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More on academics and journalists

- March 12, 2009

Following up on our recent rants about some journalists who misunderstand and misrepresent political scientists, I just wanted to reflect upon some of the inherent difficulties in our interactions with journalists.

To start with, we academics envy journalists for their power to reach mass audiences instantly, while journalists envy us for our freedom to work on whatever we want.

Moving on to our interactions, we are each looking for something from the other. Generically, journalists want content (quotes and background material) and academics want exposure of their ideas (or, in some cases, mere personal exposure, but I can assume this is just a means to the end of getting one’s ideas out there). And then there’s writing style: journalists have to produce a lot and are expected to slip up now and then, it’s no big deal, while academics are (with some exceptions) more careful about what they write. As we would say in quantitative social science, our loss function is different from theirs.

So, even while we’re all getting annoyed at Matt Bai for a silly off-the-cuff comment, I think we all want to stay on journalists’ good sides so we’ll get exposure. And, conversely, journalists want to stay on our good sides so we can feed them interesting research results and give them authoritative quotes.

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