Saturday, August 16, 2008

Journalist: The Social Scientist

Sciences are broadly divided in to natural (or physical) sciences and social sciences. Social sciences include various disciplines dealing with human life. They consist of Anthropology, Economics, Education, Geography, History, Behavior Science, Commerce, Demography, Law, Linguistics, Management, Political Science, Psychology, Public Administration, Sociology, and Social work. Though these sciences are treated as separate branches of knowledge for the purpose of study, they are interdependent studies of the different aspects of same object- human being. By applying scientific method of study, the social sciences have grown and advanced man's knowledge of himself. Journalism is a discipline under social science.
Social sciences are not exact science like physical sciences, as they, unlike the latter, deal with human beings. Human nature and man's environment are so complex that it is more difficult to comprehend and predict human behavior than the physical phenomena. Hence, we can say, by terming Journalism social science we are referring to scientific attitude. A scientific attitude is many things in many situations. It requires consistent thinking, stern pursuit of accurate data (or fact), stubborn determination to analyze one's own system of thinking and to take nothing for granted. Evidence, tests, proof are the pillars of a stern court of "evidential confrontation". We have to think of science as an activity, a means of finding things out in which personal and vested interests avoided. It is based on observable evidence, which has been carefully recorded (or, reported in case of journalism) and presented to make it as close to the actual observation as possible. This attention to recording and presenting the observations carefully and precisely is part of the effort to make the studies scientific. The purpose of each study or reporting is to seek to know something better, more deeply, and more clearly by applying rational, logical rules of analysis to the empirical evidence gathered through observation.
J. Arthur Thomson, in his book Introduction to Science, says, "What makes a science is not, of course, the nature of things with which it is concerned, but the method by which it deals with these things." Similarly, Karl Pearson (The Grammar of Science) says, "The man who classifies facts of any kind, who sees their mutual relations and describes their sequences is applying the scientific method and is a man of science.... It is not the facts themselves which make science, but the method by which they are dealt with." Thus a journalist could be a scientist by having scientific method and scientific attitude. According to O.R. Krishnaswami, the scientific method is based on certain "articles of faith"; these are: reliance on empirical evidence, use of relevant concepts, commitment to objectivity, ethical neutrality, generalization, verifiability, logical reasoning process. Objectivity is the sine qua non of the scientific method. Since journalism is a social science discipline, strict objectivity is next to impossibility, it is possible to attain a reasonable level of objectivity.
The journalists are social scientists, not natural scientists. As Karl Pearson states (in the book "The Grammar of Science"), every group of social phenomena, every phase of social life, every stage of past and present development is material for the social scientist. This is true in case of journalists too. The scientific attitude helps journalist to deal scientifically with all these materials. This approach leads a journalist to become a researcher rather than a mere collector of information about happenings.
It is important to learn to present the news clearly, accurately, concisely, and interestingly and to know how to interpret it when necessary. Journalism is a restless profession, as changeable as the news in which deals. With the media becoming complex and also specialized, the work environment of a journalist has become even competitive. The working pattern of these days' journalists differs in various aspects as compared to journalists of few years ago. The need of journalists to be a researcher is one of such differences.
Experts, such as Wimmer and Dominick, opine that print media reporters and social scientists now have more in common with each other, because of two recent trends. The first trend is precision journalism, a technique of inquiry in which social science research methods are used to gather the news. Essentially, precision journalism is the use of social science methods and information by journalists; it takes two forms. In active precision journalism, reporters conduct surveys or other research. In reactive precision journalism, they use reports already assembled by government agencies, universities, and private forms. Precision journalists attempt to make journalism more scientific. They assess the views of citizens through systematic sampling rather than through random interviews. Unlike the standard use of polls, precision journalism presents statistical information within the context of traditional news stories. Tables, graphs, and statistics are used along with interviews that serve as examples. Thus, experts say, precision journalism can provide a fuller and more exact view of the community. To use this technique, journalists must be trained in social science methods such as survey research, experimental design, questionnaire, sampling, data presentation, and content analysis, etc. They need to understand how to apply statistical tests or direct some one else to do so. DeFleur and Dennis rightly say that precision journalism pushes the whole field of reporting toward science. The second trend is known as database journalism. This form of reporting is said to rely upon computer-assisted analysis of existing information files.
It is not that research is useful in only precision journalism and database journalism. These are the fields that have been using techniques of social science research while reporting. Research has greater scope than that. In fact, research is very useful in every piece of news reporting. It guides journalists to search facts in scientific way. Since journalism is the profession which seeks revealing truth and the research is pursuit of truth with the help of study, observation, comparison and experiment, the scope of research in the filed of journalism is obvious.
Research has been defined as a scientific and systematic search for pertinent information on a specific topic. Some view it as an art of scientific investigation. This clearly helps in maintaining truth, objectivity, accuracy and fairness. Over the years, news media practitioners, as well as their critics have expressed considerable concern about objectivity, and accuracy, reality, truth, fairness in news stories. Scholars opine that the media are not merely a conduit; they have the responsibility to assess the validity or truth of the information they disseminate. The journalists need to be fair as well as truthful, accurate as well as objective. For this, research, undoubtedly, is the only tool. This clearly emphasizes the need of a journalist to be a researcher.
By adopting techniques of social science research, the journalist adopts scientific attitude as well as practice, which help in attaining the principal goal of journalism -that is, finding truth and reporting it to general people.