Off with the muddy practitioner boots and on with the research slippers

When it comes to journalism, I like getting my boots dirty. I’m a producer of content. Always have been, always will be. It’s what I did, it’s what I do, and it’s what I’ve always seen myself doing. But something is changing.

The barricades between practitioner and researcher are ones I never thought I’d have the inclination – or energy – to clamber over.

Something odd is happening, though. I’ve become increasingly drawn to the exploration of my subject area in greater depth. Having devoted the best part of a decade to running a hyperlocal site with no obvious, physical reward, I clearly have some passion for the arena and it seems I’m getting an itch to understand more about what I do and – more importantly – why I do it.

Seeing the work on creative citizens, hyperlocal media and a whole lot more from Dave Harte, Jerome Turner, Jon Hickman – three of my colleagues from the research sphere at Birmingham City University – has made me curious.

But I’m still a journalism practitioner and a sceptical one at that – and like a student starting their first ever piece of journalism, the thought of branching into an area I’m unfamiliar with is a daunting one.

As Jean M Bartunek and Sara L Rynes from the London School of Economics and Political Science highlight in their blog post on the gap between the two sides of the divide:

…academics and practitioners use different types of communication styles; the language in academic articles often isn’t very readable by practitioners.

Therein lies one of the stumbling blocks. As a journalist, my life has been spent trying to write a certain way, tell stories succinctly and get the message over quickly. So to throw off the muddy reporter boots, slide on a pair of research slippers and tread a new path isn’t going to be easy.

But having sat in on some research methods sessions with others going through the same process from different professional areas the picture is starting to become clearer. I’m starting to understand some of this stuff. I’m even starting to read and recognise some of the theories. Perhaps I did know some of this stuff but never really knew what it was – or perhaps I didn’t know this stuff and I should have done. But either way, I’m discovering there’s plenty that I don’t know but have a hunger to know.

The aim is ultimately to embark on a PhD and I’m quickly learning that I have more of an interest than I thought in some of the deeper questions surrounding local journalism.

I always felt that one of the challenges I’d face in embarking on research would be balancing what I perceived as practical knowledge with the theoretical thinking in my subject area. However, speaking to some of my colleagues from other areas of the university, I’m beginning to realise that the two can come together, with one helping to inspire and add context to the other.

So perhaps I can still have a muddy boot paired with a slipper after all.

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