Research or journalism?

If someone purporting to be carrying out research interviews some people, then summarizes the main points along with some choice quotations, I wonder if we would say that it was not really research at all, but journalism? I find it difficult to distinguish this approach from good journalism. That does not mean it is necessarily a bad thing to do, merely that if it is not research, we should not publish it in an archival research journal.


About Will

Professor of Construction Management and Economics, University of Reading, UK. Editor-in-Chief, Construction Management and Economics (1992-2016). Programme Director, MSc Construction Management. School Director of Postgraduate Teaching Programmes.
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11 Responses to Research or journalism?

  1. Dear Will.

    At an ARCOM conference, I once upset a senior academic in our discipline by describing his work as journalism. With the wisdom of hindsight, I now regret this comment.

    It seems to me that fine journalism (by, for example, Robert Fisk) is the product of research in gathering and analysing the material, and then reporting it in a concise form. We can be too “academic” in our expectations of rigour in qualitative research. If all learning is by a form of research (as many claim), then the better class of journalism which teaches readers in comprehensive detail about its subject can legitimately be regarded as research.

    Hence I come down on the side of the argument that one can produce good (normally qualitative) research by interviewing relevant individuals (perhaps expert authorities or practitioners) and analysing the responses. Of course, there will be an element of subjectivity in the report – both from the author and the interviewees. Nevertheless, some such work may produce meaningful outcomes which can justifiably be presented as research, requiring as much ability as the more traditional quantitative research.

    However, there is admittedly a mass of such qualitative work which can rightly be criticised as demonstrating lazy, ill-informed attempts at research. Hence there is no clear-cut distinction between work which is simply “journalism” and that which can also be graced by the designation of research. It is the job of editors and referees to differentiate, and to separate the wheat from the chaff!!

    Best wishes,
    Dr Joe Gunning

  2. janbro says:

    If perpetrated by a not too bright researcher, it is unlikely to look like good journalism. At best it will be bad journalism?

  3. Torbjorn Stenbeck says:

    I agree – but perhaps there should be a possibility of publication for such papers, papers without primary study and papers with literature review only – if they are distinctly labeled as such, second class, research papers.

    (I feel a little pity for them)


  4. Dr Philip O. Lawal says:

    While the “search” in the act of research is deep and all-encompassing (search,.search & search), the “search” in journalism is, most of the time, shallow and subjective and with little or no cross-referencing on similar topics.

  5. Dr.Ojo Stephen says:

    Arising from previous comments can I then conclude that “qualitative” analysis cannot be classified as research in construction management?.

  6. Dr. A.Tolga ILTER says:

    It is true that journalism seems to loose ground as arguably anyone seems to be considered as a journalist, but considering all journalists being the same will be also be unfair. Although disinformation on purpose as well as jobs underdone is on the rise in the ‘age of information’, there are still some journalists doing their work with proper research; so at least, lets don’t make them offended!
    On the other side, these arguments seem to be slightly sliding towards the debate between qualitative and quantitative research. We shouldn’t forget that if the argument is not on some fundamental science like phisics or chemistry, and especially if it is related to human beings (such as ‘management’), human factor and qualitative research is not something we can disregard.
    As a result, a journal article should contain the research quality of its kind and being published or not will always be dependent on the decision of the editorial board and referees (which will anyhow contain the subjectivity of human factor).

  7. Abdul says:

    The distinction between quantitative or qualitative researches is not that clear in research involving behavioural science [eg. construction management]. May be in pure science, it is easy but in applied science, it is always a difficult thing to do. May be I am wrong, if the fundamental element in quantitative issue is the inclusion of numeric variable (s), how do we measure the number of numeric variables in a research work before it could be classified as quantitative research? Interestingly, people in the main stream engineering always classify most of the works in construction management as “story” but not research in the real sense.

    To my understanding the basic element in research is the scientific issue in the research design. If a journalist adopts a scientific approach in the data (primary and secondary) and analysis, I see no reason why such report / findings will not be published in any relevant journals

    I really do not think one should pity anybody, what for? Perhaps “(re)search” requires redefinition!

  8. Will says:

    I am increasingly puzzled by the direction in which these comments are going. The idea was to generate discussion about how to tell good use of interviews from bad. It was not intended to be an exploration of the utility or value of qualitative research, as such. It was not intended as an attack on qualitative or quantitative research. It was not intended as a criticism of journalism, as such. Neither was it a criticism of journalists. Moreover, I was not attempting to de-construct the definition of research.

    Is it possible to comment on how best to use interview techniques in research? The original question that I raised was merely intended to spark a discussion on how to use interviews in qualitative research. Perhaps we need a different thread on the relative merits of qualitative versus quantitative approaches.

    I may move future comments if they are off the thread; either to a new thread of their own, or just off the board altogether.

  9. Will,

    Your point raised, about use of interviews, reminded me of some research I carried out a few years ago for a paper. My primary source was a Report published by one of the House of Commons committees and, appended to their Report, was the transcript of each interview the committee had carried out. The Report necessarily picked up common threads but, seeing the full text, helped me realise that use of interviews as a data source always involves being selective about what material to use in the report or paper. References in papers to other published material also invariably involves a selective attribution but, crucially, those other sources can be checked. A difficulty only arises when the interviews are not published in full.

    One sees in journalism a range between a TV interview with a head of state that is broadcast without editing and the eye-catching headline written for easy consumption. The difference between the two is the latter is highly selective, with little or no reference to the omissions. Good journalism tries to provide balanced reporting by covering different perspectives but remains a subjective appraisal. Any journal paper prepared from interviews, however well intentioned, will never convey each point and nuance initially recorded. All of this suggests that the only way to tell good use of interviews from bad is to see whether the entire interview can be accessed, online or otherwise. Without access to the source, we can’t tell whether its just selective journalism – telling a story of what happened – rather than the reliable product of research.

  10. Abdul says:

    Research could involve quantitative or qualitative data or both. The degrees of influence the researcher has on the research depend on the type of data to collect for a study. For instance data collected through interview [with the understanding that journalism relied so much on interview to garner information] are often argued to be prone to bias as compared to using survey questionnaire instrumentation. The survey approach may also be argued to be prone to bias as compared to laboratory or experimental research. However, this depends on the researcher.
    Bias could creep into research knowingly or unknowingly. Bias could creep into research because of how the researcher analyze and interpret previous related works-i.e. through literature review [whatever the source: primary or secondary data]. In that regards, bias in research is difficult to eliminate in all type of research, but being aware of it and the ability to be able to control or minimize it is the most important element in any research to me.
    Researchers should openly question the effectiveness and robustness of their research design and methods. Researchers should apply to themselves the same decisive criteria they set for other people works to pass through. Whatever, our field of studies, we need to recognize the influence our sentiment, perceptions, values, feelings, thought and understandings may have on the study. In general, people are bias towards their area of specializations, and due to their experience and interests.
    Abdul [researcher needs to be objective]

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