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www.donsbach.net. The Public Image of Journalists Wolfgang Donsbach Communication Research Center at Boston University November 12, 2009. Reasons to Deal With the Public Image of Journalists. Allegations of bias and negativity. Commercia-lization. Vanishing identity of journalism.

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The Public Image of Journalists

Wolfgang Donsbach

Communication Research Center at Boston University

November 12, 2009

Allegations of bias and negativity


Vanishing identity of journalism

Inflation of media

Decreasing trust and esteem

Media scandals

Current stress on journalists‘ public image

Methodological Details of Our Survey decline

  • Representative survey of the German population

  • 1,054 citizens of 18 years and older

  • RDD

  • Split-ballot

  • Field time: November 2007 until January 2008

Low esteem, low trust - and far away from the true professions

Source: Donsbach et al. 2009

Lowest trust among the younger professions

Source: Donsbach et al. 2009

What are the reasons 4 x content 1 x structural

What are the reasons? professions4 x Content / 1 x Structural

1 too powerful

1. Too powerful professions

Too little professions

Too much

Goals and values: Discrepancy between public's expectations and evaluations

Impartiality vs subjectivity professions


Most journalists?

Impartial report

Subjective report

2 too unethical

2. Too unethical professions

Protection of privacy vs a scoop professions

Happens often

Not acceptable

3 too corrupt

3. Too corrupt professions

Independence vs gratification professions





Hard vs soft news? professions





Discrepancy expectations/perceptions of behavior in news sitiuations Trust

* p<0.05 ** p<0.01 *** p<0.001

Discrepancy expectations/perceptions of behavior in news situations Esteem

* p<0.05 ** p<0.01 *** p<0.001

Who is a journalist? situations

Donsbach et al. 2009

Who is a journalist? situations


Fading Coordinates: Website Traffic – Changes 2006-2007 situations

Large City Newspapers

Mid-size City Dailies


News Aggregators

Joan Shorenstein Center for the Press, Politics, and Public Policy (2007): Creative Destruction: An Exploratory Look at News on the Internet. Cambridge: Harvard University

Finally what then is journalism

Finally: What then situations IS journalism?

The three traditions of journalism situations

Defines professional journalism

Donsbach 2009

Public service function: Distinguishing between evidence and gossip

“Journalism is a constellation of practices that have acquired special status within the larger domain of communication through a long history that separated out news-sharing from its origins in interpersonal communication.

Telling others about events in one’s social and physical surroundings is a common everyday activity in human cultures…A main difficulty for sharing intelligence is ascertaining truth, or, put the other way round, distinguishing intelligence from gossip”

News = more than personal communication

Society needs institution that assesses truth and relevance

Barnhurst and Owens (2008: 2557)

Investment in editorial quality pays off gossip

Sridhar, Thorson & Mantrala 2009

Basis: Data of ca. 300 papers in the US, Source: Inland Press Association

Revenue losses as a consequence of cutbacks

Sridhar, Thorson & Mantrala 2009

Quality Press Association Credibility  Financial Success

Basis: Data from 26 Knight-Ridder papers

Size of Market (Logarithm)

Credibility of Newspaper (measured through surveys)



Stability of Circulation 1995-2000

Meyer, Philip (2004): The Influence Model an Newspaper Business. NRJ 25, No.1, 66-83

The crisis of journalism as chance Press Association

  • Credibility problem of journalism jeopardizes social capital

  • What do do?

  • Actively propagate the function and identity of journalism…

    • …in journalism education

    • …in schools

    • …in public campaigns

  • Re-consider professionalization of journalists

    • best practice in exchange for…

    • …protection from unprofessional influences

  • Journalism as the new knowledge profession (Gregorian)