Journalism seeks to observe and communicate what it learns of social importance, something called news, and in doing so is always in the process of creating a public by bringing it into synchronized conversation with itself. Theories of journalism provide explanatory frameworks for understanding a complex combination of social practice, product, and institutional arrangement. Journalism’s late 20th-century professionalized, high modern version, which is still recognizable today, has continued to change, particularly with the disruptive effect of the Internet, as it has evolved to absorb other forms. The boundaries of profession and news organization have been destabilized within this rapidly shifting media terrain, but still there remain productive approaches for systematically organizing knowledge around the concept of journalism. The early 20th-century perspectives on journalism—before becoming linked to the communication field and a more narrow media effects focus—were at home in the University of Chicago school of sociology, which emphasized community-based, multi-method participant observation. A sociology of news perspective resurfaced with more ethnographic research in newsrooms in the 1950s, and theories of journalism have continued to highlight the ethnographic method, especially in understanding the impact of technology on a more digitally-oriented journalism practice. A hierarchy of influences perspective, developed by Shoemaker and Reese, incorporates other perspectives beyond the ethnographic by considering factors at multiple levels of analysis that shape media content, the journalistic message system, from the micro to the macro: individual characteristics of specific newsworkers, their routines of work, organizational-level concerns, institutional issues, and the larger social system. At each level, one can identify the main factors that shape the symbolic reality constituted and produced by journalism, as well as how these factors interact across levels and compare across different contexts (e.g., national, technological). A hierarchy of influences model worked well to disentangle the relationships among professionals and their routines, and the news organizations that housed them, which cohered into institutions. But journalism has been newly problematized, destabilizing and restructuring both the units and levels of analysis in journalism theorizing. The networked public sphere is constituted with new assemblages: of newswork, institutional arrangements, and global connections, which give rise to new emerging deliberative spaces. Journalism theories now have as much interest in process as product, in assemblage as outcome, but still need to be concerned with the nature of quality of these spaces. What shape do they take on and with what implications for healthy democratic discourse?
Stephen D. Reese
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.
Ingrid Bachmann Cáceres
A contested term with defenders and critics, advocacy journalism refers to a genre of journalism that combines reporting with a point of view. With roots as far as the origins of journalism itself, as a contemporary practice it can be found—to varying degrees—in all kinds of media outlets across the globe. Its key premise is that journalists participate in the mass-mediated public sphere and that their work deliberately and transparently stands for specific perspectives, with stories actively championing for certain ideas and values. While some authors have labeled advocacy as the binary opposite of objective (factual) reporting, in recent decades several journalism scholars and practitioners have argued that this is not the case, and that advocacy and informing are not necessarily mutually exclusive. At the core of this discussion are normative considerations of how journalism should be, the role of objectivity in news reporting, and professional models shaping news cultures and news content in different regions. Ethical concerns are also common arguments in this debate. Advocate journalists do not necessarily dismiss objectivity—although some do—and insist they adhere to professional standards nonetheless, since they still do journalism rather than propaganda. Promoters of advocacy also argue that having a situated viewpoint is more transparent, whereas critics argue against what they deem news reporting with an agenda or promoting an ideological campaign. More recently, advocacy journalism has been adopted—and adapted—by nongovernmental organizations and civic movements, which highlights the constant redefinitions of journalism practice outside of legacy media and traditional contexts.