SDX 2002 Awards Gallery
Narrowing the academic gap
By Marilyn Greenwald
The relationship between journalists and mass communication researchers has historically been a tenuous one. To journalists, communication research is frequently esoteric, takes a long time to do, and seems to provide few if any answers to practical questions. To communication researchers, the done-in-a-day nature of journalism is anecdotal and can be a quick snapshot that sheds little light on bigger-picture issues.
As times goes on, however, mass-communication researchers and reporters and editors may find that their jobs have more in common. As culture, society and technology rapidly change, both researchers and journalists find themselves faced with many new and pressing questions questions such as how to ensure that news consumers are sophisticated enough to identify subtly biased news; how to get younger people interested in the news; and how to sort out coverage in an industry dominated by fewer and fewer mega-corporations.
In the last decade or so, researchers and journalists have managed to live harmoniously. While reporters must concern themselves with what has happened, researchers, overall, try to discover why it has happened, and the roles are complementary. Covering the what is certainly a difficult job one that requires the collection and interpretation of hundreds of facts that usually must be distilled and described in several hours or less. It is often impossible for reporters and editors to worry about the why. Discovering the why is much more time-consuming and usually takes extensive study of a topic, sometimes over several months or years. That is the job of researchers, who have the luxury of time.
Certainly the changing complexion of news over the past few years also has forced researchers and news gatherers to work together. With the recent explosion of health and science coverage, some reporters have become researchers in their own right and have been forced to understand the seemingly complicated numbers and research techniques they once scorned. And, as the 2000 presidential election proved so dramatically, most journalists cannot be content to leave it all to the experts covering polling and having the ability to identify reliable survey techniques and methods may now be part of reporters jobs.
As most seasoned reporters and researchers know, their jobs are very much related both have the burden of interpreting complicated concepts and explaining them in understandable ways. And both realize that as technology advances during this century, their jobs will not get any easier.
Marilyn Greenwald teaches at Ohio University and won the 2000 SDX Award for research about journalism.