Personal and Professional Dimensions of News Work: Exploring the Link between Journalists' Values and Roles

By Plaisance, Patrick Lee; Skewes, Elizabeth A. | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

Personal and Professional Dimensions of News Work: Exploring the Link between Journalists' Values and Roles


Plaisance, Patrick Lee, Skewes, Elizabeth A., Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


Scholars studying news work have long focused on either journalistic roles or journalistic values, rather than trying to integrate the two as a way to better understand internal forces that drive reporters and editors. This study questions assumptions regarding values by applying social psychology research on values to better understand how journalists operate. The resulting "profile" of journalistic values produced by a nationwide probability-sample survey of 600 newspaper journalists-and an analysis of the links between ranked values and role conceptions-challenges assumptions about the influence of newsroom socialization on journalistic values. Analysis also shows more linkages between the adversarial role of the press and values, suggesting that the adversarial function may be more significant than indicated by previous research.

While Weaver and Wilhoit and others have identified the various roles that journalists perceive themselves as performing,1 social psychology research suggests that individual value systems may determine how journalists perceive different roles. Moreover, it provides a basis from which to explore why journalists embrace particular roles over others. Personal values and demographic factors contribute to a web of context through which journalists view their roles and make decisions about which functions they feel are central.

The values that we hold, or the philosophical principles on which we base our reasons for doing things-claims to truth, social justice, fairness-constitute the engine that drives many discussions about the behavior of media practitioners. Individual values, conceptually more fundamental than the roles we see for ourselves in society, inform as well as lend context to the functions journalists undertake. This study seeks to examine how incorporating value-theory research might expand our understanding of journalistic role conceptions established by the studies of Weaver and Wilhoit, Voakes,2 and others.

Literature Review

There is little question over whether ethical frameworks are used in journalistic decision making. The most substantive discussions revolve around the factors that influence that process3 or the philosophical underpinnings of a democratic free press.4 Others have sought to explore the journalistic applications of particular philosophical approaches.5 This study explores the suggestion that the conventional applications of philosophical approaches alone do not adequately explain journalistic behavior and the roles embraced by journalists on a daily basis.

Value Theory Research. Research into values has an extensive history in sociology and social psychology and has culminated in a body of theory that suggests individuals conduct their social lives according to a "value system"-"a hierarchical arrangement of values, a rank-ordering of values along a continuum of importance."6 Research also has produced sophisticated assessment instruments used in value analysis, most notably the Rokeach Value Survey that has been widely used since the early 1970s.

The Rokeach Value Survey, which assesses the respondent's rankordering of eighteen values in two categories, has been independently validated and used extensively to compare value systems of individuals as well as diverse cultures. Rokeach's definition of value has informed much contemporary value analysis: "More formally, to say that a person 'has a value' is to say that he has an enduring belief that a particular mode of conduct or that a particular end-state of existence is personally and socially preferable to alternative modes of conduct or end-states of existence."7 Values, research suggests, are relatively stable over time for members within a given group. Ranked values obtained by individuals and groups also have been directly linked to behavior.8

Using the Rokeach Value Survey, researchers have examined the influence of values on television viewing behavior,9 the value systems of city planners and managers,10 and how values guide the ideological outlooks of social workers. …

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Personal and Professional Dimensions of News Work: Exploring the Link between Journalists' Values and Roles
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