that Twitter has made it easily accessible for researchers to download data compared to other social media platforms. “Twitter is practical because the data is there and ready to be downloaded.”

In his work, Russell found that journalists started to use Twitter more. This has made him think of the question: how do journalists use Twitter? Due to his journalism work in Silicon Valley, he was interested in the relationship between Silicon Valley and journalists. 

TikTok has become one of the top social media apps. Although Russell is not experienced with TikTok, he does see the app as potentially valuable for research.

“One thing interesting about Tik Tok is that it makes its content available to be posted on platforms such as Twitter. So even though I’m not on Tik Tok, I see it all the time on Twitter and Reddit,” Russell said.

Because Tik Tok users can spread their content with ease, he noted that the platform can easily be used to propagate social movements.

The Effects of Media

Russell does not believe that the media affects people very much. He explains Agenda Setting Theory, a theory that the media does tell us what to think/talk about but does not influence us. Russell believes that the media does set the agenda for what people talk about. Russell believes that interpersonal communication is the most influential thing that people have on each other. 

People do have very small effects but it is really hard to research that he is not interested in the effect that media has. Instead, Russell wants to look at other research questions. For example, what influences the media to make the choices from a journalism perspective? What affects the media? What news stories should be pursued? What news should be published or broadcasted? Russell also brings up that this works for the entertainment side as well such as: How does Hollywood decide what movie to make? What Russell finds interesting about these questions is that they make people question how the public affects the media.

Qualitative or Quantitative 

Professor Russell enjoys using qualitative research over quantitative research. Russell believes that quantitative research is based in academia. He finds it interesting to use qualitative research for this reason. It ultimately depends on the question at hand, because it shifts from situation to situation. Quantitative forecasting requires hard data and number crunching, while qualitative forecasting relies more on educated estimates and expert opinions. Using a combination of both of these methods to estimate sales, revenues, production, and expenses. Use quantitative research if you want to confirm or test something. Use qualitative research if you want to understand something. 

Advice for Student Researchers

Professor Russell explained that research is challenging, so he suggests researching what interests them. It takes years to gain good research. If it is something the researcher does not enjoy, then it will not be solid research compared to the research of someone interested in that subject. Professor Russell followed his passion for research and it has taken him through 30+ years of education and studies. 

The collective work between students and administrators has proven to be a successful combination, and he looks forward to the continuation of these efforts in future studies. This will also have an impact on their future in their chosen profession by putting them in a position to attach their name to efforts that may have reshaped the parameters that were once the norm. 


In conclusion, Professor Frank Russell wants researchers to pursue what is interesting to them. He states that the use of social media is very prominent in his field with platforms like Twitter making it much easier to find research. Applying the Agenda Setting Theory, Russell does not believe that the media does not heavily affect the public and instead advocates that interpersonal communication is the most influential thing that people have on one another. Russell is more interested in what affects the media and theories that the general public is the one affecting the media much more than the media is affecting the people.

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