Journalism as research

30 January 2013

A problem that emerges every time we take a look at the relationship between the media and research is that researchers can be wary of journalists, as the latter often oversimplifies research because they do not have any sort of investigative or scientific training. Journalists also tend to stay away from stories about new research – for instance, in Latin America, journalists consider that research is in an inappropriate format for journalism, and look for more sensationalist, “news worthy” events.  Nevertheless, Charlie Beckett has argued on the LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog that journalism can and should count as academic research output – it just depends on the kind of journalism and the kind of research.

Journalism and research have different research methods, but have core functions like observation, investigation and deliberation that can fit into both these disciplines. Moreover, they can add dynamism to research and reduce academic gate keeping.

It may not be as rigorous or transparent and accountable in setting out that methodology as academic research should be, but sometimes  journalism can be more critically astute. Limited notions of ‘common sense’ and ‘real world’ may often hinder journalism from taking a more thoughtful and reflective approach to a subject. However, journalism can often be more sensitive to the unevenness of systems as they operate in practice and especially of the irregularities introduced by the infinite variations of human relationships and personality.

Furthermore, the research review process can be very exclusive and protectionist, while the very public nature of journalism ensures that many different individuals and groups consider it and evaluate it at different levels and constituencies. This is enhanced by the new types of technology such as ICTs, as the audience can now interact with journalism much faster and on diverse platforms. Research should take advantage of this characteristic of journalism, widening their audience and using journalism both as a research tool and as a vehicle for dissemination and impact.

At On Think Tanks we have previously focused on how journalism and research can work together to spread information to broader audiences. There are blogs such as The Salt on NPR, which, for example, looks into the political economy of food by publishing articles that they strive to make interesting, engaging and relatable. They work because they combine thorough academic research with sound journalism like good writing and design – in other words, the kind of journalism that is appropriate for academic content.