Several hundred media professors will converge on Denver, Colorado, this week for the annual conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. I won’t be among them (I’ll be at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, where my fiancé is undergoing treatment).
I teach New Media at a leading school, so probably should (were not my fiancé ill) go to the AEJMC conference. I’d learn more about my profession, meet my peers, and probably learn how to teach better.
However, I’ve no interest in attending AEJMC. The reason was best described by Earl Wilkinson, executive director of the International Newspaper Marketing Association (now the International News Marketing Association) who attended the 2002 and 2003 AEJMC conferences. One of his motives for attending was to tap “into the academic research that is largely unknown by newspapers executives. I was a very strong motive.” While attending, Wilkinson found AEJMC to be an organization of academics with passion for what they teach, with a sense of fraternity that he wished newspaper executives could emulate.
“Yet my original selfish motive missed the target. What I found in the piles of academic papers laid out … was a lot of well-intentioned research that had little applicability to the realities of the newspaper industry. During the past year, we have gone through literally thousands of AEJMC abstracts at the Michigan State University archive and found a similar result.
“What we found, to put it bluntly, is academics talking to other academics — which is a noble form of communications, unless division after division, committee after committee didn’t also express to me their profound desire to help the realities of the newspaper industry. As I reported to the INMA Board of Directors last year, about 2 percent of of the research being done is applicable to the business of newspapers and you must have incredible patiences finding “leads” to the stories in that 2 percent.”
The words I quoted Wilkinson spoke in a presentation to the 2003 AEJMC conference. In that presentation, he mentioned the newspaper industry had just survived the toughest recession since the Great Depression and greatly needed practical research.
Seven years later, the news industries have just survived an even greater recession and greater declines and challenges. The media industries are screaming for practical research. Yet I’ve found nothing has changed from what Wilkinson found in 2002 and 2003. The vast majority of academic research has no value to the media industries.
Some academics might reply that much of their research is aimed at better teaching students to work in media, not helping the media industries themselves. My retort is that those students might not have industries to work in unless someone performs practical research to solve those industries’ problems. No one is more able than academics to do that research.
Medical schools, engineering schools, and law schools do research that solves their industries’ problems and advances the practices of those industries. If not 98 percent of media schools’ research should do that, then at least the majority of the research should. Not a mere 2 percent.