Originally planned as a pilot study and fielded in 2007-2011, the Study's initiators carried out interviews with 2100 journalists from 413 news organizations in 21 countries. This first project had focused on differences in journalism cultures (the role perceptions, epistemological orientations and ethical views of journalists), as well as on perceived influences on the news and journalists' trust in public institutions.

Conceptualization: journalism culture and influences

One important point of departure of the pilot study was a conceptualization that models diversity in journalistic cultures in terms of three constituents:

(1) The area of institutional roles refers to the normative and actual functions of journalism in society that are mostly referred to as role perceptions. Three dimensions are of particular relevance here: Interventionism reflects the extent to which journalists pursue a particular mission and promote certain values. The distinction tracks along a divide between two ideal-types of journalist – one involved and socially committed; the other detached and uninvolved. Power distance refers to a journalist’s position toward loci of power in society. It distinguishes between an approach to journalism as “Fourth Estate” and “watchdog” on the one hand, and an opportunist, loyal or collaborative mode toward power centers on the other. Market orientation accounts for the journalists’ perspectives on the audience as either citizens or consumers. In the latter perspective, journalism cultures strongly submit to the market logic, while the former approach gives priority to the public interest and the creation of an informed citizenry.

(2) The domain of journalistic epistemologies relates to the accessibility of reality and the nature of acceptable evidence. Here, objectivism marks the distinction between two fundamental beliefs: One claims the existence of an objective truth “out there” that can be reported “as it is”, the other concedes that news is an inevitably subjective representation of the world. Empiricism, on the other hand, refers to the relative weight given to an empirical justification of truth, emphasizing observation, measurement, evidence and experience, and an analytical justification by accentuating reason, ideas, values, opinions and analysis.

(3) The domain of ethical ideologies points to the question of how journalists respond to ethical dilemmas. Here, we conceptualized ethical views in journalism along two basic dimensions: Relativism marks the extent to which journalists base their personal moral philosophies on universal ethical rules. While many journalists believe that ethical decisions are very much dependent on the situational context, others argue that professional ethics is universal and journalists should rely on moral absolutes regardless of the actual context. Idealism refers to the importance of consequences in journalists’ reasoning about ethical dilemmas. Highly idealistic journalists are means-oriented as they believe that desirable consequences should always be obtained with the “right” action. Less idealistic journalists, on the other hand, are more goal-oriented for they admit that harm will sometimes be necessary to produce a greater public good.

Influences on journalism were modeled along four general levels (see Figure below): The super level of the world system mainly influences journalism via processes of globalization, diffusion and interdependence. The macro-level of societies (nations) primarily shapes journalism through the political, economic, legal, social and cultural contexts, as well as the properties of the media system in general. On the meso-level of organizations, influences on organizational journalism cultures stem from the editorial organization, the media organization and the medium as such (e.g. newspapers vs. television). Finally, the micro-level of individuals reflects the journalists' backgrounds and individual characteristics.

Methods: multilevel data collection

The research tools used in this study were collaboratively developed in order to guarantee a maximum degree of intercultural validity. Altogether 21 countries participated in the pilot study: Australia, Austria, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, China, Egypt, Germany, Greece, Indonesia, Israel, Mexico, Pakistan, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, Uganda and the United States. In each of these countries we conducted interviews with a quota sample of 100 working journalists drawn from 20 news organizations. Interviews were mostly completed between October 2007 and January 2010 by telephone or face-to-face. In addition to the interviews we also collected data on their news organizations and on relevant properties of their media systems.

Sampling was carried out in two steps. We first selected 20 news organizations in every country according to a common quota scheme (see Table). Wherever possible we selected five journalists in each newsroom. Journalists were defined as those who had at least some “editorial responsibility” for the content they produce. From all 413 newsrooms that were chosen in the first place, 28 refused to cooperate and were subsequently replaced. On the level of the journalists, we had to substitute 266 interviewees from the altogether 2100 journalists due to refusal.

Journalism cultures: values of detachment and non-involvement reign supreme

One of the main goals of the study was to comparatively explore differences in journalism cultures – that is, the role perceptions, epistemological orientations and ethical views of journalists – around the world. Findings indicated that detachment, non-involvement, providing political information and monitoring the government were considered essential journalistic functions around the globe. Impartiality, the reliability and factualness of information, as well as adherence to universal ethical principles were also valued worldwide, though their perceived importance varied across countries. Various aspects of interventionism, objectivism and the importance of separating facts and opinion, on the other hand, seemed to play out differently across cultures. Western journalists were generally less supportive of any active promotion of particular values, ideas and social change, and they adhered more to universal principles in their ethical decisions. Journalists from non-western contexts, by way of contrast, tended to be more interventionist in their role perceptions and more flexible in their ethical views.

In addition, the study found four global professional milieus of journalists: the populist disseminator, detached watchdog, critical change agent and the opportunist facilitator. The detached watchdog milieu clearly dominates the journalistic field in most western countries, while the milieu of the opportunist facilitator reigns supreme in several developing, transitional and authoritarian contexts. In accordance to the theoretical propositions, relatively little professional autonomy was found in contexts with rather strong corporate and commercial influences.

Perceived influences on the news: political and economic influences seem less powerful

Another main area of interest was the journalists’ perceived influences on news work. Principal component analysis revealed a dimensional structure that consists of six conceptually and empirically distinct domains: political, economic, organizational, professional and procedural influences, as well as reference groups. Across all investigated countries, these six dimensions turned out to build up a hierarchical structure where organizational, professional and procedural influences are perceived to be more powerful limits to the journalists’ work than political and economic influences. The various domains of influence tend to cut across the organizational boundaries of the newsroom.

Further analysis confirmed the expectation that political and economic factors are clearly the most important denominators of cross-national differences in the journalists’ perceptions of influences. Furthermore, perceived political influences are clearly related to objective indicators of political freedom and ownership structures across the investigated countries. Economic influences seem to have a stronger impact in private and state-owned media than in public newsrooms, but they are not related to a country’s economic freedom. With respect to organizational, professional and procedural influences, as well as the impact of reference groups, the differences between the countries turned out to be much smaller.

Trust in public institutions: alarming signs of little trust

Since the news media are often accused of playing a key role in the erosion of confidence in public institutions, we have explored this issue further. Evidence suggests that journalists around the world have indeed little trust in political parties and politicians. This finding is strikingly consistent across the investigated societies, but there is also some considerable variation: Journalists in western nations are generally more trustful than their colleagues in non-western countries. Closer analysis shows that journalists’ trust levels are significantly associated with some important measures of political and economic performance, most notably with public satisfaction with a country’s economic and political situation. Furthermore, journalists in non-western countries were indeed less trustful of public institutions than the general publics, while in none of the investigated western countries turned journalists out to be less trusting than the general population.


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