Mixed Methods to Examine Communication Crises: Combining a Case Study With the Experimental Method


In 2013, U.S. television chef Paula Deen faced a public relations crisis following news reports of a court deposition in which she had admitted using a racial epithet in the past. To investigate questions related to her effectiveness at image repair on issues of race and study the question more broadly, we conducted a mixed-methods analysis, which included a case study using rhetorical analysis and then an experiment. A mixed-methods study combines qualitative and quantitative techniques for a specific research purpose. The case study, using multiple qualitative techniques, examined the public apologies Deen issued, including via social media. We first used a rhetorical analysis approach (examining message mechanics) to investigate Deen’s public defense efforts via social media, official statements and televised interviews as evidence of her image repair efforts against charges of her racial insensitivity. Then, we used a follow-up experiment, a quantitative technique that examined the effectiveness of the different response strategies that different types of public personas may use to defend themselves against news media’s reporting of allegations of racial insensitivity (moral defense, performance defense, defiance defense, or no defense). The case presented here demonstrates how combining methods for the purpose of understanding the effects of image repair defense strategies on public perceptions can answer questions that could not be answered by using one method in isolation. It demonstrates how you select materials to conduct a rhetorical analysis for a case study and discusses the decisions that go into designing an experimental study.

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