I have been visiting Washington, D.C. with my family this week, and yesterday we took in the Newseum. One of the capital’s newest and most modern museums, the Newseum is dedicated to educating the public about news and journalism. Sitting in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol next to the Canadian embassy, the Newseum building is an impressive piece of architecture. It is not part of the Smithsonian Institution but rather is privately funded by the Freedom Forum.
The entire Newseum experience was very impressive, but as you can imagine, I couldn’t help but think, as I went through the museum, of the many ways research and journalism are kindred professions, generally mutually supportive and similar in many ways.
Earlier this year I wrote a post for Research Access entitled “What Would the News Be Without Surveys?”, in which I reflected on the extent to which news outlets use survey results as key pieces of information on which to base their stories.
It is similarly true that research relies on journalists on a few levels.
First, there is the obvious fact that we rely on journalists to “spread the word” when we release data for public consumption – be it public interest data or data released in the interest of our client’s public relations.
Second, and more important, is that we rely on journalists to explain our research findings in a way that helps the public understand the power but also the limitations of the data. In this second realm we could do a better job forging relationships with journalists to help them write about data more accurately.
At our core researchers and journalists are both cut from the same cloth – generally speaking, people in both professions tend to be well-educated and take care to make conclusions only with proper evidence. Ultimately, both groups are truth-seekers.
Let me list some of the highlights of the Newseum and tell you what each made me think about in relation to research:
- Dewey Defeats Truman. At the Newseum you can see close-up many hundreds of historic front page headlines, including perhaps the most famous botched headline in U.S. history – “Dewey Defeats Truman.” In November 1948 President Harry S Truman was the underdog for election against Thomas Dewey, and based on pre-election polling, which, in retrospect was based on samples biased in favor of the Republican Dewey. Truman famously held up the Chicago Tribune’s headline in glee when it became clear the next day that he had actually won. Whoops. This incident in many ways was the catalyst for improved survey sampling methods.
- U.S. Presidential Political Commercials. There was an excellent presentation on key television (and internet) ads from the 1950s to present, from the 1-minute super-catchy Kennedy, Kennedy jingle in 1960 to Will.I.Am’s YouTube video “Yes We Can” in support of the 2008 Obama campaign. The evolution of the commercials in both cinematographic quality and message focus reminded me of the massive changes that research has undergone with the evolution of communications technology as well as advanced understanding of human psychology. We are not alone in having had to respond to the challenges of a changing professional status quo.
- World News Gallery. This section educates about differences in press freedom and styles of news coverage in different parts of the world. It reminded me how in our increasingly connected world researchers have to be aware of cultural and legal differences conducting research across the globe.
If you have not been to the Newseum yet, it is not to be missed on your next visit to Washington, D.C.