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date: 22 October 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Journalism is an institution inasmuch as it is constituted by shared beliefs and norms, informal rules and routines, and explicit rules. These features of journalism are expressed in journalists’ practices and products but also in journalists’ own discourse about journalism, or in what institutional theorists refer to as institutional or cognitive scripts. Institutions are intellectually interesting objects of study because they both limit individuals’ agency and enable their ability to work productively and creatively. Thus they maintain stability but allow for adaptability. Institutions also denote a distinct area of social authority, signaling institutional autonomy. However, they are also inherently social and thus inextricably interconnected with other institutions. This autonomy and interconnection become the sources of ongoing battles over journalism’s legitimacy. Indeed, some institutions—including journalism—have not only lost some measure of legitimacy but the beliefs, norms, and rules that have constituted the institution have also been destabilized. Some even argue that journalism is deinstitutionalizing in the face of economic and technological changes. Others understand these changes as part of a broader process of institutional adaptation and reinstitutionalization. Early adaptations of so-called new institutionalism informed an early use of institutional theory in journalism studies. But institutional theory comes in a variety of forms—historical institutionalism and discursive institutions hold particular promise for journalism studies. Historical institutionalism directs attention to path-dependent processes that account for the stability of institutions over time. Meanwhile, discursive institutionalism highlights the importance of discourse as the social bond that maintains institutions but also provides the means for adaptation and change. Nevertheless, institutional theory remains underutilized in journalism studies and holds still untapped potential to explain intellectually interesting phenomena.

Keywords: institutional theory, historical institutionalism, discursive institutionalism, deinstitutionalization, reinstitutionalization, path dependence, isomorphism, norms, journalistic roles, journalism studies

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