Journalism as a field is a theoretical construction inspired by Pierre Bourdieu’s field theory, which sheds new light on the issues of media studies. This analytical framework was developed in France, beginning in the 1990s with the work of Patrick Champagne on the mutual influences between the fields of journalism and politics; the rare writings of Bourdieu on the journalistic field; and finally the work of young researchers on the subfields of specialized journalism. Reception of field theory in international journalism research dates back to the early 2000s, in particular around the work of Rodney Benson.
The journalistic field is a theoretical framework consisting of about 10 main concepts that raise a large number of research questions, both theoretical and empirical. It first describes the internal relations in the social space, both as a field of struggle (with concepts of illusio or field effect) and as a field of forces (with concepts of capital, commercial vs. civic poles, autonomy, or subfield). At an individual level, it also makes sense of the conduct of individual journalists (with concepts of habitus, position and position taking, and strategy). Second, it enables consideration of the place of journalism in society and its relations with other social spaces (the concept of media capital), referring in particular to the analysis of information sources or mediatization of society.
This research program has been incompletely realized thus far: general descriptions of the structure of current fields are lacking; little work has been done on the reception of media messages and consideration of the development of the Internet; and transnationalization of the media is insufficient. The journalistic field nevertheless has a strong heuristic potential in at least two directions. First, it is a useful tool for comparing media systems because its relational approach avoids the pitfalls of nominalism and facade comparisons. Second, it is valuable in considering the history of journalism because it describes the emergence of specifically journalistic activity without giving way to anachronism or culturalism.
The journalistic field is a demanding but nonexclusive theoretical framework, presenting a refreshing analytical challenge for traditional topics of journalism studies, such as the production of journalistic information, the mediatization of societies, the history of journalism, or the comparison of media systems.