2001 Sigma Delta Chi Awards: Research about Journalism

Article excerpt


Good researchers operate much like good journalists. They choose important topics, study what others have already revealed, and systematically collect data. Then they carefully analyze their findings, draw supportable conclusions, and write their reports with clarity. In addition, the better research tests or extends theory. As Zora Neale Hurston, a novelist and anthropologist, wrote, "Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose" And couldn't the same be said about journalism?

Academics talk of "creating knowledge," discovering information that extends what we know about the world. In the world of journalism, that means better understanding how journalists work, the role of journalism, and how audiences perceive the stories journalists tell. When evaluating research about journalism, judges consider the quality and scope of the work, the importance of the topic, and how well the researcher communicates his or her findings. Good research isn't dull, narrow and obtuse. It's engaging, relevant, expansive and perhaps provocative.

Good research speaks to journalists, giving them useful insights into their work and their audiences, giving them ideas about how to do their work better. It informs the profession about how well it is doing its job, the pressures it faces, its limitations and its successes. It also gives the general public an enhanced understanding of the practice.

Ultimately, quality research, like art, challenges with new perspectives on the world, questioning decades-long assumptions, answering lifelong questions. It should provide rock-solid, empirical evidence and reasonable theoretical conclusions.

A current debate about journalism, for example, has generated bestsellers and a whirlwind of talk show diatribe. Two books, former CBS correspondent Bernard Goldberg's "Bias" and Michael Moore's "Stupid White Men" offer competing views about the political slant of the nation's news media. Both fail the public by shoveling up buckets of new anecdotes as evidence for old, flawed theories. They are fun reading, but add nothing that can help either journalists or the public to better understand the biases of the news media.

That comes, instead, from high quality research, such as that done two years ago by University of Pennsylvania scholar Kathleen Hall Jamieson in "Everything You Think You Know about Politics and Why You're Wrong" Granted, no single research project has all the answers. But the best project constructs solid understanding that can inform the public and push practitioners forward, toward better reporting, better production and better service.



Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel

Project for Excellence in Journalism

The Elements of Journalism

Sometime between Watergate and Whitewater, the reputation of the news media has gone into a downward spiral. In a world ruled by the almighty entertainment and advertisement dollar, the public has come to question the media's integrity.

Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, authors of "The Elements of Journalism," write, "The primary purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with the information they need to be free and self-governing." With that principle in mind, the men sought the answers to why people have come to distrust and reject the media.

Kovach, Rosenstiel and 22 other prominent journalists created the Committee of Concerned Journalists and spent three years researching the declining esteem of the news.

"The Elements of Journalism" includes information drawn from 21 forums, 100 in-depth interviews of journalists and editors, content research, analysis of journalism history and journalism scholarship, and survey work from readers, viewers, listeners, journalists and editors.

The news media help us define our communities, and help us create a common language and common knowledge rooted in reality. …