A Mirror Image.  Media and Academia

April 10, 2014 • Specialist Journalism • by

Every academic should want their work to be noticed, not by experts in the field, but by the wider public. This is especially true for an area of study that focuses on publicity and the dissemination of information: media studies.

The fact that the practice of journalism is so separate from theory or the empiricism of scientific work is partly due to journalists’ perception of their role. Journalists usually don’t like if when their work is critically questioned, when their technical or professional abilities (or inabilities) are put to the test and compared to “best practices.” Journalistic work to a certain extent can’t be systematized, because journalists are craftsmen, but somehow always artists, too. Creativity cannot be measured precisely or claimed; and it can’t be standardized or certified following an industrial creation logic. In this business, the norm is not serial production of an identical product, but a unique version of something.

Publishers, on the other hand, remain suspicious of media studies because they suspect the scientific research will inevitably call for more resources for newsrooms, and hinder their entrepreneurial freedom. It is worth remembering that most media, especially in the private sector, are a business that has to make money for its owners.

Despite these reservations from within the industry media research is helpful, because it relativizes anecdotic critical value through systematic observation.
The media also should, in democratic states, play a role in the political education of citizens – thus ideally creating a “public” good in the form of information, equally available to all. This creates transparency and helps to keep the discourse fit for democracy. It is wise to ensure there is a system that allows us to critically question whether the media live up to this responsibility.

Media science should never be confused with media work; the scientist analyzes, chooses, and puts in order what the media is supplying – under the best possible consideration of the specific circumstances. The subjects of research are the journalist and the medium – and a researcher has to remain impartial to be taken seriously.

Only very few media outlets independently cover the media sector critically, from an internal and external perspective. The Neue Zürcher Zeitung is one. It does so because it is convinced that a clear examination of the work of the media, without euphemisms and free of vested interests,  is a basic element of value-based quality journalism.

Photo credit: Rodger Levesque / Flickr Cc

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