Area Research, journalism and journalists

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Research academicians deride journalists for generalist writing. They claim that their writing is based on superficiality and it lacks academic rigour. That remains true even as a researcher depends upon a journalist and his writing to get a feel of the most up to date reality. Researchers would greet a journalist to get a perspective but they would happily discard their way of putting a reality as ‘lacking research rigour’.

A social science researcher, especially those involved in area research can’t afford to live in the past. The problems that the world faces today needs a more interactive and participatory solutions. Journalists fit in a researcher’s need to remain contemporary and relevant.

Journalistic writing and journalistic attitude rarely coincides with the attitude of a researcher. A strategic researcher would say that it’s India’s military capability that would determine whether India is a powerful country or not. A journalist can’t base his decision on one aspect. For a journalist military capability is irrelevant in a country where people live in desperate poverty.

Journalists are trained to incorporate all the experience they undergo when they do a story. A researcher on the other hand is trained to weed out the ‘unwanted variables’, in above case poverty.

The differences related to writing styles of journalists and researchers are equally acute. Journalism is the profession of story-telling, of holding attention of people and of telling facts in a way that would enhance retention. They cater to varied sets of people at one time and hence use imagery and imagination to draw their readers and make them understand. Researchers on the other hand do not cater to such diverse set of audience. They need to devise arguments and ideas that would enhance the understanding of policy makers and contemporary researchers. True researchers are more accurate and reliable but then which journalist gets years to work on one topic.

An applied researcher is a little different in this regard. S/he would study a problem, mostly deeper than journalists but nonetheless can’t completely ignore what journalists have to say about his research topic.

Journalists don’t claim to be expert. They don’t force their opinion because they believe that opinions are relative and subject to change. Journalists are trained to punch holes in other’s world view even as they avoid their own opinions from taking the centre stage. While none can live without each other, it’s the journalist who happily agrees to take the back seat or is otherwise forced to do so.

What happens when a journalist tries to be a researcher or vice versa? That nonetheless makes things difficult for each of them. A journalist won’t willingly quit his worldview and generalist writing to cater to a wide set of audience. Nor would a researcher ‘come down’ to a writing that follows ‘Make Your Readers Feel Happy’ code.

For a journalist his/er audience is God. Facts and figures have to be simplified and elaborated without making reading difficult. They would aim explaining a point or may be a set of points and weave it in a story to ensure that readers feel delighted when they read them. This is also what makes researchers love them but their expertise never lets them to accept journalists as they are.

It’s just an opinion that might be the hypotheses for a researcher who will ultimately follow the rigour to prove it. But does that mean that the journalist had any less important role to play? How can the spark that caused the fire be less important?



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