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How Are Newspapers Used in Scholarly Research?
Delve into some unexpected findings on the impact of newspapers in academic research topics like public health
by Courtney Suciu
A recent study revealed insights about how academic researchers use newspapers in their scholarly publications, and the widespread impact of newspaper citations in scholarly journals. Some of what we learned from this study wasn’t surprising – it affirmed that newspapers are an important resource for research in the arts, social sciences and humanities.
But it also presented us with some unexpected findings about the broad scope of academic subjects where scholarly researchers cited newspapers. For example, we didn’t anticipate that newspapers would be so frequently cited in journal articles on such a specialized topic as public health. So, we decided to take a closer look at why The New York Times might be such a valuable resource for research in this area.
A little background on the study
In his report, “The Scholarly Impacts of Newspapers,”1 conducted in partnership with ProQuest, Eric T. Meyer, then a professor of Social Informatics at the Oxford Internet Institute, examined how frequently four major newspapers (The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and The Guardian) were cited in scholarly journals. He also analyzed the subject areas of these publications, and how often journal articles that cited these newspapers were cited in other scholarly articles.
The overall results of Prof. Meyer’s study (check out the summary or download the full report), confirmed what we suspected: that newspapers are a critical resource in advanced research across a variety of subject areas.
Why are newspapers valuable for scholarly public health research?
According to Prof. Meyer’s research, public health wasn’t in the top 5 disciplines that most frequently cite newspapers in academic research (read the report to find out what they are) yet we were still surprised to discover how often researchers in this area did cite newspapers.
In fact, all four of the titles Prof. Meyer looked at were cited in scholarly articles about nursing, public health, pediatrics, general medicine and other related topics. Of these publications, The New York Times was the most frequently referenced in health research during the period of time between 2000-2017.
So why would newspapers, and The New York Times in particular, be a valuable resource for authors of academic journal articles in this subject area?
We discovered a study published in the International Public Health Journal that examined “News Coverage of Public Health Issues”2 which may shed light on the matter. While this research focused on The New York Times coverage of the West Nile Virus and avian flu epidemics, it also provided a more general glimpse at the reason scholars seeking accurate, reliable and timely information related to public health issues would use newspapers in their academic research.
“Journalists tend to quote experts as sources,” according to the authors of the study. “In the field of science and public health, these experts usually include bureaucratic officials, scientists affiliated with relevant institutions, and medical professionals.”
Experts in this context are authorities from the likes of the World Health Organization or Center for Disease Control, for example, who can impart reliable observations, information and analysis which are critical for scholarly research.
“The sourcing pattern is related not only to the nature of the subject matter (i.e. public health), but also to the function of professional requirements and constraints from the journalistic part,” the article continued:
In other words, journalists seek information from bureaucratic and institutional sources in part because they are credible and authoritative. It is also because they are able to provide quickly, and in a usable format, the information journalists need when covering public health issues; that is, the magnitude of impact and what actions will be taken.
Of course, such credible, authoritative and accessible information isn’t just important to journalists covering these issues. It is essential for successful public health studies at every level, from undergraduate research projects to peer-reviewed scholarly articles published in academic journals, as we discovered from Prof. Meyer’s report.
- Meyer, Eric T., The Scholarly Impacts of Newspapers: The Guardian, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and New York Times (May 2, 2018).
- Shih, T., PhD., Brossard, D., PhD., & Wijaya, R., B.S. (2011). News coverage of public health issues: The role of news sources and the processes of news construction. International Public Health Journal, 3(1), 87-97. Available from ProQuest Central.
Courtney Suciu is ProQuest’s lead blog writer. Her loves include libraries, literacy and researching extraordinary stories related to the arts and humanities. She has a Master’s Degree in English literature and a background in teaching, journalism and marketing. Follow her @QuirkySuciu