“Ideology” has two related definitions: a set of shared ideas that order group life, and the ways that such a set of ideas reinforces existing power relations (Barnhurst 2005). Following the first definition, an occupational ideology refers to a system of beliefs characteristic of a particular group of workers, including but not limited to their processes of producing meanings and ideas within the group. In news, a diversity of approaches across cultures has produced distinct journalisms in different locales, as for example documented in more than twenty countries all over the world (Weaver 1998). Regardless of cultural specificities, the existence of an increasingly isomorphic news ideology has consistently been documented in international journalism studies (Westerstahl & Johansson 1986). Research thus suggests that news workers around the world have in common an occupational ideology consisting of a generally shared system of ideal-typical values (Deuze 2005).
In the course of the twentieth century, the professionalization of news media work consolidated thinking among journalists in different countries. Journalism scholars see professionalization as a distinctly ideological process. The emerging ideology continuously refined a consensus about who was a real journalist and what (parts of ) news media at any time qualify as examples of real journalism. Through such definitional debates, and through the processes of legitimizing or excluding particular participants in these discussions, journalists establish (largely informal) barriers of entry to the profession.
In electoral democracies, journalists speak of similar values in the context of their daily work, but they apply these values differently. Objectivity for American journalists may, for example, primarily mean doing their work without interference from marketers, whereas in China journalists actively use market-driven values to wrestle some editorial control away from the political stamp of the ruling party (Pan 2000). Because journalists in all media types, genres (Van Zoonen 1998), and formats share similar values, it is possible to speak of a dominant occupational ideology of news. Most news workers base their professional perceptions and praxis on that ideology, but interpret or apply it differently across media (Shoemaker & Reese 1996).
Reporters and editors use news ideology as a strategic ritual to position themselves in the profession and in relation to media critics and the audience (Tuchman 1971). They use ideology as an instrument to naturalize the structures of news organizations or media industries (Soloski 1990). When faced with criticism, journalists apply ideological values to police themselves or to legitimate their recurring selections and descriptions of events and views (Golding & Elliott 1979).
Five ideal-typical values give legitimacy and credibility to what journalists do: public service, objectivity, autonomy, immediacy, and ethics. Journalists provide a public service as watchdogs or newshounds, active collectors and disseminators of information. They strive to be impartial, neutral, objective, fair, and (thus) credible. They must be autonomous, free, and independent to do their work effectively. They have a sense of immediacy, actuality, and speed inherent in the concept of news. And they have a sense of ethics, validity, and legitimacy.
In its second definition, ideology is a process of constructing meanings in the service of power. News ideology is a global factor influencing journalistic decision-making, and scholars analyze how symbolic content in the news media connects with larger social interests. One way journalists exercise power is by defining what “real” journalism is, a process enacted, for example, through mainstream debates about journalistic quality. By legitimating self-appointed arbiters of professional debates and by excluding sources, stakeholders, and audiences from positions of power, news ideologies also serve to advance the status and internal coherence of an occupation.
Journalists generally do not see inconsistencies or contradictions as they integrate these ideal-typical values into debates about the character of the news. News executives and journalists regularly revisit issues of commercialization, bureaucratization, new technology, audience declines, and ownership concentration. In all these debates, they deploy ideological values to maintain control on internal operations and to keep outside forces at bay.
Through news ideology, journalism continuously reinvents itself. Changes in society and fast-paced developments in technology, as well as the ongoing convergence of companies, genres, and media in the field, translate into anxiety about the state of the profession. Journalists, along with scholars and educators, inevitably explore news ideology whenever they ask themselves: what is journalism?
- Barnhurst, K. (2005). News ideology in the twentieth century. In S. Høyer & H. Pöttker (eds.), Diffusion of the news paradigm, 1850 –2000. Gothenburg: Nordicom, pp. 239 –262.
- Deuze, M. (2005). What is journalism? Professional identity and ideology of journalists reconsidered. Journalism: Theory, Practice and Criticism, 6(4), 443 – 465.
- Golding, P., & Elliott, P. (1979). Making the news. London: Longman.
- Pan, Z. (2000). Spatial configuration in institutional change: A case of China’s journalism reforms. Journalism: Theory, Practice and Criticism, 1(3), 253 –281.
- Shoemaker, P. J., & Reese, S. D. (1996). Mediating the message: Theories of influences on mass media content. New York: Longman.
- Soloski, J. (1990). News reporting and professionalism: Some constraints on the reporting of the news. Media, Culture and Society, 11(4), 207–228.
- Tuchman, G. (1971). Objectivity as strategic ritual: An examination of newsmen’s notions of objectivity. American Journal of Sociology, 77(4), 660 – 679.
- Weaver, D. H. (ed.) (1998). The global journalist: News people around the world. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.
- Westerstahl, J., & Johansson, F. (1986). News ideologies as molders of domestic news. European Journal of Communication, 1, 133 –149.
- Zoonen, L. van (1998). A professional, unreliable, heroic marionette (M/F): Structure, agency, and subjectivity in contemporary journalisms. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 1(1), 123 –143.