The Concept of Journalistic Role Performance

In this comparative research, the subject of investigation is journalistic role performance. This is important for several reasons.

Much research has been conducted worldwide within the past 50 years on what journalists perceive to be their professional roles and professional norms in society (i.e., the way they ought to perform their job). No doubt, ideals and values serve to legitimatize and define journalism. Evaluative ideals are the tool and skill sets that guarantee journalism’s autonomy from heteronomous forces (e.g., political influence or economic constraints). However, not much is known about one of the basic normative assumptions of this stream of research: Scholars who study role conceptions argue that those roles are crucial for the content journalists produce.

But, how much of these role conceptions really matter for the news they produce, given that journalists work under certain economic or political contexts? How do those roles manifest themselves in news content? How can we empirically approach professional roles in news? This is what the project tries to assess from a comparative approach.

Scope and Aims

Journalistic Role Performance Around the Globe is a comparative research project that expands the scope of journalism research by including the dimension of news practice into the study of journalism culture. This study investigates journalistic role performance cross-nationally and considers the influence that different media systems, organizational constraints, and journalists’ role conceptions have on the practice of journalism.

By combining the study of news production with research on professional roles, this project offers a much-needed understanding of the journalistic profession, which is constantly reshaped in the modern media landscape. It provides a conceptual and empirical answer on the manifestation of journalistic roles in performance, based on the relationship that journalism holds with de facto power, journalists’ levels of implication in a story, as well as the way journalists conceive of their audiences (i.e., as citizens, clients or spectators).

The fieldwork of the project involves (1) news content analysis and (2) surveys with those journalists who produced the news articles, which we analyzed in the first stage of our comparative project.

In the first phase of the project, we compare countries that have different media systems to analyze how different national and organizational contexts explain journalistic performance in news content. In the second stage, we try to reconstruct journalism culture by comparing the results to journalists’ role conceptions in their respective countries.

Comparative Approach

Our research is committed to a most different system design, based on a comparative study of Western and non-Western countries. We are interested in comparing social-system characteristics, theoretically and empirically analyzing important aspects that have not been considered in most of the studies when trying to explain forces that shape journalism performance around the world.

Journalistic practice is embedded in routines and performed within a social system that serves as the foundation from which media content is constructed. Therefore, we can most profoundly assess role performance by studying how different social-system variables explain variations of journalistic role performance.

First Challenge: Six Models of Journalistic Role Performance

Our first challenge is to measure roles in content. We have developed six models of journalistic role performance based on the relationship that journalism holds with de facto power, journalists’ levels of implication in a news story, and the way they conceive of the audiences as citizens, clients or spectators (Mellado, 2013). Each of these models is characterized by different measures of professional practices (reporting styles and narrative schemes).

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Second Challenge: Level of Influence Factors

Gatekeeping theory (Shoemaker & Vos, 2009) and an array of sociology of news approaches (Bourdieu, Benson, Lewin, etc.) have shown that a variety of forces influence how content reflects journalists’ roles. Indeed, several studies have suggested that a causal explanation of role performance based on role conception should be questioned rather than presumed, as journalists are exposed to various forces of influence (Mellado & Van Dalen, 2013; Tandoc et al., 2012; Vos, 2002; Weaver & Wilhoit, 1996). Hence, in this project, we assess information about the organization, routines, staff sizes, audiences, market influences, political system factors, and economic factors based on objective data gathered by researchers in each country.

Third challenge: Explaining the role conception-performance gap
Expanding on the previous idea, this project also compares journalists’ role conceptions with the news stories they produce for each country, addressing the (dis-)connect between roles and content to analyze how role conceptions relate to the work those journalists produce. Social-system as well as organizational level variables further provide an explanatory framework for how to explain the gap.