Students face tremendous challenges in finding quality information on the Web. We believe that first introducing them to what quality information looks like — the findings of peer-reviewed studies and reports from non-partisan research organizations — is the necessary first step in helping them improve information-seeking habits. It is one thing to warn young students about the perils of, say, relying solely on Wikipedia; but it is another task altogether to show them what specifically to look for and condition them to be able to find it.
A free and open-access site, Journalist’s Resource is a platform on which young journalists can train to identify and interpret quality research. It’s a place where hundreds of educators and thousands of students are working to hone these vital skills. The American Library Association named it a “Best Free Reference Web Site 2013.”
Once empowered to identify solid information, students can then be armed with a suite of wider databases (listed here), where they can learn to navigate the full universe of information on deadline. The digital age enables access to networks of knowledge in ways not possible even a few years ago; gaining facility with this online research world will be a key skill in the emerging media future.
1) As a first classroom lesson, we recommend that instructors ask their students to gather several study-based story ideas from the Journalist’s Resource database — to use the database as a generator of potential leads – and to explain in their own words the findings and their source (research institution, journal name, etc.) Students can also script questions they might ask the researchers who authored the study as part of a follow up process. To help get them going, have them check out this tip sheet: “Research-based Ideas for College Campus Reporting: 10 Potential Stories.”
2) We then recommend going through the full text of a particular study with the class and looking at how it was put together and its key findings, as well as how it might be used in, or help frame, a story. Choose from among the “Municipal” category for studies that can be more easily localized. Teaching notes and related news articles are attached at the top of study summaries. To help facilitate the process of getting comfortable with research, we suggest distributing this primer to students as an entry point: “Introduction to Studies and Academic Research: How It Works and Why Journalists Should Care.” The article can also provide a good basis for a further class discussion about credible sources and verifying information. Because most research contains some numbers, we have put together a quick overview, “Statistical Terms Used in Research Studies; A Primer for Journalists,” which can help students interpret some of the complexities and cut through jargon.
3) Finally, we encourage you to continue to have students search the database as they do stories over the semester with the hope that they can deepen their reporting and ground their interviews in wider bodies of knowledge. We send weekly emails (sign up here) with the latest studies and materials, and we encourage you and your students to sign up and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.
Journalist’s Resource also empowers educators by providing model syllabi and skills-based materials. Establishing and promoting the concept of “knowledge-based reporting” animates the project. The underlying philosophy is articulated in the forthcoming book Informing the News: The Need for Knowledge-Based Journalism, by Tom Patterson, our research director.
We have been partnering with the New York Times, for example, to help create more research-related resources for readers. See this video for a little more on our philosophy:
We’re also facilitating a dialogue on how to better incorporate research in journalism classrooms and labs. Please check out our ongoing “Research Chat” interviews with both practitioners and educators.
Part of the broader Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education, the site sees its vision and ideals manifested in the News21 classrooms in leading journalism schools across the country.
Journalist’s Resource has three main categories of material:
|Insightful, persuasive academic materials from major universities as well as nonpartisan research organizations.|
|Full semester-long courses built around the concept of knowledge-based reporting. Instructors are free to use and modify them to fit their needs.|
|Reference articles on core skills such as writing, reporting, interpreting data, style and the foundations of journalism.|
As mentioned, each scholarly study or report includes an overview, teaching notes and links to a relevant article. The assignments in the teaching notes are designed to help teach effective communication to a general audience and to hone analytical skills.
Finally, to see how the knowledge-based approach to journalism education is playing out at one school, see this article by faculty member Laura Ruel at University of the North Carolina-Chapel Hill: “Case study: Knowledge-based journalism and the UNC News21 experience.”