“What does the research say?”
As traditional models for news journalism have struggled, the quality of reporting on complex topics has declined. Newsrooms are desperately short-staffed. Too often, journalists find themselves reporting on public policy topics they know little about – from health care reform to teachers unions.
Fortunately, the world of academia routinely publishes high-quality research by scholars with deep expertise in these topics. Like journalists, scholarly researchers are intensely curious and driven by society’s tough questions. Unlike journalists, scholars have time to develop deep knowledge of specific subject areas. Academic researchers can be valuable collaborators in journalism. Unfortunately, many journalists don’t know how to use serious research in their reporting, don’t know how to identify high-quality research, don’t have the time to sift through lengthy journal articles, or don’t even think to seek out expert scholars for interviews.
Realizing a need and an opportunity to bridge the gap between academia and journalism, the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School created Journalists Resource, an open-access online reference desk for journalists.
Based at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, Journalist’s Resource examines news topics through a research lens. We curate and summarize public policy research relevant to media practitioners, bloggers, educators, students and general readers. Our philosophy is that peer-reviewed research studies can, at the very least, help anchor journalists as they navigate difficult terrain and competing claims. Our hope is that journalists, in the course of reporting, will routinely ask this question: What does the research say?
Journalist’s Resource (JR) provides three key types of content, posting multiple features to our website every week:
In clear, accessible, non-academic language, we summarize, highlight and contextualize high quality peer-reviewed research on newsy and newsworthy major public policy matters. Our searchable database contains thousands of summaries of and articles about top academic and governmental research, which we have vetted for quality. We strive to translate complex statistics into clear data points and reformulate the terminology of academic specialists into more accessible language, without sacrificing rigor or nuance.
Our database is always a work in progress. We welcome suggestions and requests. To meet our standards, research must generally be the product of authoritative institutions such as major U.S. and international universities, research organizations or governmental bodies; based on rigorous research, without bias or ideological motivation; and published or forthcoming in a peer-reviewed journal.
We also create tip sheets, including best practices for reporting on various public policy topics and explanations of commonly misunderstood research terms and methods.
We also offer free syllabi for journalism instructors on topics including data journalism and political reporting.
When time permits, we also serve as a responsive research desk to journalists on deadline, and we have contributed research and research-based stories to numerous local news collaboratives.
Our website is run by a team of faculty and journalists at Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. Launched as part of the Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education, we are supported by grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and generous individual donations.
Our reach and impact
We measure success by the extent to which we inform the news, both quantitatively and qualitatively. More than 50,000 people follow us on Twitter, and more than 50,000 subscribe to our free weekly e-mail newsletter. (You can view an archive of our newsletters here.)
Additionally, more than 157,000 external web pages link back to posts on our popular website. Sites citing and linking back to JR recently include large news outlets like The New York Times, subject-specific news sites like Kaiser Health News, and industry organizations like The Institute for Rural Journalism.
We publish almost all of our content under a Creative Commons license, meaning you are free (and encouraged) to republish it on your own website – provided you credit the author and include a link back to Journalist’s Resource.
We receive feedback nearly every day about Journalist’s Resource; here are a few testimonials from people who have found value in our resource:
- “The tip sheets and other services Journalist’s Resource provide have helped our reporters and editors tackle complex topics in which they may not previously have been immersed. And that’s a fundamental predicament for journalists who can wake up to a completely new and urgent subject every day. As the speed of the news cycle has accelerated, this has become a bigger problem for newsrooms. Journalist’s Resource has responded with prescient prep work on emerging topics and timely response when news breaks. It’s like having a newsroom librarian, an ethicist, and a veteran journalist with encyclopedic expertise on a niche topic again, even though all of those things have long been missing from many depleted newsrooms. Most of all, Journalist’s Resource helps us build trust in our reporting by flagging common pitfalls in reporting on particular topics, helping us improve accuracy and bring context and nuance on deadline.” – Matt DeRienzo, vice president of news and digital content, Hearst Connecticut Media Group
- “The journalists working in our small newsroom are expected to report on a wide range of topics that touch our readers’ lives. I tell my staff it’s OK to admit that we lack knowledge about an issue, but it’s indefensible to be satisfied with not knowing. It’s our job to find out, and the staff at Journalist’s Resource have become invaluable collaborators in helping us understand complex topics. Together, we have undertaken ambitious coverage of timely societal issues, such as how to best support people in recovery from opioid addiction and how increased access to gender confirmation surgeries affects transgender youth. Working with Journalist’s Resource has helped us elevate our coverage from anecdotal to scientific. We, as journalists, are trained to find interesting stories, but finding and understanding high-quality research is a skill unto itself. The Journalist’s Resource reporters have proven to be adept at corralling that research and conveying it in an understandable way. Our credibility is built upon providing clear, accurate information. Journalist’s Resource has helped us strengthen that foundation.” — Emilie Stigliani, executive editor, Burlington Free Press
- “I love your site. I organize my course around students’ finding their own study and research topic, and that’s where they look at what you have posted on your site. They then write an inverted pyramid news story about the study’s findings. From there they expand their topic and write a short feature and an in-depth feature.” — Janet Mizrahi, lecturer, UC Santa Barbara writing program
- “Your syllabus has proved quite helpful — I’m a happy user. I’ve synthesized it liberally with other sources, including a syllabus from a Baruch colleague, and my own concepts from a 45-year career at The New York Times.” — Ralph Blumenthal, distinguished lecturer at Baruch College, City University of New York
- “I’ve found Journalist’s Resource to be a great tool, both as a reporter and now teaching at Stonehill. And the help I’ve gotten from the folks when I’ve been hunting for information has been terrific.” — Maureen Boyle, director of the journalism program at Stonehill College