When Gordon Katic and Sam Fenn call professors to ask them about their research, they hang up half an hour later with what they call “an inexhaustible list of amazing journalism topics” for their podcast Cited.
Katic, a UBC Journalism student, and professor Kathryn Gretsinger are part of the team that recently received a SSHRC Partnership Development Grant to bridge academic research and storytelling.
The team were awarded close to $200,000 from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) to produce radio documentaries on research findings in areas including sociology and anthropology. They’ll measure how effective their methods of storytelling are in communicating these stories to the public. Prof Allen Sens from the Department of Political Science is the lead on the SSHRC grant.
The mission is to empower scholars and journalists to collaborate and produce powerful storytelling about evidence-based research.
Katic, co-producer and co-host of podcast Cited, has been producing radio stories on academic research since 2011. Together with UBC History alumni Sam Fenn, they’ll be working with a team of media organizations, institutions and academics, including Gretsinger, over the next two years to produce engaging stories that communicate complex research findings effectively.
Katic and Fenn have already won radio awards in Canada for their in-depth radio documentaries, which cover a range of social science and humanities research topics from super-predators to Vancouver’s drug policy.
While producing their weekly radio show, they’ve realized that there are still issues in the way that research is presented and talked about in the mass media. Researchers aren’t always the best storytellers and journalists are sometimes limited in their resources in telling the story.
“What we found by talking to hundreds of professors is that they’re really dissatisfied with their relationship with the media,” said Fenn.
The brainchild of the Terry Project, Cited is a podcast about research and higher education, produced out of the University of British Columbia. Katic and Fenn first began telling stories on research because of the opportunity they had to reach out to academics at UBC.
“We were here and we wanted to learn how to do radio because we were radio nerds,” said Katic. “We just started to look at what researchers was available and stories ought to told in this place and found that there is a tremendous amount of interesting scholars, interesting people, on campus, that just doesn’t really ever get the light of day.”
Now, they will be partnering with the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the University of Washington Center for Human Rights, producing one radio documentary a month on topics from climate change to poverty. The project is centred on collaboration between journalists, researchers and media organizations.
Gretsinger, who has worked with Katic and Fenn for a number of years, will be providing editorial guidance throughout the project.
“It’s an interesting project in a whole bunch of ways but as journalism it’s fascinating, because the best journalism is about truth and truth is about evidence and evidence is about research,” said Gretsinger.
“Radio is the warm medium. It humanizes experiences and so if you think of research being cold, black and white, it’s the facts,” continued Gretsinger. “Being able to hear the meaning of that research through the lived experience of people is powerful. And it will allow people to connect with things that in other ways they may not have a chance to.”
Katic said that personal nature of research in social sciences and humanities lends itself well to radio. Gretsinger, Katic and Fenn all agree that the challenge will be in measuring how effective their methods are in telling the stories.
“I’m sure this is going to work as radio. This is going to be good radio. It’s up for the researchers to determine if this is the way they want to tell their stories, and I’ll be very interested to see if this ends up being effective and cost-effective,” said Fenn.
The leadership team on the project also includes UBC professor Allen Sens from the department of Political Science as principle investor, Amanda Cooper (Queen’s University) and Philip Savage (McCaster University), alongside Gretsinger.
Cooper, who teaches in Educational Policy and Leadership, and Savage, an associate professor in Communication Studies, will be evaluating the team’s success.
The radio documentaries will be part of their regular podcast Cited, which is available every Thursday on iTunes as well as on terrestrial radio. They’re first documentary with University of Washington’s Center for Human Rights will also air on CBC Radio in mid-October.