What Purpose Do Academic Journals Really Serve?

By Christian, Sue Ellen | The Quill, October/November 2005 | Go to article overview

What Purpose Do Academic Journals Really Serve?


Christian, Sue Ellen, The Quill


Of the more than 7,000 refereed academic journals published in the United States each year, a good-sized bookcase of those deal with journalism - newspaper research, media ethics, journalism education, mass media, you name it. Make room on the bookshelf for one more, as The Journal of Sports Media will debut in the spring.

Academics acknowledge that aside from sharing knowledge among scholars, these journals are the bedrock of higher education's tenure and promotion system. So is The Journal of Sports Media something that a sportswriter at a daily newspaper ought to bother reading? Is anyone aside from academics reading scholarly studies on journalism? Should working journalists bother with these articles? Do these studies have anything applicable to pass on to practitioners? What's with the canyonwide disconnect between practitioners and the professorate when it comes to journalism research findings? Do journalists even know these publications exist? And if they did, would they care?

I called the editor of the fledgling journal to see why he'd want to start another journal that no journalist I knew would ever read. I found Brad Schultz, an assistant professor at the University of Mississippi, who, after 15 years in television news and sports, went and got his Ph.D. Schultz and other researchers are launching the journal for several reasons.

Academia is increasingly being splintered into niches of study, and sports media is one of them. Schultz wants to launch a journal that takes his niche - sports media - seriously.

"There's a lot of people out there who look at sports media the same way that news directors look at sports in the newscast, or sports editors look at in the newspaper - which is like the toy department," said Schultz. "But it is important. It's important economically, it's important culturally."

Think Super Bowl and Janet Jackson = federal regulation, economics, culture, public relations.

His other reason for the journal is to offer practical advice to people in the industry.

"There needs to be a reconnection somewhere between what's going on with academics and what's going on in the industry," said Schultz. "We have all these universities doing research and all this data and all these results, and it would seem like that would be a wonderful opportunity for people in the industry to take advantage of it, and it's not happening."

But does the industry want to listen? We'll get to that later.

The 43-year-old Schultz is an admitted neophyte to academia, having joined a faculty just three years ago. So it was worth checking in with the editor of a long-established and upper-tier journal, Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, which has been around for 80 years. Its editor for the past four years is Daniel Riffe, professor and presidential research scholar at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University.

Journalists who work with daily deadlines are focused on getting out a product - a newspaper or newscast, said Riffe, who believes in that focus and teaches his students the importance of it.

"But in addition to journalism as a craft, there is also a conceptual or more abstract view of journalism, what some would criticize as the 'high wind in the trees stuff,' " said Riffe. To wit: "There is also journalism, the social and cultural and economic phenomenon. It's almost at an institutional level beyond the individual.

"But it's problematic for academics to just publish exclusively for other academics," said Riffe.

Such exclusivity isn't healthy for researchers, who can lose touch with the craft and who lose out on seeing their work put to use. In addition, it shortchanges working journalists, who sometimes need a nudge outside their inner circle to take a critical look at the industry swirling around them.

The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, which publishes Riffe's journal, is trying to bridge the gap by distilling journalism research into usable, practical tidbits for practitioners - editors, publishers, reporters - and sending out press releases to news organizations. …

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