THE BLOG

The Research Industry and the Media: A Match Made in Heaven

04/02/2014 10:33 GMT | Updated 05/04/2014 10:59 BST

Recently, the Telegraph published an article about the demographic profile of a recently recognised ethnic group - gypsies and Irish travellers - in the UK. The findings reported by the newspaper are from the 2011 census, the first to recognise this community as a distinct ethnic group. They point to some of the social challenges faced by gypsies and travellers: 60% of adults have no qualifications, meaning that they are the most poorly educated of any ethnicity; the community has lower levels of people in employment than any other ethnic group; and the proportion of lone parents is greater than in the general population. By commercial research standards, the findings are already out of date. What is likely to capture researchers' attention, however, is how representative the Telegraph's article is of the relationship between the mainstream press and the research industry. This relationship is based around our common aims, shared attributes and reliance on one another.

Distinct disciplines with shared dynamics

In some respects, journalists have similar needs to researchers. They need factual information to give substance to their ideas, assumptions and instincts - similar to the way in which marketing departments draw on insight to support their future developments. The press also loves to be able to build an image of social groups in the stories they tell (in this case, the article looks at everything from the amount of caravans owned by gypsies and travellers, to how healthy members of this community are), and this is comparable to the way in which segmentation practitioners aim to bring their segment profiles to life or want to profile a target customer. In terms of how research is used, journalists know that percentage signs can lead to powerful, emotive stories. Similarly, researchers know that quantifying 'myths' and ideas compels an audience to stand up and take notice of strategies or marketing hypotheses.

Correlating trends between journalism and insight

Journalists are working in a world where there is more content available to readers than ever before. As such, delivering stories that will stand out from the content ether is a key challenge. One way of standing out is to write stories about groups of people whose lifestyle choices may be perceived by some as going against social conventions - such as gypsies and travellers living in a nomadic way. In addition, researchers are now looking to deviate from traditional sampling frames, moving away from the conventions of sampling customers and buying segments, or studying groups such as influential individuals in order to evaluate brand reputations.

To-me-to-you: media and research need one another

Post-Leveson, some people feel that trust in the press has declined, maybe to an all-time low. Research can help the press by giving its stories substance and support from a third party. This is particularly relevant in relation to a census - a research study that the UK population participates in and is familiar with. Often, the majority of research - true to its archive-like stereotype - doesn't make it off the industry's shelves and into the public domain. It goes without saying that the mainstream press is, potentially, a huge springboard in the process of remedying this, not only in terms of what journalists can do to publicise research but in helping it to gather wider acclaim and interest. For example, who would have known that the 2011 census covered ground-breaking territory by surveying the gypsy and traveller community were it not for the press?

The Telegraph's article highlights the similarities between the research industry and the mainstream press - and shows that they can work well together, clearly suggesting that the two disciplines can collaborate in the future for joint betterment. With the current census's data diminishing in value and insight every day, I believe that it is up to researchers to focus more attention on offering journalists relevant, timely information that will give more substance to news stories and may even help to increase public trust in the media. I do not mean to suggest that this will be a one-way street, though. The press needs to give research and insight a wider audience. In short - the research industry and the mainstream press is, potentially, a match made in heaven.