Friday, July 17, 2009

Moved home...

If you are looking for me, I have moved home.

This is my new address:

Moved home

If you are looking for me, I have moved home. This is my new address:

Friday, August 08, 2008

Ask not...

ONE question you must NOT ask someone writing up a thesis, “So when do you think you will finish?”

That is only slightly better than asking, “Haven’t you finished yet?”

Me, I have had to deal with both. On more occasions than I care to count. So listen to this screech from my soul, people, and swallow that annoying query you are about to voice…

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Dog bites news

MAN bites dog. It is news.

How about dog bites cat?

Is big news, I just learnt by way of Daily Echo, the leading – and only – newspaper in my little town in south England.

Hogging its front page today was a remarkable piece of journalism. Crux of story: three dogs kill a cat.

Or rather, Dogs savage cat to death. The strapline read: ‘It could be a child next time’ [sic] says mum.

In the last 12 months a child was killed, another two severely mauled by dogs in England, so this is newsworthy. But a Page 1 splash?

I better save a copy of this edition.

PS: I am not a fussy man, so I won’t pick on the missing comma in the strapline, nor the passive photograph, nor its caption that features a man identified simply as ‘Barry Richardson’ (he doesn’t figure anywhere in the story). Hell, I won’t even pick on the fact the strapline parrots the same direct quote as the intro – nor that one of the quotes has been doctored.

PPS: Not entirely in passing, here is some all-round biting for you: Man bites dog (and policeman)

Friday, April 13, 2007

Sex, Church, and Siebert

BESIDES Messrs Frederick Siebert, Theodore Peterson, and Wilbur Schramm, there’s another group responsible for the popularity of the Social Responsibility Theory, did you know?

Of Canadian vintage, let me tell you. By the names of Baron, Pelletier, Verreault, Beaudoin, and Gallant.

Like many people out there I had largely associated SRT with ‘Siebert’s’ classic Four Theories of the Press (1956, University of Illinois Press). As a matter of fact, it was the 1942-formed Hutchins Commission that came up with it, though it was Peterson's chapter in Four Theories that gave it a new respectability and, indeed, its undying fame. With Libertarian, Authoritarian, and Marxist ‘theories’, SRT wrote in a new – and possibly the most debated – chapter in media-society relation.

Now it turns out Jessy Baron, Rick Pelletier, Remy Verreault, Mike Beaudoin, and Claude Gallant have added their names to SRT. They belong to the Quebecer rock band Government Fury Kills, and the name of their first album is – yes, that's correct – Social Responsibility Theory.

All this I came to know from the excellent Wikipedia. A search for Social Responsibility Theory threw up just one ‘stub’. On GFK. Nothing on Siebert et al. I tried a direct search, with their names. No, so far as Wikipedia is concerned they do not exist (except for Schramm, who gets a brief mention unconnected to the Four Theories). This allows me to put forward a credible theory of my own: SRT belongs to GFK in today’s world.

Which is a shame really. Because the original trio helped shape the thoughts of a few generations of bright-eyed journalists, forcing many to dig deeper into the philosophical issues surrounding their profession, filling many with a righteous desire to serve the ‘society’ (something most journalists eagerly – and blindly, may I suggest – spout as a core responsibility even today), it is a pity they don’t get a mention with Jo Public.

Not that I am a fan of SRT, mind. I am only happy to hop on to the bandwagon of its critics. Forget everything else, including the criticism SRT is not one step above Libertarianism but just one step away from Authoritarianism, applying SRT to an intractable conflict is the worst you could do: it feeds nationalistic and 'patriotiotic' sentiments, which in turn feed the conflict itself.

But this post is not to critique SRT, but to trade trivia on it. So here’re a few things you might not have known, complete courtesy The Four Theories of the Press Four and a Half Decades Later: in retrospective, in Journalism Studies, volume 3, number 1, 2002, p 133-136…

Did you know Four Theories still remains, with six-figure sales, the all-time non-fiction best-seller for its publishers?

Because Siebert is the first author, we get the impression he was the initiator. Actually, it was Wilbur Schramm. Does he not remind you of a certain prodigy who makes his entrance on a broomstick at the Qudditch World Cup in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire? Anyway, Schramm ran into Peterson at the water-cooler of Greg Hall, University of Illinois. They talked a bit, and decided to ask Siebert to come aboard, and that was that.

We owe a lot to the Church for the Four Theories. But for a grant from the National Council of Churches, the book may not have come into being. When Schramm stopped to talk to Peterson, he had some money left over from an NCC grant, which went on to finance the Four Theories. Amen.

The book was literally cobbled together from the authors' earlier projects. Siebert “cribbed together his two chapters from his recently-finished Freedom of the Press in England, 1476-1776”, Schramm’s sketch of "Soviet communist theory came from his work on psychological warfare in Korea”, and “Peterson’s chapter on Social Responsibility came from his teaching and engagement with the Hutchins Commission”. Schramm and Peterson walked to Siebert’s office after their water-cooler discussion and there and then divided up the chapters. They never met till the book was drafted.

Schramm’s work in Korea, we are told, was “for a branch of the federal government”. Now allow me to leap to a conclusion, but which is the most likely branch of the US government interested in psychological warfare in foreign nations? Are we in the CIA’s debt too – as we are in the Church’s – for the Four Theories, I wonder.

Since we are trading trivia, here’s one final tidbit: Wikipedia tells us one of proponents of Social Responsibility Theory had sex with a 13-year-old girl – here I am talking about the latter bunch, of course. It was the bassist, it was in a bathroom, and it was in Alberta.

Shh, did you hear that? I think it was Siebert sitting up in his grave.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Re-search? Pardon my French

I'VE been a full-time researcher for nearly three years now, but for the life of me, I still can't figure out why we call research research. I mean, why research? Why not search?

My initial view was that it was because the process somewhere involved searching anew. Some clever person had, before us, come up with something clever – and we, in our quest for cleverness, were investigating it afresh in the hope of:

  • proving the said clever person wrong

  • scrounging for something the said clever person had overlooked so we could present it as our own

  • adapting the said clever person's work to suit new demands

That all sounded very nice and strong and I was quite pleased with the reasoning for some time. Especially since dictionaries broke the word down as re + search, the former a prefix found in loanwords from Latin meaning 'again' and the latter meaning, well, 'search'.

Trouble was, did this not imply research was re search? Did it not suggest everything we do today is treading the trodden path, ergo, unoriginal?

Surely, there's enough original work?

Surely, there are searches going on?

While Oxford, Merriam-Webster, and the ever-dependable Wikipedia defined research as what we commonly take it to mean ("a course of critical or scientific inquiry", "careful or diligent search", "active, diligent, and systematic process of inquiry aimed at discovering, interpreting, and revising facts", in that order), they were content to leave where the re bit fit in unexplained. So I turned to the net, and here are three academic definitions, shamelessly lifted from Introduction to Social Work Research, a presentation by Dr Osei Dwarka of the University of Illinois:

  • ...careful and systematic study in some field of knowledge, undertaken to establish facts or principles (Grinnell, 1997)

  • ...a systematic way of asking questions (Drew, 1980)

  • ...the scientific examination (reexamination) of emphirical data collected by someone first hand, concerning the social and psychological forces operating in a situation (Monette et al, 1994).

Um, interesting. But not particularly illiminating in this instance – for, none of the definitions takes us any closer to the elusive re. This is when I came across Klaus Krippendorff's definition, in Content analysis: an introduction to its methodology (2004, p81): ...a repeated search within data for apparent patterns.

Certainly more insightful, it offers an explanation for the prefix. But it also makes me ask why. Why is it a repeated search? Why is it not just a search?

A quick look at etymology (courtesy Oxford Online, Merriam-Webster), and I get the impression – and mind, this is only the impression of someone unschooled in matters such – that it was first used by the French to probably mean what it actually means: search afresh. The Middle French word recherché, which, Merriam-Webster and Wikipedia assure me fathered our modern-day research is a compound of our old pal re and cherché (French for ‘search’, I am told). And the French, in light of the existence of an already cute word for search would not have started calling it recherché just for the heck of it. So in all likelihood, it had popped out, complete with the prefix, to mean what it means literally.

Once in vogue – I am hypothesizing here, of course – it crossed the English channel without much ado. Perhaps it was initially used in English too to mean what it means (spelt differently though, by the look of it: as first researche and later reserch). Perhaps not. What is certain is that through the 15, 16 and 1700s, the word began to acquire the meaning 'search' and 'search thoroughly'.

Thus, we had – oh, what would I have done without Oxford Online? – quotes such as I carefully avoided the habitation ... lest it should ... furnish a clue to the researches of my pursuers and Our most profound researches are frequently nothing better than guessing at the causes of the phenomena. And by the time Jane Eyre came along with Currer Bell and Charlotte Bronte on her arm in 1847, the re had become just an appendage: She had left Thornfield Hall in the night; every research after her course had been vain.

We seem to have forgotten about that poor prefix today; most often, the word is used to mean a search for something specific.

Question now is, are people like moi – pardon my French – re-searchers?

Or are we plain searchers?

PS: Would be interesting to hear how Professor Barry Richards tackles this in his talk on October 16, What's research and why we do it. Venue, time details, to appear on this page shortly.