Think Like an Editor blog by Steve Davis and Emilie Davis, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University

Research it! A lesson from TV shopping

By · Monday, July 2nd, 2012

It’s time to get an upgrade! (Photo via Google images, from engadget.com)

We finally decided to replace our TV — a big event!

There are a lot of questions:

— LCD or plasma?

— Which features, from among dozens of choices?

— Which brand?

— Where to go online for trusted recommendations?

— What screen size?

— Which friends do we listen to (they all have advice, of course, because we are probably dead last in our circle to buy a new-generation TV).

— Should we buy at a bricks-and-mortar store, or online?

— Should we go through the aggravation of setting it up, or pay for the help?

— Should we get the service plan, or roll the dice?

— How do we even come up with a list of questions to consider? (We are sure to forget some important ones.)

There is a lesson in all of this for journalists. And that lesson is “research.” All good journalism starts there — with doing good research that will provide a strong foundation for interviewing (asking good questions, the right questions, and not wasting your sources’ time by asking questions you should know the answer to); for defining a focus for your piece; for understanding what’s already been said and by whom; and for uncovering new and interesting sources.

This fundamental that we’d never skip in so many basic daily endeavors can get short notice from journalists, who get their story idea or assignment and jump right in, either because they feel they have little time or are just a little too confident (experience breeds overconfidence).

We sometimes see this in reporters in classrooms, where two students might tackle the same story, but with dramatically different results. There are a lot of reasons for that, and one of them is research. The better researcher, or the one who spends more time on it, will enjoy better results across the board, though neither of them may point to this if challenged to ponder why one story worked and one did not.

Researching a TV may be seen as “fun.” Researching a story as just one more thing keeping me from getting started.

But in an age where there are fewer beat reporters bringing a well of knowledge to every piece, research is even more vital to the generalists who need to quickly become “smart,” for their own benefit and for their readers’ benefit as well.

Here are a few of my favorite sites for journalism research:

(About that photo. Any resemblance to my co-author is not intentional.)

Steve Davis

 

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