As the year draws to a close, our team took a few moments to reflect on some of the pieces that meant the most to us over the past 12 months. Here are The Journalist’s Resource’s 2022 team picks:
Clark Merrefield, senior economics editor:
Denise-Marie Ordway produced many strong pieces this year with practical advice for practicing journalists, but the very first tip in this piece has stood out to me since I first read it in June: “In academic research, significant ≠ important.” That alone is an important reminder for journalists using academic research in their coverage, but Ordway follows by offering immediately useful knowledge on how researchers can manipulate statistical significance and the huge pressure on them to produce statistically significant results.
Pair this piece with another from Ordway, “What’s Standard Deviation? 4 Things Journalists Need to Know,” to learn exactly what standard deviation is and how to interpret it in academic research.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, people around the world have become familiar with medical devices they otherwise might never have noticed. Among them: pulse oximeters — those little devices that clip on your finger to help doctors read blood oxygen levels. In this piece, Naseem Miller does an admirable job covering research on problems with how pulse oximeters work. Crucially, they tend to overestimate blood oxygen levels for people with darker skin. The stakes are high: “This is particularly important for critically ill patients, where doctors constantly rely on pulse oximeter readings to decide how much oxygen to give patients.”
Pair this piece with another from Miller, “Maternal Mortality: An Explainer and Research Roundup,” which delves into research and insights from top experts in a country where Black people remain “more than three times as likely as white people to die from pregnancy-related causes.”
Naseem Miller, senior health editor:
In today’s highly polarized America, the dreaded conversations with relatives around the Thanksgiving dinner table — or any holiday dinner for that matter — could be key to achieving civility and compromise in the national political discourse, reports Clark Merrefield. Drawing on several studies and interviews, Merrefield reminds us that most people who are angry about politics want to talk to someone who listens. Knowing it is inappropriate to have a screaming match at Thanksgiving dinner, many realize it is possible to have a polite conversation with someone who has opposing political views. And Americans are largely successful at putting their political differences aside and enjoying Thanksgiving dinner. More importantly, research suggests that regular interactions among people with opposing political views can help reduce partisanship.
In simple-to-understand language and four concise tips, Denise-Marie Ordway explains the difference between two common research terms that should not be interchanged: percent change and percentage-point change. Understanding these terms is crucial. As Ordway explains, “percent” describes how much a number has changed in relation to a previous number. “Percentage point,” meanwhile, describes the difference between two percentages that are being compared.
Pair this piece with the accompanying infographic by Merrefield, starring fictional local reporter Sue Chifferton.
Bonus pick: Don’t forget to bookmark our “Know Your Research” section, where you will find many tip sheets and explainers that will help you navigate your way through research studies and explain them accurately to your audiences.
Carmen Nobel, program director and editor-in-chief
I’m a big fan of solutions journalism, in which journalists report on responses to societal problems, rather than only focusing on the problems themselves. I’m also a fan of highlighting research that investigates when and whether such responses are effective; such studies can provide terrific story ideas for journalists who practice solutions journalism.
That’s why I’m also a fan of this piece by Clark Merrefield, which highlights a potential way to alleviate the U.S. housing crisis. “The widespread viability of community land trusts has been largely unexplored in the news media,” he writes. “There are more than 225 community land trusts in the U.S. Under the typical model, a nonprofit entity owns and cares for the land with homeowners leasing their properties for a long time, usually 99 years.”
Pair this piece with Merrefield’s important explainer on adjustable rate mortgages, which have made a comeback in the wake of recent federal interest rate hikes.
Political reporters are often criticized for covering elections as they’d cover a horse race — focusing on who’s ahead or behind in the polls rather than on the candidates’ policy positions. Indeed, a large body of research shows that so-called “horse race journalism” is linked to distrust in politicians and distrust in news outlets.
Yet this type of reporting has become increasingly more common as public opinion polls have become more sophisticated (and more numerous). That being the case, Denise-Marie Ordway wisely created this tip sheet to help journalists at least improve their horse race coverage.
One key tip: Avoid focusing on a single opinion poll without providing context. Rather, “put its findings into perspective by noting historic trends and what other recent polls show,” Ordway writes. “Consider combining poll results and reporting averages to give audiences the most accurate picture of public sentiment.”
Pair this piece with Ordway’s research roundup about the pitfalls of horse race reporting.
It’s hard enough for today’s understaffed newsrooms to keep up with breaking news, let alone to follow up on that news with subsequent stories that add more details, deeper analysis or new developments. But follow-up stories are important, even years after the initial story breaks.
Academic research can be a great source of follow-up stories, as Naseem Miller illustrates in this recent piece, which highlights a recent study published in JAMA Network Open. (The “open” means it’s not behind a paywall.) Researchers surveyed nearly 2,000 residents of Flint, Michigan, five years after their municipal water supply was contaminated with lead. Among the key findings: 1 in 5 Flint residents met the criteria for depression, and 1 in 4 for post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Although the statistical findings of the study may not be generalizable to other regions, they add to the existing body of literature documenting the mental health effects of human-caused disasters on communities,” she writes.
Pair this piece with Miller’s research roundup on suicide prevention hotlines.
Denise-Marie Ordway, managing editor:
I wish I had had Clark Merrefield’s tip sheets focusing on different editions of the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book back when I was working in the newsroom. They’re a terrific resource for journalists of all experience levels. He always does a great job breaking down economic issues so they’re easy to understand. But in these tip sheets, he also spotlights story ideas with an economic angle – a reminder to journalists that economic research and reports can strengthen their news coverage, regardless of their beat and whether they report for a local, regional or national news outlet.
I hadn’t heard of trauma-informed journalism before Naseem Miller created a tip sheet on it earlier this year. But it’s a must-read, considering most journalists will likely cover trauma in some form during their careers, whether they’re reporting on violent crime, chronicling a community rebuilding after disaster or interviewing someone who has survived or witnessed a traumatic event. This piece of advice from the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma that Miller included in her piece is gold: Never ask a person who endured trauma, “How do you feel?” — because the question can be distressing. Instead, ask “How are you now?” or “How did you experience that?” or “What do you think about …?”
Journalists who find this tip sheet helpful may also want to read Miller’s explainer and research roundup on racial disparities in access to mental health care. In it, she outlines the major reasons why racial and ethnic minorities often don’t seek help or cannot find mental health professionals where they live. This piece also includes a list of experts who can speak on these issues.