Academic journal article Global Media Journal

Does an Active Journalistic Role Conception Rectify Questionable Reporting Practices? Answers from a Representative Survey of Journalists in Germany

Academic journal article Global Media Journal

Does an Active Journalistic Role Conception Rectify Questionable Reporting Practices? Answers from a Representative Survey of Journalists in Germany

Article excerpt

Does an Active Journalistic Role Conception Rectify Questionable Reporting Practices?

Answers from a Representative Survey of Journalists in Germany Cases like Snowden and WikiLeaks emblematize the crucial debate about the appropriate means to enable the public access to important political information [1]. There are several journalistic reporting practices that may contribute to political transparency; however, they can be regarded questionable from an ethical point of view. For example, journalists have to decide whether it is acceptable to claim to be someone else, to badge or harass sources, to pay for information, or to use confidential government documents without permission [2,3]. Does the end justify the means? Answers on the ethical dilemma between promoting transparency and being a watchdog on the one hand, and problematic means to achieve those functions on the other hand can be one factor potentially shaping news coverage [BLINDED FOR PEER REVIEW].

This may be one of the reasons why large national surveys of journalists usually contain questions about the acceptability of different reporting practices [2,4,5] While there is no lack of descriptive findings on the acceptance of those reporting practices [2], research on how individual characteristics of journalists drive their attitudes to utilize such questionable reporting practices is scarce.

Generally, journalism research is interested in both rather professional individual characteristics like role perceptions and rather non-professional characteristics like age, political leanings etc. [6-8]. Especially the concept of journalistic roles has received much attention [7,9,10]. While journalists' role perceptions are theoretically and empirically well-researched, there is a lack of research investigating how professional goals and their perceived achievement are related to ethical considerations like attitudes toward questionable reporting practices.

Another crucial individual characteristic are the political leanings of journalists which are object to often controversial discussions about news bias and the democratic functions of the media [11-14]. While there are a lot of descriptive findings on how journalists position themselves on a left-right-scale [15-17], the studies regularly do not illustrate in how far political attitudes of journalists are meaningful for professional attitudes like ethical views which finally can affect the topic, focus or style of media coverage.

In this paper, we theoretically and empirically discuss in how far the perceived role achievement and political leanings of journalists are important variables when it comes to explain the acceptance of questionable reporting practices. We will do so, by reanalyzing data from a cross-sectional survey that is representative for German journalists.

Attitudes towards reporting practices and its causes

Revealing confidential sources, paying for secret information, claiming to be someone else, using personal documents without permission, or getting employed to gain inside information - whether journalists think of these methods as acceptable especially varies from country to country, except in the case of revealing confidential sources [3,5,18]. For example, while only 12 percent of the German journalists say it may be acceptable to badger or harass news sources, more than half of the surveyed American journalists showed that attitude [18].

The Worlds of Journalism Project [19] documents country differences with regard to the dimensions relativism (i.e., meaning of values regardless of situation and context) and idealism (which refers to consequences in the responses to ethical dilemmas). Concerning idealism, a large majority of journalists in the US, Germany, and Switzerland agrees that questionable practices of reporting should be avoided in any case, even if this means not getting the story. Contrary to that, for example in Israel, only a minority of journalists agrees with this point [19]. …

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