David Ashforth: Research - using different means for different ends.
Panorama's `The Corruption of Racing' provided an interesting insight into tabloid television research, which employs very different methods from those used by serious researchers.
Although the methodology would be frowned on by academic researchers and means that, in their terms, the programme's conclusions have little validity, that doesn't necessarily mean they have no merit, and it certainly doesn't mean they have no impact. The Jockey Club's director of security has already resigned.
A similar piece of academic research would have greater validity but less impact. Its outcome, probably a written report, would be lucky to attract 400 readers, let alone four million viewers.
The starting point
Tabloid television and serious research might have the same starting point for their investigation - the Brian Wright case and the issues it raises about corruption and integrity in racing. After that, their paths would part.
Both camps want to satisfy their audiences but their audiences are very different. They want different things, and pleasing them demands different approaches.
Tabloid Television: Television viewers, television insiders
Serious Research: Client - perhaps a government department, others working in the same field
Tabloid Television: To engage viewers, avoid legal action, make a `splash', achieve high ratings
Serious Research: To produce valid, useful conclusions, with practical recommendations
Tabloid Television: Largely pre-determined. Strong assumptions, e.g. corruption is widespread
Serious Research: Emerge from the evidence
4. Methods - sources
In both camps, sources are selected carefully, for a purpose. Since the purposes are different, so are the sources.
Tabloid Television: Limited sources. Favour outspoken advocates of chosen line of argument, e.g. Roger Buffham, Dermot Browne. Very limited use of quantitative evidence
Serious Research: More extensive sources. A mixture of quantitative and qualitative sources, selected to be representative and to provide an objective, balanced picture of the nature and extent of corruption; the integrity systems used to deal with it and their effectiveness
5. Methods - the use of sources
Not only are the sources different, but they are examined in a different way.
a) Questioning the value of sources, e.g. Buffham and Browne
Tabloid Television: Barely questioned
Serious Research: Questioned. Neither Buffham nor Browne would be rejected as sources of information but both would be regarded as sources whose testimony could carry only limited weight
i) Methods vary considerably according to the interviewee - whether friendly or hostile to the programme's line of argument
ii) Practices such as covert taping, `door-stepping'
those who have either declined to be interviewed
or agreed only if the interview is live, moving away from
an agreed line of questioning, all regarded as acceptable
i) Interviews conducted according to a standard procedure.
ii) Such practices regarded as unacceptable
c) The questions
i) As an illustration, contrast the persistent, combative questioning of Christopher Foster with the questioning of Buffham. When Buffham made a highly contentious allegation - "A whole generation of National Hunt jockeys had close links with organised crime" - the assertion went unchallenged. The next question was, "Why should we be concerned about that?" ii) No questions asked to place corrupt episodes or individuals in perspective
i) Buffham's allegation would be subjected to close scrutiny. The first question would not be whether we should be concerned about it, but whether it was true. Figures and evidence would be required.
ii) Other questions would be asked about quantitative sources, to establish how widespread corruption was. How many races were `fixed'?
How many jockeys were corrupt? What proportion of races and jockeys?
d) Integrity systems
Tabloid Television: No systematic consideration of the integrity system, nor of its reform
Serious Research: Detailed consideration of integrity system, of changes to it, of its effectiveness
Tabloid Television: Enormous attention paid to presentation, with the use of sophisticated techniques designed to maximise impact on viewers. For instance, Panorama's opening sequence, with Jimmy FitzGerald knocking a letter out of an interviewer's hand; Kieren Fallon giving a malevolent look; a statement describing racing as "a sport which turns a blind eye when its champion jockey mixes with gangsters".
The weight given to material strongly influenced by visual impact, e.g. the Jeremy Phipps episode. Use of awful music
Considerable, but less attention paid to presentation, which centres on a written report. The weight given to material determined by its assessed significance. No awful music.
Tabloid Television: Can be considerable. Research methods can unearth material not accessible to academic researchers.
Variable. Can be influential but research may have been commissioned by a body seeking support for a
pre-determined policy. Small audience
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|Publication:||The Racing Post (London, England)|
|Date:||Oct 12, 2002|
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