Research Proposal for Fulbright Application

by Mindy McAdams

I wrote this proposal in summer 2003 as part of my application for a Fulbright Scholar award to Malaysia.

Subject of the research

My study will concern the future of online journalism as seen by Malaysian broadcast and print journalists.

I will visit as many newsrooms (both print and broadcast) throughout Malaysia as I can to interview journalists, editors and producers. My primary research questions are:

  1. How do Malaysian print and broadcast journalism organizations perceive themselves? What is their role in society? What is their responsibility to the public? What is their relationship to the government?
  2. What role do Malaysian journalists and journalism organizations consider practical for online media, today and in the future?
  3. What are Malaysian journalists' attitudes about online journalism?

This is a qualitative study, similar to that of Deuze (2002), but smaller.

Methods and feasibility

I hope to visit the offices of journalism organizations, not only in the capital and on the peninsula but also in Sabah and Sarawak. I will make advance arrangements by phone to make sure someone in the newsroom is willing to speak with me. I will record all interviews with an audio recorder. Each interview of this type takes one to two hours. If journalists are not comfortable meeting with me at their offices, I will make arrangements to meet them elsewhere. They can remain unnamed/unidentified in all published reports if they prefer.

If necessary, I will hire an interpreter, but I expect that many Malaysian journalists will be comfortable speaking in English. I seldom have any difficulty conversing with people who speak English as a second language, and on my previous trips to Malaysia I found that many professionals there have extremely good mastery of English. In the past, I have spoken at length with journalists in many nations, including Malaysia and Thailand, and have conducted workshops (with and without an interpreter) for Swiss-Italian and various other European journalists, and for Malaysian communications professionals (mostly in public relations).

If possible, I would like to take a tour of the newsrooms and the production facilities. I will take still photographs if it is permitted.

Depending on my obligations for lecturing, I would guess I could easily conduct at least one newsroom interview each week I am in Malaysia, for a total of 20 interviews, although more may be possible. If I am based at a university in Selangor or in K.L., it should be possible to visit more than one newsroom in a week. I would try to get an equal number of interviews in print and broadcast newsrooms. I would very much like to interview journalists who write for and for Aliran. Hopefully I would have at least one lecture-related trip to Sabah and Sarawak, and I could arrange newsroom interviews there to coincide with the lecture schedule.

Rationale for study

More and more Americans are getting their news online, rather than from print or television (Pew Research Center, 2002). Journalists in Southeast Asia should be looking to the future and considering what these trends may mean for them and their practice of journalism. Do Malaysian journalists believe Malaysians will also turn more often to online news than to print or broadcast? If so, why? If not, what reasons do they give? The autonomy of print and broadcast journalists in Malaysia is restricted by law (Gan, 2002; Neumann, 1998); Internet publishers do not face the same restrictions.

The implications encompass not only the practice of journalism within a nation or a region but also the changing information "diet" of the public: In any nation where many people read English, it can be expected that the public gets news and information from various sources beyond their national borders. (It can be expected that many Malaysian citizens also read Chinese-language media from sources outside Malaysia.) The news media in every nation now face competition from other news media outside that nation, because of the Internet. One of the questions this raises is, Does it change the way you do journalism? That is, Do you cover different stories? Do you cover the same stories differently? Does the public call you to task because your reports differ from the reports in foreign media?

I am fascinated by these questions because they probe a change in what constitutes an informed public; I think such questions hold particular interest in a nation such as Malaysia where diverse cultures live together peacefully and yet maintain some cultural identification with other nations. Does the cross-border flow of information made possible by the Internet seem threatening to Malaysian journalists? How well do Malaysian journalists think they cover other Muslim nations? Do they think Islamic or non-Islamic media outside Malaysia portray Malaysia accurately? In other words, do they worry about, or disregard, external competition?

There will also be a question in 2004 of whether Malaysian journalists feel differently about their roles after the transfer of power to the new prime minister.

Understanding the attitudes of Malaysian journalists toward their roles and toward the less-regulated Internet could help journalists in the West and in the East critically examine their own attitudes, as well as afford some insight into how the news media function under government control within a nominal democracy. In addition, Malaysian communications scholars could build on and expand this work to add to the literature on journalism studies in Southeast Asia -- a body of literature that, so far, is quite small.

Dissemination plan

Everything I do is disseminated on the Web, so that it's accessible to anyone, anywhere. In addition to posting summaries of the interviews online, on my return to the United States, I can fund one or two graduate students to conduct a content analysis on the interview transcripts, producing qualitative conference papers in journalism studies, and scholarly publications as well.

I would be able to speak about my experience as a guest lecturer in courses taught by other faculty, not only in my own college but also in other colleges at my university. I would also be able to speak at various professional journalism conferences about what I learned; I maintain membership in both the Society of Professional Journalists and the Online Journalists Association and attend many of those organizations' annual conventions.