Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Polisci Muscles in on Journalism's Turf?

Everyone knows journalism is a wounded profession. And when there's blood in the water, it won't be long before the sharks come calling.

Call this shark political science.

Or, as this study asks:
As the criticism of our current state of journalism and the current state of journalism education mounts, we ask a simple question: Could political science graduates do a better job of providing political reporting than graduates with journalism degrees?
Good question. Unfortunately, the authors "do not test this question empirically," which I'd argue is kinda important. Instead, they scan political science curricula to argue grads have the skills necessary to "wade through political spin, manipulation, and misdirection."

Maybe. Maybe not.

All I have access to is the abstract, same as you if you followed the link above. And I have absolutely nothing against polisci grads, though I'm obviously biased as a journalism professor.  So allow me to make a few points before returning to what little we can learn from the journal article.
  •  Many, if not most, political journalists were not journalism majors in the first place. Anyone familiar with the field knows this, and it undermines the premise of the study. 
  • Journalists get news one of four ways: observation, interviewing, documents, and data. Little in the traditional political science curriculum prepares you for the first two, and not a lot preps you for the third, and it's unlikely most political science faculty are qualified to teach them how to do it. And let's not even get into multimedia skills.
  • But, political science majors are better equipped to understand the government and political systems, how they work (or don't work) and, importantly, data.
So should journalism schools be quaking in their collective boots at the idea of a flood of polisci majors taking their students' jobs?  No. I argue this despite the study's survey that found "an openness on the part of media executives to hire political science graduates to do their political reporting, even if such graduates do not possess a degree in journalism." Because, duh, they already do this.  Walk into any newsroom and you'll find lots of folks with a j-school pedigree. Plus if you ask "media executives" of course they'll be open to this. I'd be more surprised if they said they weren't.

Back to the study.  It's published in what can best be described as a minor outlet, the Journal of Political Science Education. We have a similar Tier 3 education journal in my field. It's okay, just not top-of-the-line rigorous stuff, and the authors are not from major universities. Again, that's okay, I'm just stating information about the source so you can put the study in its proper perspective.

Plus I can't tell much about the survey, and the promise at the end of the abstract that the "free supplemental" material is available online does not work for me.  Who was surveyed? How were the questions posed? Too little info. 

My conclusion? While there may be blood in the water and a few academic sharks circling, most of those sharks are ill equipped to do much more than swim in circles.

No comments: