It’s All Journalism: Helping journalists decode research

Research papers come out all the time, but how do journalists know which ones are worth noting and which aren’t worth the paper the press release was printed on?

Journalist’s Resource, a website and tool from Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, wants to help make that distinction exquisitely clear.

Carmen Nobel

“Our main mission is to bridge the gap between journalism and academia,” said Carmen Nobel, one of the three people working on Journalist’s Resource. “Our primary goal is to help journalists improve their work by relying more on scientific evidence and high-quality, peer-reviewed research in reporting. When setting out to cover an unfamiliar topic, we want them to ask what the research says and to look at academic findings before setting out to cover something.”

It’s increasingly rare that journalists, especially for newspapers or more general-knowledge publications, will have a specific beat or topic they cover regularly. If a general assignment reporter is tasked with covering, say, climate change, Journalist’s Resource can help identify credible, noteworthy and unbiased research that has been reviewed and deemed acceptable and reputable by a group of other scientists, allowing the reporter to write a more complete, up-to-date and factually accurate piece.

“We want to give them a tool to help inform themselves before setting out to cover something,” Nobel said. “Our main focus is running a website that features summaries, round-ups and stories about recent public policy research.”

While most of the work is focused on U.S.-based research on topics ranging from the environment and climate change to economics, public policy, immigration and poverty, the Journalist’s Resource team finding that at least some factions of their audience are interested in the research of journalism as well.

Journalist’s Resource also publishes tip sheets, summaries and bits of advice for journalists to help understand the research they see and prompting questions to better report the findings of a study.

“One of our most popular pieces lately is 11 things journalists should ask before covering the results of a public opinion poll,” Nobel said. It suggests a journalist ask about who was responsible for conducting the poll, how it was funded and who paid for it, as all of those questions can indicate whether the results might be biased in one direction or another.

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