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ARTICLE: Journalists value research more than journalism educators do

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It is more common for working journalists to think academic research is important to journalism than it is for journalism educators, write John Wihbey, of Northeastern University, and Mark Coddington, of Washington and Lee University. The authors surveyed 1 521 American journalists and journalism educators over their attitudes towards academic research and statistical literacy.

Majority of journalists (66.4 per cent) thought that academic research can be “very helpful” in various aspects of the journalistic profession. The proportion was significantly lower for journalism educators: 47.7 per cent.

According to the analysis, having a PhD does not affect journalism educators’ perceptions of the value of research – but self-perceived statistical efficacy does. Regardless of educational degree, educators confident in their statistical skills value academic research more than those less literate in statistics.

Similarly, statistical literacy in professional journalism is valued more by statistically literate journalism educators. Again, having a doctoral degree was found to be a poor predictor of this attitude. In contrast to academic research, statistical literacy is equally valued by educators and practitioners alike, the authors found.

The study demonstrates that there are journalism educators who do not consider scientific research or statistical literacy to be very important for working journalists, Wihbey and Coddington summarize. The authors suggest two possible explanations. First, journalism educators may have only thought about their own field of study when answering the survey. While communication studies might not be very interesting to laypeople, other scientific research might be.

Second, many journalism educators are former journalists, who have changed careers already some time ago. Their perception of the utility of statistics and research may be outdated, as demonstrated by the working journalists’ more appreciative attitude.

The article “Knowing the Numbers” was published by the #ISOJ Journal. It is freely available online (open access).

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