In the past 50 years, there has been a burgeoning literature on the role of journalism in promoting governance and supporting anti-corruption efforts. Much of this comes from the work of economists and political scientists, and there is a lot for journalism studies scholars to learn from. The three disciplines grapple with many of the same questions; including the effects of journalism on society and journalists’ role as watchdogs and scarecrows. Economists are the boldest about establishing causality between journalism and governance, arguing that a free and open press can curb corruption and promote accountability. However, this is not always borne out in practice as modern technological and political developments have threatened journalism’s business model, especially in regions without a historically robust free press. Media capture continues to be a growing problem in places where government and business interests are aligned and seek to instrumentalize the media.
Further quantitative research and exploration of the impediments to the functioning of a free media will help our understanding of the contemporary problems facing journalists and how they can be solved in order to improve governance across the world. There is much more to be learned about the impact of journalism on governance and studies on this topic should not only cross disciplines but must also be decolonialized so that the field has more information on how the media contributes, or not, to governance in the Global South and in the different media systems outlined by Hallin and Mancini as well as the updated analysis of Efrat Nechushtai.
Tim Klein, Elisabeth Fondren, and Leonard M. Apcar
Throughout the ages, the editor’s primary role has been to connect writers with readers by deciding what to publish. In modern scholarship, this is known as gatekeeping. The stories an editor allows through the metaphorical “gate” can influence what readers find important—what scholars call agenda setting. But editors not only influence which stories are told; they also shape how stories are told, through word choice, story arrangement, selection of examples, photos, and the all-important headline; this is known as framing. Historians and biographers have written a good deal about individual editors—their publications, their editorial instincts, their altercations with powerful politicians, and their pursuit of truth, entertainment, profit, and influence. But there has been less focus on the broader changes that have impacted the work of editors as the media ecosystem has shifted. Cultural and social changes have created new demands on editors, who have had to adjust to stay in sync with audiences’ tastes and expectations. Technological invention—and the disruption of old economic models—have forced editors to adapt to new mediums of mass communication that serve new audiences and new financial realities. In short, broader economic, political, technological, and social changes have all influenced what type of editing has flourished and what practices drifted into the past. The Internet has posed an existential threat to editors as gatekeepers. Countless new gates that connect readers and writers have been thrown open, some with little to no editorial oversight. This is far from the first time editors have been forced to adapt to change—the history of editing has been a story of innovation in a continuing quest to find new ways to connect readers and writers. Today, despite the decline in gatekeeping power, professional editing still has an essential role—to curate quality out of the multitude of online voices and uphold a rigor for accuracy and truthfulness that can be easily overlooked on social media and non-professional news sites. Whether it is approving (or rejecting) a topic of investigation, copy-editing prose, fact-checking a story, arranging the home page of a website, managing a newsroom, or deciding which journalist to hire, editors play an integral role in shaping the information that is shared with audiences.
Masato Kajimoto and Jennifer Fleming
News literacy is an emerging field within the disciplines of media literacy, journalism education, information technology, and other related areas, although there is no unified definition or consensus among researchers as to what exactly the news literacy curriculum should entail. Its core mission is broadly recognized as “citizen empowerment” in that the critical-thinking skills necessary to the evaluation of news reports and the ability to identify fact-based, quality information encourage active participation and engagement among well-informed citizens. One dominant instructional paradigm, which some researchers refer to as the “journalism school approach,” emerged in the mid-2000s and distinguished “news literacy” from its longer-recognized counterpart, media literacy. Lessons in news literacy classrooms focus exclusively on the deconstruction of news content. While news literacy often shares many of its analytical goals and theoretical frameworks with media literacy education, it also contains specialized pedagogical methods specific to the process of news production, which are not applicable to other types of media content.
Despite some heated discussions among scholars, particularly in the United States, with different standpoints on whether this pedagogy is more or less effective than the approaches taken by media literacy educators, the difference between the two and other related fields, such as digital literacy and web literacy, is often ambiguous because in practice, neither discipline is particularly standardized and each instructor’s understanding of the field, as well as their academic training, has a significant impact on students’ learning experiences. Globally, the debate over the—often subtle—nuances that differentiate these various approaches have even less significance, as educators around the world translate and adapt news literacy concepts to fit the unique circumstances and environments found in their own country’s news media, political, and technological environments.
Perhaps the most pressing issue in the current state of news literacy is a lack of a cohesive body of peer-reviewed research, or in particular, a research design that appropriately measures the efficacy of educational models. News literacy studies grounded in social science methods are limited. Scholarship on critical news instruction and skill development, which has been traditionally conducted under the umbrella of media literacy, is mostly comprised of descriptive accounts of educational interventions or self-reported surveys on media attitudes, content consumption behaviors, or analytical skills. In the United States, a body of quantitative work based on an assessment instrument called a “news media literacy scale” has influenced how researchers can contextualize and measure news literacy, and some qualitative analyses shed light on specific pedagogical models. Interest in educational intervention and related research has increased rather dramatically since 2016 as global concerns over “post-truth” media consumption and the “fake news” phenomena have become part of academic discourse in different disciplines. Collaborative works among scholars and practitioners in the areas that could potentially inform the design of effective news literacy curriculum development, such as cognitive science, social psychology, and social media data analysis, have started to emerge as well.
The relationship between journalists and their sources is central to journalism practice. It is a relationship based on a power struggle over the presentation of information to the public. The nature of that relationship continues to change in response to cultural, social, political, and technological circumstances. Historically, the relationship between journalists and sources has been predominantly characterized as interdependent, oscillating between cooperation and conflict over the control of information. However, the arrival of digital publishing platforms has significantly disrupted this mutually dependent exchange. It has blurred the boundaries between the two roles and released sources from their traditional reliance on journalists to disseminate their messages to citizens. Using digital platforms, sources have the option to bypass the traditional media and communicate directly with the public if it meets their strategic communication goals. Depending on whether the source is trying to reach a specific audience via social media or a wider audience via mass media, he or she can “opt-in” or “opt-out” of a traditional journalist-source relationship. The shift in power between reporters and sources poses a challenge to the authority and control of journalists who have lost their stranglehold over the means of publication. This change points to issues of accountability and scrutiny and raises questions about the ongoing relevance of journalism’s “fourth estate” role in democracy.
Nikki Usher and Aske Kammer
The rise of news startups in their modern incarnation has taken place on a global scale, and needs consideration as a phenomenon. First, a brief history of news startups is provided, followed by a theoretical framing that explores how they both differ from and normalize existing aspects of professional journalism. News startups stretch the boundaries of the profession through discursive claims about iteration and innovation, but nonetheless draw on the longstanding aspirations of legacy journalists for inspiration. The types of funding models are overviewed (philanthropic/nonprofit, government-funded, venture-backed for-profit, for-profit, and ideological-advocacy) and are posited against a matrix of types of news startups (original-content creators, aggregators/curators, platforms, and business-to-business). News startups face future challenges to their survival and a discussion is needed on their fragility in the context of flexible and venture labor.
How events become news has always been a fundamental question for both journalism practitioners and scholars. For journalism practitioners, news judgments are wrapped up in the moral obligation to hold the powerful to account and to provide the public with the means to participate in democratic governance. For journalism scholars, news selection and construction are wrapped up in investigations of news values and newsworthiness. Scholarship systematically analyzing the processes behind these judgments and selections emerged in the 1960s, and since then, news values research has made a significant contribution to the journalism literature. Assertions have been made regarding the status of news values, including whether they are culture bound or universal, core or standard. Some hold that news values exist in the minds of journalists or are even metaphorically speaking “part of the furniture,” while others see them as being inherent or infused in the events that happen or as discursively constructed through the verbal and visual resources deployed in news storytelling. Like in many other areas of journalism research, systematic analysis of the role that visuals play in the construction of newsworthiness has been neglected. However, recent additions to the scholarship on visual news values analysis have begun to address this shortfall. The convergence and digitization of news production, rolling deadlines, new media platforms, and increasingly active audiences have also impacted on how news values research is conducted and theorized, making this a vibrant and ever-evolving research paradigm.
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are not-for-profit groups, which are independent of commercial businesses and government agencies. They claim to serve various notions of the public good, including advocacy and service delivery. So the definition of an “NGO” is broad, including many different kinds of organizations, such as aid agencies, human rights, indigenous, feminist and environmental lobby groups.
Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, the predecessors of NGOs—pressure groups—tried to advance their cause by cultivating close relations with the mainstream press, and/or publishing their own periodicals. But from the late 20th century onward, many NGOs started routinely producing their own news content, including written text but also photojournalism, video, and sophisticated interactive projects. Some of this material is disseminated through “alternative” outlets, social media and activist hubs. But it is difficult for NGOs to gain a mass audience in these ways, so most major NGOs recruit or commission experienced journalists to carry out this work for them.
Much of the research in this area has focused on either journalists’ increased dependence on NGOs, or on the restructuring of NGOs’ resources, priorities and working cultures in accordance with news norms. Most scholars have also focused on the work of international aid agencies and/or human rights organizations, as well as particular kinds of crises, such as famines, hurricanes and conflicts. The extant literature is heavily weighted toward organizations which are based in North America or Europe. However, a small but growing number of scholars are challenging this, exploring the news work of other NGOs and/or news outlets, in other countries, and during other kinds of news-making periods, including conferences, summits and “quiet” news weeks.
These more diverse approaches to studying NGOs as news organizations have led to the theorization of NGO journalism becoming more nuanced. Researchers have shifted away from polarized, and somewhat over-generalized, assessments of the effects of NGO news-making, toward a greater awareness of complexity and heterogeneity. This has involved them using theory about organizations, institutions, fields and moral economies. However, the kinds of power which NGO workers are able to acquire by becoming news reporters is still under-theorized, and scholars still tend to avoid examining the frameworks they use as a basis for normative evaluation. Finally, changing media practices (including social media practices) and NGOs’ adoption of new communication technology (including satellite and drone imagery) means that this area of news work is still evolving very rapidly.
Stephen J. A. Ward
Journalism objectivity or news objectivity had its origins in Western media cultures, especially in the United States, in the early 20th century. The principle, however, has found its way into codes of ethics and journalism education in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
In 2018, objectivity is a controversial norm. Within the field of journalism ethics, the issue is whether objectivity as traditionally understood—a neutral reporting of “just the facts”—remains a valid ideal. In society, the debate swirls around the future of democratic public spheres and the need for reliable news sources. Misinformation and partisan voices threaten to swamp public channels of information. How can citizens distinguish truth from falsity in journalism? Objective from subjective reports? Informed analysis from biased opinion?
The prehistory of objectivity is, in large part, the history of objectivity, truth, and fact in the culture. This is because journalists defined their notion of objectivity by adapting notions from philosophy, science, and the ambient culture.
The central notion of news objectivity is that reporters should be neutral stenographers of fact, eliminating their opinions and interpretations from their reports. By the middle of the 1900s onward, this idea of objectivity as just the facts was subjected to a withering critique by journalists who sought a more engaged journalism and academics who rejected the idea of neutral facts. Also, the early 21st-century digital revolution created online communication that favored an interpretive journalism skeptical of neutrality and objectivity.
The study and advancement of truth and objectivity in journalism is thus left in a difficult position. Should journalists go back to a 19th-century libertarian view of truth and democracy as requiring only a free clash of opinion? Should they revive or redefine news objectivity? Or should they rethink journalism ethics from the ground up, leaving news objectivity behind?
J. David Wolfgang
Shortly after its emergence as a tool for participatory journalism, online commenting became a popular format for audience public discourse and a subject of controversy for professional journalists. The early 21st century has seen a constant growth in research considering how online comments have influenced journalism by providing new ways to understand the perspective of the audience, by changing the routines and practices of the newsroom, and by encouraging a reconsideration of how content influences readers. News audiences, generally, have been relatively quiet and passive in the past, but online comments have given them the opportunity to speak alongside journalists on professional platforms. This shift in news-mediated public discourse has the potential to reshape the journalist−audience relationship in substantial ways. The research on commenting has provided new evidence on how journalistic practices are changing, how people perceive and process information online, and how journalists negotiate technological change while trying not to upend the profession. However, there is a need for more research that explores critical questions related to comment quality, changing journalistic norms, and the relationship between journalist identity and technology. Online commenting has the potential to help fulfill the journalistic norms of providing a space for public discourse and promoting diverse views from within the community. This potential, however, is reliant upon journalists who uphold the civic function of journalism’s role.
Funding of journalism has become a critical part of journalism and digital journalism studies because no single business model has emerged to solve revenue problems for print and digital news outlets. Despite newspapers’ efforts to expand their income sources, they have remained print reliant in terms of revenue. In 2017, approximately 80% of global news publishers’ revenue still came from print products. While some large news corporations such as The New York Times Co. and News Corp have reported substantial increases in their digital subscription numbers, revenue from subscriptions and digital advertising has not been substantial enough to fund their newsroom structures and journalism. In this context, academia has started to produce more research on news payment systems. Recent studies of payment systems have largely concentrated on people’s willingness to pay for news. Academic researchers have also studied paywall models, content, and revenue. Additionally, crowdfunding as a source of revenue for news has been investigated, and the research on membership models is expanding. Most of the studies about news payment systems have concluded that none of the news payment systems—including paywalls, micropayments, donations, and memberships—is (on its own) sustainable for funding future journalism. Paywall can be understood as a subscription model that limits the public’s access to all or to some digital news content without a payment. Micropayments allow readers to pay per article or per view. Memberships allow the public to access certain content (premium content) or extra services such as events for a fee. Donations refer to the public’s voluntary monetary contributions to produce news articles or projects to the news sites. News publishers have become increasingly dependent on social media platforms such as Facebook for their content distribution. However, there is still very little academic research about news payment systems related to Facebook or other social media companies. This may well be because there is no transparent information about this kind of revenue as the news industry itself is not reporting on it.
Peace Journalism is a set of distinctions in the representation of conflicts. Put forward originally by Johan Galtung, the Peace Journalism model has acted as an organizing principle for initiatives in pedagogy and training, movement activism for media reform, and scholarly research. Exponents have often operated concurrently in more than one of these activity streams, and the field has generally been imbued with an awareness of the need for theory to address issues relevant to professional practice and experience. Taken together, the activities in all three of these streams show a global pattern of distribution and have been called the worldwide “peace journalism movement.”
This movement puts forward remedial measures to the dominance of certain patterns of conflict reporting, characterized as War Journalism. This should not be confused with the everyday term “war reporting,” meaning, simply, to report on wars. Instead, War Journalism describes forms of reporting that make further violence seem logical, sensible, even inevitable.
Galtung first put forward his model as a table showing distinctions under four main headings. Whereas War Journalism was violence-oriented, elite-oriented, propaganda-oriented, and victory-oriented, peace journalism could be identified as peace and conflict-oriented, people-oriented, truth-oriented, and solution-oriented.
Peace Journalism research has concentrated mainly on three issues. The first—constituting the largest proportion of published work—has been to find out how much Peace Journalism is underway in samples of conflict reporting from (usually) print media. Such research proceeds by operationalizing the distinctions in the model to derive relevant criteria for content analysis. In a second strand, scholars have applied the model to new and different kinds of conflict, such as political or cultural conflicts, or extended its geographical reach by using it to consider reporting by media of different countries and discussed its relevance in each case. A third strand has investigated differentials in responses by audiences when exposed to examples of conflict reporting coded as War Journalism and Peace Journalism.
Photography has been a practical reality for about 190 years, and, from its beginnings, journalism seemed like a natural application of the medium since most people believed that the photograph was an objective representation of reality. During the years since the first surviving photograph was produced in a camera, the evolution of photojournalism has been driven by a combination of technology, public demand, and a passion for the profession by its practitioners. In the first decades after that initial photograph, improvements in lenses, negatives, and prints made photographic reportage of the Crimean War (1853–1856) and the American Civil War (1861–1865) possible. The British and American populaces created immense markets for war images, and entrepreneurial photographers such as Roger Fenton and Mathew Brady provided them.
Technological advances in cameras, lenses, film, lighting, photographic reproduction methods, and an ability to transmit photographs worldwide continued to advance the boundaries of photojournalism throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The topics of that work were mostly motivated by public demand. Wars, politics, photographs of “exotic” cultures from around the world, sports, everyday features, and celebrity portraits provided popular themes and continue to do so into the present, but photojournalists have also pursued subjects that they deemed important to humankind though not necessarily popular. Many have produced social, political, environmental, and cultural documentaries that challenge the status quo. Some have challenged this work as being outside the bounds of “objectivity,” but the usefulness of this argument has been rejected by many in the profession. Legendary photojournalist W. Eugene Smith, for example, stated succinctly, “there is nothing objective about journalism.”
The final decade of the 20th century brought the evolution of the digital camera. Today’s photojournalism is almost exclusively a digital endeavor. The transformation of photography from analog to digital has revolutionized photojournalism in terms of workflow, mobility, transmission of images, ethics, image availability, and the question of “who is a photojournalist?” Finally, the gradual mutation of the term “photojournalism” to “visual journalism” denotes a transformation of the medium itself from the still image to a combination of still and moving images or perhaps exclusively moving images in the future. This, in turn, may fundamentally change the ways in which photojournalistic stories are told and experienced.
Philip M. Napoli and Sarah Stonbely
The role of government policy in journalism can vary substantially across nations; as in 21st century the primary policy issues surrounding journalism have evolved as technological changes have dramatically configured—and in some cases threatened—the position of traditional journalistic institutions and given rise to new journalistic forms and organizations.
In nations such as the United States, where the commercial model of journalism production has long predominated, we have seen a pronounced expansion in recent years beyond a policy focus on how to maintain sufficient competition and diversity among the organizations that produce journalism (i.e., ownership regulation) to also include consideration of possible policy approaches to preserving and protecting traditional journalism organizations in the face of a much more challenging economic environment. Thus, policymakers have considered options such as legislation allowing commercial newspapers to convert to nonprofit status, as well as engaging in more rigorous governmental assessment of the functioning of local journalism ecosystems and the ways in which news consumers’ critical information needs are being met. In this latter case, the question of what, if any, policy responses may emerge from such investigations has remained unclear and a source of significant controversy.
In nations with a stronger tradition of non-commercial, publicly supported journalism (the focus here is primarily on western Europe), key 21st-century policy issues have included media freedom and pluralism, with particular emphases and mechanisms for protecting journalists and for ensuring ownership transparency and diversity. There have also been comprehensive reassessments of the structure and functioning of public service media in order to ensure that these institutions are effectively evolving in response to the changing media environment in ways that maximize their ability to serve media users’ information needs.
Issues of journalism ethics and performance have found their way into the policy agenda as well. This has most notably been the case in the United Kingdom, where revelations of illegal mobile phone hacking by British tabloid journalists led to a formal government inquiry (the Leveson Inquiry) and recommendations for the creation of a new, independent governance structure with significant sanctioning and dispute arbitration authority.
An important concern that is only now beginning to emerge (particularly in Europe), one that may ultimately take form as a dominant journalism policy issue, involves the question of the increasingly influential role that digital intermediaries (social media platforms, search engines, mobile applications) play in the process via which journalism reaches news consumers. Here, the emerging concern is whether some more formal and authoritative governance structures are necessary to ensure that these intermediaries have positive rather than negative effects on the flow of news and information within communities.
Jesper Strömbäck and Adam Shehata
Political journalism constitutes one of the most prominent domains of journalism, and is essential for the functioning of democracy. Ideally, political journalism should function as an information provider, watchdog, and forum for political discussions, thereby helping citizens understand political matters and help prevent abuses of power. The extent to which it does is, however, debated. Apart from normative ideals, political journalism is shaped by factors at several levels of analysis, including the system level, the media organizational level, and the individual level. Not least important for political journalism is the close, interdependent, and contentious relationship with political actors, shaping both the processes and the content of political journalism.
In terms of content, four key concepts in research on political journalism in Western democratic systems are the framing of politics as a strategic game, interpretive versus straight news, conflict framing and media negativity, and political or partisan bias. A review of research related to these four concepts suggests that political journalism has a strong tendency to frame politics as a strategic game rather than as issues, particularly during election campaigns; that interpretive journalism has become more common; that political journalism has a penchant for conflict framing and media negativity; and that there is only limited evidence that political journalism is influenced by political or partisan bias. Significantly more important than political or partisan bias are different structural and situational biases. In all these and other respects, there are important differences across countries and media systems, which follows from the notion that political journalism is always influenced by the media systems in which it is produced and consumed.
Afonso de Albuquerque
Political parallelism refers to a pattern or relationship where the structure of the political parties is somewhat reflected by the media organizations. A concept introduced by Seymour-Ure and Blumler and Gurevitch in the 1970s, political parallelism became widespread after Hallin and Mancini made it one of the four basic analytical categories of their masterpiece Comparing Media Systems, three decades later. Since then, political parallelism has been often taken as a category with a potentially universal applicability. There are some reasons for cautiousness in this respect, however, as the premise that the political parties are the core organizers of the dynamics of politics makes sense in circumstances existing in Western Europe, especially from the 1950s until very recently, but not at every moment or even everywhere. Otherwise, it is possible to think about political parallelism as one specific pattern of media/politics relations among several others either already existing or possible. The fact that this model in particular receives so much attention does not result necessarily from its intrinsic value, but it may be related to asymmetries existing in the international landscape of the academic research in journalism and political communication, which privileges Western-based standpoints over others. Arguably, taking political parallelism from a broader outlook, considering both Western and non-Western views may provide a richer perspective about it.
Shayna Plaut and Peter W. Klein
Sociologists and media scholars have offered a robust body of literature regarding the daily workings of global journalism—both in newsrooms and in the field. Although fixers are sometimes mentioned in this literature, the role they play in the production of global reporting is rarely analyzed. Such work often focuses on logistical assistance provided by fixers and discusses some tensions in the field regarding credit and security. Although this literature starts to paint an accurate picture of current trends in global journalism, it fails to critically examine how institutional and on-the-ground power dynamics impact a fixer’s work, let alone how global, systemic, and institutional dynamics shape which stories are reported and how the reporting itself is done. This is a glaring gap in knowledge as it ignores the impact that fixers can have on global journalism.
To rectify this gap, all aspects of global journalism must be explored, including the economic forces that allow global journalism to operate within a context of uneven power and resources. Recognizing that journalism functions in and as a field of uneven power offers a strong introduction to this discussion, but one must also situate journalism, journalists, and fixers themselves within the larger geopolitical realities of unequal economic and political power. These forces shape the process of fixing, which is why any thorough analysis of the role of fixing and fixers in global journalism must situate the conversation within a larger body of critical theory. In this context, mapping current trends and highlighting nuanced dynamics and tensions within the practice of fixing is essential to understanding how global journalism functions—and the role that fixers play in shaping its stories.
Mart Ots and Robert G. Picard
Due to its function as a watchdog or fourth estate in democratic societies and a variety of commercial challenges, policy-makers have undertaken initiatives to support the production and distribution of news. Press subsidies are one such policy initiative that particularly aims to provide support to private news producers. Paid as direct cash handouts or indirect reduced taxes and fees, they exist in some form in almost every country in the world. Subsidies are not uncontroversial, their effectiveness is unclear, and their magnitude, designs, and areas of application, differ across nations and their unique economic, cultural, and political contexts.
After periods of declining political and public interest in media subsidies, the recent economic crisis of journalism, and the rising influence of various forms of click-bait, fake, native, or biased news on social media platforms, has brought state support of original journalism back on the agenda.
Journalism can be defined as a communication process between producers and consumers. Traditionally, both ends have been addressed as separate spheres. Journalism and journalism studies developed around the study of journalism producers—that is, journalists and their professional identities and practices. The audience was long considered the end point of journalism; the public sphere was where journalism was consumed. Rather than also studying audiences’ news use practices, the audience was generally imagined as a mass of passive sensation seekers unappreciative of the value of good journalism and taken for granted as a result. This dichotomous view of users and producers has since then been challenged.
First, the inequality in attention given to producers over users was addressed during a sociological turn in the study of journalism since the 1990s. This “turn” inspired a series of seminal studies focusing on the audience of journalism, showing how layered people’s interpretative practices are and how these are contextually shaped. Although journalism studies in the 21st century still tend to orient their gaze more to producers than users, the audience’s part in shaping the role of journalism in society is being increasingly acknowledged.
In parallel, with the continuing advancements in information and communication technologies, the conceptual distinction between producers and users in itself was questioned. Whereas the role of audiences in producing news was already explored in studies of community media and public journalism, it was the adoption of digital media that led to the blurring of lines between media producers and users. This distinction has encouraged journalism researchers to explore practices such as citizen and participatory journalism, leading to new conceptions of the user/producer dimension in journalism.
The user/producer dimension in journalism may be blurred, but it has not dissolved. Especially from a more structural perspective, professional journalists and news organizations still have preferential access to the news ecosystem and larger impact on the policy agenda. Conceptually however, news users should be conceived as potential contributors to the production and distribution of journalism. As such, news users are not the end point of journalism but an essential part of it.
The study of journalists’ professional roles is a principal avenue to understand journalism’s identity and place in society. From the perspective of discursive institutionalism, one could argue that journalistic roles have no true “essence”; they exist as part of a wider framework of meaning—of a discourse. At the core of this discourse is journalism’s identity and locus in society. As structures of meaning, journalistic roles set the parameters of what is desirable in the institutional context of journalism: they are subject to discursive (re)creation, (re)interpretation, appropriation, and contestation. In other words, the discourse of journalistic roles is the central arena where journalistic culture and identity is reproduced and contested; it is the place where the struggle over the preservation or transformation of journalism’s identity takes place.
Journalists articulate and enact journalistic roles on two analytically distinct levels: role orientations (normative and cognitive) and role performance (practiced and narrated). The four categories of journalistic roles—normative, cognitive, practiced, and narrated roles—correspond to conceptually distinct ideas: what journalists ought to do, what they want to do, what they really do in practice, and what they think they do.
Normative roles encompass generalized and aggregate expectations that journalists believe are deemed desirable in society. Most normative roles of journalists are derived from a view that emphasizes journalism’s (potential) contribution to the proper workings of democracy.
Cognitive role orientations comprise the institutional values, attitudes and beliefs individual journalists embrace as a result of their occupational socialization. These roles tend to appear as evident, natural, and self-explaining to the journalists. They index their individual aspirations and ambitions and the communicative goals they want to achieve through their work. Practiced role performance captures the roles of journalists as they are executed in practice; narrated roles, finally, denominate subjective perceptions of and reflections on the roles that journalists carry out in practice.
Comparative research has demonstrated that journalists tend to subscribe to a variety of cognitive roles, largely depending on the political and social contexts they work in. Here, journalistic roles address six elementary needs of political life: informational-instructive, analytical-deliberative, critical-monitorial, advocative-radical, developmental-educative, and collaborative-facilitative needs. In a time, however, when traditional social institutions cease to provide a normative framework, journalism increasingly provides collective orientation in a multi-optional society. In the domain of everyday life, journalism’s normative roles therefore extend to the contexts of consumption, identity, and emotion.
Over time, researchers have shifted their focus from the analysis of journalists’ occupational values, attitudes, and beliefs to the study of journalistic performance and the way professional orientations are enacted in the world of practice. Studies of this type so far produced seemingly contradictory evidence: one the one hand, there seems to be a gap between the roles journalists aspire to and the roles they execute in practice, but at the same time, many studies also found a robust correlation between cognitive and performed roles of journalists.
The notion of professionalism within journalism is widespread and has been thoroughly explored. “Professionalism” refers to a normative value system utilized by professionals in relation to their clients, work practices, and occupational socialization. The perspective implies a number of characteristics distinguishing professions from occupations: autonomy, exclusive knowledge, ethical codes of conduct, occupational ideals/culture, and altruistic features (i.e., to act in the public interest). Jointly, these values function as a framework for journalists in everyday practice, guiding and controlling them. In a Western context, this framework legitimizes the social contract that allows journalism the privilege of autonomy and self-regulation on a structural level.
The professionalism of journalists has been empirically studied since the 1950s, and the field is constantly expanding. Similar popular conceptualizations when interrogating the norms, practice, and ideals of journalists include, for instance, “role,” “habitus,” “interpretive community,” “ideology,” and “culture.” However, the major body of journalism studies has tried to capture those aspects from a perspective of professional theory. Today, the professional status of journalists is challenged and questioned. Exclusivity is broken, autonomy declines, and other actors are increasingly redefining the field. In this context, new methods and ideals arise. The professional discourse of journalists evolves and adapts in new ways, as does the research in this area.