(Text of the keynote address I was privileged to deliver at a session of the National Conference on Research Methodology in Journalism and Mass Communication: De-westernizing Media Studies, organized at Tezpur, Assam, by Department of Mass Communication and Journalism, Tezpur University, Nov 26-28, 2010.)
Let me begin by confessing. I am a misfit in such a conference of media research veterans who have spent decades contributing to the body of knowledge in communication studies. I am only a media professional-turned-teacher after spending over 30 years reporting for a news agency and some newspapers. My peers in newspaper industry view me with suspicion about my new role when I talk about need for media research. The veterans in research tend to treat me with contempt because I know very little about the communication theories and research methodologies. Yet, I ventured to be here at this conference because this gives me an opportunity to express my experiences and views. This I do with a sincere hope that the communication scholars here will respond to my queries and doubts and offer some suggestions. This, trust me, is not to question the existing approach, but to learn as an eager student of media research.
This, in that sense, is not a structured keynote address, but is a random expression of several points not articulated in an organised manner.
I have experienced that most media schools in the country do not have adequate number of teachers to teach subjects like news reporting, editing, PR, Advertising, Broadcast Journalism, or conversion of new media. Sound experience in relevant profession in these areas is crucial if the students are to join the industry as professionals. Criterion to be a full time teacher in any of these areas is, however, not professional experience. The UGC insists that aspirants need be only NET or SLET pass. Experienced professionals, on the other hand, are not very enthusiastic to be full time teachers because they draw better salaries in the industry. In addition, they do not get the glamour and job satisfaction they get in their professions. With the result, the media schools have to depend on guest faculty or visiting teachers drawn from the local industry, to teach these subjects. These visiting professionals do not have time and also inclination to provide the students with perspectives of communication theories. Most of them find media research as an academic exercise with which the industry has nothing to do.
Teachers with NET or SLET qualifications, but without professional experience, may not be aware of the ground realities of the profession. They may have excellent understanding of communication theories and research methods, but several of them may not have exposure to the issues in the industry that need to be taken up for serious academic studies. More important than these facts is that most students plan to be professionals and have little interest in academic research. Most students want to be Rajdeep Sardesais and Barakha Datts. Opportunities in research field are not known to them. Newspapers, television news channels, ad agencies and PR firms do not offer them lucrative jobs in research.
Most students, therefore, rarely produce quality communication research as can be seen from the lists of Master’s dissertations. The dissertations for Master’s, and even for MPhil or PhD degrees, are for just the degrees. Very few studies are useful to the profession. Fewer have rigour and quality required for international conferences and journals.
There is yet another painful fact. Many teachers, once they attain certain positions such as Professors or Readers, rarely find it worthwhile to carry out research if it is not going to further advance their careers. My saying so may offend my colleagues. But consider this: UGC has received only two proposals each for Major Research and Minor Research in Mass Communication this time. Compare this with other faculties in humanities and social sciences: Commerce has 105 proposals, History 63, and Management 42. http://www.ugc.ac.in/notices/schedulehrp.pdf (notices/schedulehrp.pdf, 2010).
It will, however, be unfair not to admit that Lecturers, Readers and Professors in media schools have a lot of teaching and administrative workload. It is not easy for them to find time for research.
Whatever be the reasons, it boils down to this: we do not have good research teachers who carry out media studies fit to be published in international journals and conferences, at the same time be of utility in the profession.
Prof CSHN Murthy, the organiser of this conference, echoed sentiments of several Indian scholars who are obliged to follow the style and methodologies of their counterparts in USA and UK. This cannot be avoided if the research is to be published in peer-reviewed international journals. The Indian research rarely gets published in international journals for several reasons. One of them is that the editors of these journals and peers/reviewers are mostly, I believe, from the West. They fail to understand or appreciate the research topic, the methodology and sample size mentioned in the abstract or research proposal. This results in the rejection of the paper at this stage itself. If the abstract or proposal is approved, the paper is likely to be returned by the peers if they do not realise the importance of the Indian subject.
One reason cited for the rejection is lack of references from international literature. Then there could be the bias in favour of qualitative research. Without going into details of quantitative versus qualitative debate, I will only express the view that Indian scholars opt for the research mainly because of the presumption that the peers would prefer quantitative, and not the qualitative study. I do not have empirical data to substantiate this, but several colleagues have expressed their opinion when I spoke to them about this in recent times.
A word about sampling methods: I have my own doubts about the sampling methods of the Western scholars. The research papers available through web search quite often show purposive sample drawn from, say a class of students in a college or institute. Here is one example: