Expert Commentary

The Journalist’s Resource team picks for 2021

As the year draws to a close, we’re taking a few moments to reflect on some of the pieces that meant a lot to us this year.


In spite of and in light of the ongoing pandemic, The Journalist’s Resource has done some great work this year. 

In January, we eagerly welcomed Naseem Miller, our stellar new senior health editor, whose work has helped journalists navigate the complex topic of COVID-19 vaccines

In February, we launched our new website to make it easier to navigate our vast archive of research roundups, tip sheets, articles, explainers, comics and infographics. The updated website introduced our “Know Your Research” section to help journalists understand academic research methods, recognize high-quality research and avoid missteps when reporting on new studies and opinion polls. 

In October, we launched the 2021 reader survey, the results of which we’ll report early next year. If you haven’t filled out the survey yet, please do so by Dec. 17! 

So far in 2021, we have published or significantly updated 100 comprehensive pieces — all serving our mission to inform the news by bridging the gap between academia and journalism. As the year draws to a close, we’re taking a few moments to reflect on some of the pieces that meant the most to us this year. Here are The Journalist’s Resource 2021 team picks from Managing Editor Denise-Marie Ordway, Senior Health Editor Naseem S. Miller, Senior Economics Editor Clark Merrefield and Program Director Carmen Nobel. 

Denise-Marie Ordway, managing editor:

Racial disparities in opioid addiction treatment: a primer and research roundup

This is my favorite of Miller’s pieces for several reasons. Besides being well written and researched, it looks at opioid addiction from an angle I hadn’t considered or seen covered by the news media: race- and class-based differences in how people receive treatment for opioid addiction. The main takeaway for me: People with higher-incomes tend to go to their private doctors for a prescription for buprenorphine to take at home while many lower-income individuals must make daily trips to a methadone clinic for a single dose of medication.

Miller’s thought-provoking piece on covering marijuana complements this piece in that it highlights the fact that marijuana is addictive, which many people might not realize (I didn’t!). In it, she also explains some of the research examining marijuana addiction and other long-term consequences of marijuana use. 

Regional Federal Reserve banks: The ultimate guide

I was so excited when Merrefield created this guide because more journalists need to know what a goldmine of data and research our regional federal reserve banks are. As usual, Merrefield did a terrific job walking journalists through a topic some might find intimidating to help them see how experts at each of the Federal Reserve’s 12 district banks can bolster their coverage, regardless of their beat.

His guide pairs perfectly with his tip sheet offering story ideas from the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book, an excellent resource he describes as “an anecdotal counterpart to the bank’s suite of hard numbers.” These Beige Books, published eight times a year, also contain information helpful to reporters across beats — especially those covering business, education and local and state governments. While his tip sheet focuses on the September 2021 edition of the Beige Book, journalists can easily apply its insights to other editions.

Naseem Miller, senior health editor:

How racial and ethnic biases are baked into the U.S. tax system

It’s no secret that historical inequalities cast a long shadow, affecting marginalized groups’ health and wealth today. In this primer, Merrefield explains how the U.S. tax policy affects taxpayers and their ability to build wealth across generations. He does a terrific job of explaining how federal income taxes work and why wealth building across generations varies by race and ethnicity.

Pair this with another piece by Merrefield, “How research covering more than 5,000 years sheds light on income inequality today,” which highlights a study that ties income inequality to when the countries’ governments were established. 

Reporting on scientific failures and holding the science community accountable: 5 tips for journalists

Explaining the scientific process to your audience is more important than ever and this piece by Ordway is chock-full of great tips about how to do that. Ordway interviewed Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a communication professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and Yotam Ophir, an assistant professor of communication at the University at Buffalo, the State University of New York for her piece.

Two noteworthy tips: When an academic journal retracts a research article, press for details about what went wrong and how the academic community plans to prevent it from happening again. And, emphasize that mistakes are essential to science. 

“Science is ongoing — it never ends and always keeps checking itself,” Ophir told Ordway. “One thing might appear to be right one day, but new evidence may indicate that it’s not the next day.”

Pair this piece with “Academic journals, journalists perpetuate misinformation in their handling of research retractions, a new study finds,” also by Ordway, which includes four tips for tracking flawed research. 

Clark Merrefield, senior economics editor:

Death and taxes: Research links neighborhood race, tax delinquency and life expectancy

In this piece, Miller covers a study from July showing that people in Pittsburgh’s predominantly Black neighborhoods have lower life expectancy and higher rates of tax delinquency. Why does that matter? Because tax delinquency captures the “lack of investment in the neighborhood or lack of commercial or infrastructure vibrancy,” one of the study’s authors tells Miller. It’s an important reminder that seemingly separate fields of study or news coverage — like city finances and public health — are, in fact, inextricably interwoven. 

Pair this piece with another from Miller, “New research links racism to higher preterm birth rates in Black women,” which adds convincing new evidence revealing the long shadow that historical redlining casts on maternal health for Black women.

By changing their framing of scientific failures and discoveries, journalists can bolster trust in science: New research

If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the scientific research can churn fast and furious. In this piece, Ordway solicits advice from two communications professors who urge newsrooms to cover scientific errors and retractions as part of the normal self-correction process that is always happening in science, writ large.

Pair this piece with another from Ordway, “Covering scientific consensus: What to avoid and how to get it right,” in which three researchers explore common pitfalls for journalists covering scientific consensus — and how scientific consensus can be used to battle misinformation. 

Carmen Nobel, program director:

6 tips for covering COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy” 

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that vaccine hesitancy is a spectrum; being nervous about a new vaccine is not the same as being an avid anti-vaxxer. Anticipating a need for journalists to understand and cover the topic, Miller compiled this excellent list of tips back in February — six months before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first COVID-19 vaccine. (We periodically update the piece with new data and new advice from public health researchers.) 

Pair this piece with “Vaccine hesitancy: A roundup of research summaries and survey data sources,” in which Miller highlights systematic reviews and other studies that delve into the drivers of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy among various communities.  

The multibillion-dollar costs of firearm injuries: Research and resources to consider

Media coverage of gun violence in the U.S. tends to focus on fatalities. But it’s important for journalists also to consider the enormous toll of gunshot injuries, as Merrefield notes in this compelling research roundup. “The cost of emergency department visits and inpatient admissions related to firearm injury totals almost $3 billion per year,” he writes. “Work-loss costs, calculated in terms of lost wages and other factors, are roughly $50 billion yearly, according to academic research and other estimates, which also figure the value of lost quality of life at more than $200 billion per year in the U.S.”

Pair this piece with Ordway’s tip sheet “7 things journalists should know about guns,” which helps journalists avoid common pitfalls they may encounter in their firearm coverage, as well as briefing them on oft-confused terminology — like the difference between a bullet and a cartridge. “Guns are one of the most divisive topics in the U.S., so it’s crucial for journalists to get the details right,” she writes.

What’s tribal sovereignty and what does it mean for Native Americans?

“Tribal sovereignty, often viewed as a legal term, sits at the center of almost every issue affecting tribal nations existing within the United States’ geographical borders,” writes Ordway in this excellent explainer of a topic that deserves more media coverage than it gets. There are 574 federally-recognized American Indian and Alaska Native nations in the U.S., according to the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, Ordway notes — each an entity with its own policies, processes and system of governance.

Pair this explainer with Merrefield’s explainer “McGirt v. Oklahoma: The ongoing importance of a landmark tribal sovereignty case,” exploring the ramifications of the Supreme Court decision that Oklahoma can’t pursue cases against Native Americans for crimes allegedly committed on tribal land. 

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