Political Science and Journalism, Redux

Show up at one of these—and, as best as I can tell, I am the only journalist in America who does routinely—and one may actually come away wiser. You might have second thoughts about some of the media’s ironclad assumptions as we dissect politics, especially in an election year, not to mention learning a lot about very different topics, be it decision-making in the German court system, the long-ago efforts of Spinoza and Locke to liberalize Christianity or psychological roots of somebody self-identifying as a libertarian.

That’s from journalist Jim Warren’s dispatch from the recent annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association.  You can find many of the papers in a searchable database.  Warren also discusses a panel that he and I were on, which focused on the relationship between political science and journalism.  Panelists included another reporter, Craig Gilbert of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, and two other political scientists, Seth Masket and Lynn Vavreck.  One interesting tidbit: Gilbert said that he gets JSTOR access through his college alumni association.  (Could this work for other reporters?)

One thing I discussed was the increasing challenge of getting ideas—from polisci or otherwise—to burn through the mass of information in the news, in blogs, on social media, etc. and have a lasting impact.  (Brian Stelter’s piece today explores a related theme.)  I suggested that it might be even more fruitful for political scientists to establish individual relationships with reporters who would be interested in their expertise.  So a scholar of Congress would get to know Capitol Hill reporters, for example.  It’s also especially helpful to get to know editors and bureau chiefs, who can often steer reporters to scholars when needed.  But none of this is likely to happen without some effective self-promotion by scholars and disciplinary associations.  As Warren put it, political scientists should “get off their butts and talk.”

There will always be “demand side” issues, of course.  As one audience member noted, news coverage of politics will continue to focus on entertaining ephemera (my words, not his), as it always has.  But even changes at the margins can still be meaningful.

Some earlier thoughts on this subject are here.

[Cross-posted at The Incidental Economist]

John Sides

John Sides is an associate professor of political science at George Washington University.