It is more difficult than one would think about the differences in media research techniques. People often get them confused with political polls or television ratings, even news reports. While these other products may be carefully done with some scientific techniques. There is a difference between these and academic research.
The scientific approach is normally thought of as quantitative (involving the measurement in numerical forms) but can also be qualitative such as focus groups and open-ended surveys. Scientific methods are more than about collecting numbers to describe an event. A scientific method requires a specific prior plan for how you will evaluate, what you will measure, and predictions before starting. Most students starting with academic research make the mistake the at the review of prior literature is the research project. The review of prior work grounds the project in the findings of others. The theoretical foundation is the researcher’s worldview and provides a foundation for predictions. Essential to the scientific method is that you attempt to prove the opposite of what you believe (called the null hypothesis). The null is too often implied but is still the basis for most statistical tests. If you can reject the null, the research lends support to what you believe. This support is not “proof.” It is an indicator that the researcher is on the right path.
On the other hand, the critical cultural approach takes a more holistic view of an effect on society. It considers the weight of beliefs, history, and popular culture to describe the way a situation is interpreted. The meme below came across my Facebook feed. I realized it was a Critical theory application of modern Christianity. It provides a commentary on contemporary Christianity and relates it to Disney movies and the larger movie industry. Note how it applies accepted interpretation of the Bible with a commentary on modern culture. It may insult you. It may support you. The important thing here is understanding the technique of making a point. Try to understand the differences.
There is value in all approaches. The academic community thrives from multiple approaches. The critical cultural researcher can inform the quantitative researcher as the quantitative researcher can provide evidence to the qualitative. The goal is to keep the questions coming and the conversation alive.