The journalist as research analyst

Here’s a kind of oddity — David Westphal of the Annenberg Journalism School presents as novel the notion that journalists should sell their skills as researchers. In “Research a revenue model for the news?” Westphal details efforts by ‘innovative’ startups like the GlobalPost or SNS Global to sell contract research.

He implies that research offers a more noble path for journalists than something like public relations, which shows that he does not understand the inherent conflict in research — you are paid by large corporations to find something useful to them. It is no new thing; he highlights the Economist Intelligence Unit, formed in 1946. I know from a direct conversation with someone who works there that it is not journalism, or even journalistic. Nor to my knowledge does it have anything to do with the operations of the Economist newspaper, which he implies is the case. The research certainly isn’t being performed by the Economist’s journalists.
Research does make a fine alternative to starving. I bear Westphal no ill will for suggesting it. I know a number of journalists who have gone into research at things like or Dark Reading. Others write white papers on contract. They may use the skills of journalism, but do not practice the form. Not that they couldn’t, any more than spending 18 months in PR made Walter Cronkite unfit to be a newsman.
But to suggest that this model will work to sustain publications like the New York Times will prove wrongheaded. It  conflicts with what the paper does. A journalist who wants to make a living based on research and remain a journalist would do better to try to emulate I.F. Stone.

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