Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Be a Grub Street Regular

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Be a Grub Street Regular

Article excerpt

A new survey, undertaken by Jonathan Sullivan, reveals how journalists and academics feel about each other

Academics and journalists share a common mission: to create and disseminate knowledge. But their wildly contrasting approaches have given rise to a relationship that, when not characterised by mutual neglect, can be awkward and strained.

The growing pressure on academics to throw themselves into public debates and demonstrate the societal impact of their work, however, is demanding closer and more frequent interactions with journalists. So it is vital then that we properly understand the underlying causes of the mutual frustrations.

A survey I recently conducted into the nature of interactions between scholars and journalists within my own field of China studies revealed that, for academics, the biggest source of irritation is receiving requests for interviews at very short notice; one respondent likened such requests to "late-night booty calls". These leave the academics feeling like simply "space-fillers" for hard-pressed news researchers desperate to secure an academic, any academic, before deadline.

Academics' other main complaint was being asked questions outside their area of expertise. If journalists do value scholarly contributions, they wondered, why do they apparently expend little effort to identify appropriate experts?

Further bugbears included being misquoted and pushed to oversimplify and give strong opinions.

The journalists, on the other hand, emphasised the value they place on academics' responsiveness. "Understanding the immediacy of media," one said, "is fundamental for good cooperation between journalists and academics." If messages are not promptly answered, journalists move on.

Journalists' other significant gripe concerned clarity. One correspondent stressed the need to avoid "jargon or academese", while another said stilted writing styles have a tendency to "bleed over into conversation". Column inches are limited, so academics need to be able to sum up their point succinctly.

However, my research did reveal cause for optimism. The enthusiasm among academics for media engagement is obvious. Despite already being relatively active, 44 per cent of respondents said they would like to do more media work. …

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