Photo Credit: Flickr user eclecticlibrarian
Much has been written of late about the relatively low quality of academic research in the journalism and mass communication field. Since this is a critical time, the dawn of a new age of communication, there’s much to learn. The research gap is a major source of disagreement between professionals and scholars. Professionals argue that much research is unreadable and, frankly, useless. If you take the time, scholars counter, you’ll find important insights.
Why do we care about research? It’s important to the future of journalism education because publication in the so-called peer-reviewed journals traditionally has been the number one criteria for faculty promotion and tenure. Yes, research beats teaching.
In the professional world, journalism that makes a difference is measured by actual impact -- by the jailed people who are freed, by the criminals who are jailed, by new laws or policies that save lives or stop government waste. This “community service” (as it is called) is not given the importance it deserves at universities. Publishing in academic journals is what counts, even if it does nothing to further how journalism serves America. (See Geneva Overholser’s blog about “what’s missing” in the debate about journalism schools.)
Let’s look at the details: Three main journals boast the word “journalism” in their titles. Citation research, the tracking of how often scholars quote each other, paints a grim picture of these three. None of the three is considered among the most cited or prestigious of the journals in the communications field, nor in the social studies field at large.
For this comparison we used the helpful databases built by Thomson Reuters, which tracks thousands of journals and citations. The three journals in question all are published by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication: Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, Journalism & Mass Communication Educator and Journalism & Communication Monographs.
Of the three, only Quarterly has been selected for inclusion in the “Web of Science” database, and to receive a Journal Impact Factor in Journal Citation Reports. Educator was rejected in January 2010 but is up for re-evaluation in January 2013. Monographs is currently under evaluation. Having only one of the three “journalism-titled” journals in the database is not a good start.
To qualify for the database, Thomson Reuters considers: 1. The journals’ publishing standards 2. Editorial content 3. International diversity and 4. Correct metadata. A journal that has never been cited, for example, would not be picked up by Thomson Reuters.
We checked the Quarterly against all the communication journals in the dataset. Given how much it produces, how much was it cited in 2011? The Journal Impact Factor ranked Quarterly 48 of the 72 communication journals. Considering the importance journalists place on their profession -- “bedrock of democracy” – being in the bottom 50 percent would not sit well. Of the 2,943 social science journals, Quarterly ranks 1,950, according to impact measure. (The Journal Impact Factor, Thomson Reuters says, can be “used to provide a gross approximation of the prestige of journals to which individuals have been published.”)
Is there a conspiracy against communication journals? Do social scientists simply not like journalism or communication? Hardly. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking (number 1 out of 72 communication journals when ranked by Journal Impact Factor) ranks in the top 10 percent of all social science journals, again using citations in 2011. Note the words cyber and social networking in the title. We desperately need to know the social science of engagement and impact in the digital age.
Another benchmark that can be used to rate journals is Google Scholar. It lists the number of times articles or publications have been cited. In our Sept 4. search, Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly produces 7,730 results, Journalism & Mass Communication Educator produces 1,140 results and Journalism & Communication Monographs produces 284 results.
These are bad numbers when you consider that there are 7,149 full-time and 5,162 part-time professors, who should be reading and quoting each other. But they get worse when you realize that only some of the articles are cited at all. The chart below is from SCImago Journal & Country Rank, which also tracks citations. Every year, at least half of the Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly articles are totally uncited. The latest year on record shows no citations for a whopping 69 percent of the articles. Remember, the Quarterly looks to us like the best of the three “journalism journals.”