Are pillars of journalism the same across the globe? Researchers from 18 countries, including a journalism professor from Colorado State University, set out to define and measure the idea of journalism culture as it crossed international borders in the Worlds of Journalisms project. The study reveals that there are pronounced differences as well as common threads among journalists around the world.
Researchers found that a shared sense of what it means to be a journalist serves as the "cultural cement" that holds the profession together. Results also suggest that Western professional norms dominate journalistic practices around the world.
“Although this occupational ideology, associated with the values of impartiality, objectivity and accuracy, is often granted universal status by journalists and researchers, the rise of counter-hegemonic articulations and practices raises many challenging questions. Does such a common professional culture really exist in ‘the West’, in Europe, in Asia or anywhere else? Is there any class of ‘cosmopolite’ journalists who share a common occupational ideology and understanding of journalism? This is what this study set out to find,” said Thomas Hanitzsch, lead researcher of the Worlds of Journalisms project and professor at the Institute of Mass Communication and Media Research, University of Zurich in Switzerland.
To provide an answer to these questions, Worlds of Journalisms researchers surveyed journalists in 18 countries including Australia, Austria, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, China, Egypt, Germany, Indonesia, Israel, Mexico, Romania, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, Uganda and the United States. One hundred journalists were surveyed from each country; representing 20 outlets that ranged from national broadcast outlets to rural newspapers.
Patrick Plaisance, journalism professor in CSU’s Department of Journalism and Technical Communication, was the researcher responsible for surveying the 100 U.S. journalists.
“I surveyed journalists from all over the nation ranging from reporters to senior-level news managers at outlets like the Los Angeles Times and FOX News to local newspapers,” he said.
To measure journalism culture, researchers looked at three broad categories. In each country they studied the institutional roles of journalism, the levels of objectivity displayed in journalism and how journalists approach ethical issues. Plaisance teaches media ethics at Colorado State, and some of his previous work helped shape the Worlds of Journalisms project.
“Western journalists appear to take a utilitarian approach to journalism meaning that if a particular story causes harm to a person or small group of people but provides an overall benefit, that is thought to be ethically sound. On the other hand, Asian journalists do not practice that same ethical sentiment,” Plaisance said. “Another observation that was revealed over the course of this study is that Western journalists tend to be more skeptical about questionable information gathering tactics such as hidden cameras whereas Russian journalists were comfortable with it.
“One finding that was quite striking to me is that American journalists firmly believe that half of their job involves providing the facts in stories, the other half is helping the readers interpret the information. They essentially tell the story behind the story. This role of interpretive journalists is quite prominent in the United States; however, that role is less pronounced in Europe,” Plaisance said.
“It was heartening to see the broad similarities in how journalists think across the world and the study results affirmed key journalistic elements. They are keenly aware of their responsibility to represent the truth and detach themselves from those in political power,” Plaisance said.
The study was primarily funded by the German Research Foundation and the Swiss National Science Foundation.
For more information on the Worlds of Journalisms project, visit www.worldsofjournalisms.org.