Saturday, September 4, 2010

All I Ask Is That Journalists Do Journalism

. Saturday, September 4, 2010

I'm not at APSA, but everyone's talking about the journalists-lecture-academics panel. Here's Yglesias:

As I heard it explained to me, it’s not merely that taking time to help inform a non-specialist audience about political science findings isn’t specifically rewarded, it’s positively punished. And not simply in the sense that doing less research and more publicizing is punished; I was told that holding research output constant, getting more publicity for your output would be harmful to a junior scholar’s career because it would feed an assumption of non-seriousness.

That’s pretty nuts.


Yes it is. But as Farley notes, so is demanding that academics do journalists' jobs for them:

While Barry Pump is being a touch over-snarky, he’s right to note that the enterprise had a bit of the lecture to it, in the sense that the blogger/journalists were telling the political scientists what we needed to do in order to be relevant. On questions of blogging, journalism, and political science I am very rarely stirred to defense of institutional academic polisci, but I nevertheless felt myself stirring. “This is what you need to do in order to make us pay attention to you” was a regular refrain from the panel, and while there is some utility to that message, it can come in shapes and sizes that provoke more or less irritation. ...

By and large, IR and comparative haven’t had the same impact [as American] on the journalist community in either their quantitative or qualitative forms. I think that several major concepts/grand theories from both comparative and IR have found their way into the general policy conversation (deterrence theory, for example) but it’s more difficult to find uses of clear, sound political science research. IPE might be an exception to this. The immense political science literature on ethnic conflict seems utterly detached from the way that ethnic conflict is treated in the popular media. ...

I can certainly appreciate why journalists don’t have the time to delve into full investigations of the area studies and comparative literature, or even to read some of the longer academic books in the field; I’m an academic, and I barely have time to read books anymore.


I don't think anyone expects journalists to read every book released by every university press every year. But I don't think it's too much to ask that they have a passing familiarity with their subject. If they are writing about voting behavior, then they should have some inkling of how voters behave. If they are writing about how international regulations are created, they should know something about it. If they're going to write about U.S.-Sino relations, or how changes in the balance of power are likely to affect politics, or about the likelihood of reaching a global climate change agreement, then it would seem like a prerequisite to reporting to know what experts think. Usually there's one or two classic books or papers that will cover the basic lesson, and journalists can contact/interview specialists for anything they need beyond that point.

Marc Ambinder says that "Political science does not have a good explanation for Sarah Palin." How is he sure? Even better, what does he even mean? The press has seemed pretty mystified by Palin for two years running. I'm not really sure what he wants political science to be, or what he wants political scientists to do.

I do think that political scientists can (and should!) do better at marketing our work, and we could probably take some cues from economists and even hard scientists in this regard. There are very few "pop" poli-sci books out there, and many departments don't reward "unserious" work, where "unserious" includes books published by non-academic presses; articles written in mainstream journals, magazines, and papers; even textbooks. This is especially true of junior scholars. (At the same time, popular work by economists seems to come almost exclusively from senior faculty.) But that doesn't remove the obligation of journalists to know their subject matter or to have at least some idea of what the academic community is doing and saying. Journalists are supposedly good at investigating subject matter and reporting on it. They should do more of that.

P.S. I have no idea why Farley thinks that IPE theory has somehow made it into mainstream journalist thought when it hasn't even made it into mainstream academic IR thought, and is nowhere in government/policy circles.

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All I Ask Is That Journalists Do Journalism
 
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