Several factors shape journalists’ everyday news decisions, their general concepts of what is newsworthy, and their understanding of quality, as well as long-term changes in reporting. One of the most important factors is the close interaction and frequent communication among journalists, or co-orientation. Co-orientation comprises several kinds of dynamic processes within journalism. In the era of 24-hour news channels, the Internet, and shortening production cycles, the dynamic processes within journalism are not only occurring faster but are also becoming more important.
Types Of Interaction Among Journalists
The basis of journalist group dynamics is their close interaction and communication in professional and private contexts, their ingroup orientation (Reinemann 2004). Across different contexts, causes, functions, and effects, the types of interaction among journalists fall along two dimensions: the modes of interaction (interpersonal vs via mass media vs virtual or cognitive) and the constellations of interaction (journalists of the same organization vs those of different organizations).
First, among the modes of interaction, journalists can interact directly. Reporters have interpersonal interaction on their news beats, at press conferences, in reporter pools for foreign and war correspondents, or during election campaigns with candidate tours (Crouse 1973). Beat reporters develop a good rapport and solidarity among themselves, based on cooperative arrangements. Second, journalists also communicate indirectly via mass media, such as when they read each other’s work in the morning newspaper. Finally, a purely cognitive or virtual form of interaction takes place when journalists anticipate their competitors’ future news decisions and react to them in their own reporting. As a consequence, journalists may choose stories because they expect a competing medium to do so.
Among the constellations of interaction, interaction among journalists may occur within the same or across different media organizations. In the same organization, the interaction involves discussions among peers in the staff, among corporate supervisors and journalists, and among reporters and editors. The discussions serve to make new colleagues familiar with the professional norms of a medium (professional socialization), to establish and stabilize principles of news making, or to decide whether and how to cover a specific story (editorial control). The most important institutionalized form of communication in news organizations is the editorial conference. Interaction among journalists working for different organizations also is intense. Using other news media is the most frequent form of journalistic interaction for newsroom journalists. Reporters of different media are more often interacting interpersonally at their news beats. Journalists may also be members of journalist unions or read professional journals.
All these forms of interaction might be means of news gathering, of observing competing news organizations, or of keeping up with the latest trends in the profession. Indirectly, the interactions also establish an intermedia consensus on the criteria of newsworthiness and reporting quality. The importance and implications of discourse and informal contacts among journalists are central to the concept of journalists as interpretive communities (Zelizer 1993).
Most types of journalistic interaction have undergone empirical study. Observational and survey studies have investigated professional socialization and structures of influence within newsrooms, journalists’ media use, the direct interaction and networking among journalists of different news organizations, and the like. In observational studies, researchers have looked at, for example, how intense communication was in newsrooms, when and how other media were used, and the extent to which competing media served as points of reference in editorial conferences. Survey studies have asked journalists how often and for how long they use other news media; what influence their supervisors, colleagues, competing media, important newspapers, or wire services have on their concept of newsworthiness; what influence other media have on their post-publication evaluation of their own work; and the like. The studies have shown that journalists spend a lot of their time monitoring other media, which they regard as important for their everyday work (routine reliance on other media) (Shoemaker & Reese 1995). Some studies found differences among journalists of different ages and editorial positions, as well as differences among those working for different media (Reinemann 2004; Weaver et al. 2006).
Why Journalists Interact Closely
Scholars studying co-orientation in journalism offer several reasons why colleagues and other media matter so much to journalists. Some of the rationales concern features of the news production process, but others concentrate on the characteristics that distinguish colleagues and media from other journalistic sources.
Some authors argue that, because journalism lacks rational criteria for news decisions, journalists must make decisions under uncertainty. Journalists also face constant time pressure and must make decisions quickly. In these circumstances, colleagues and the coverage of other news media fulfill the journalists’ need for a social validation of their news decisions (Donsbach 1999). Other authors argue that uncertainty itself can serve to explain only a strong need for information, but not why journalists rely so much on coorientation. Among the variety of sources available, other journalists may become points of reference because of their special quality as journalistic sources (Reinemann 2004).
The importance of other media for journalists may result from a missing or disturbed relationship between journalists and their audiences. In other words, because journalists neglect their audiences, their colleagues remain their main point of reference. This view gains support from studies showing that journalists write primarily for themselves, for their editors, and for other journalists. On the other hand, the spread of audience research has increased journalists’ knowledge about their audiences, and economic concerns pressure journalists to take seriously what their audiences need. Co-orientation among journalists and orientation toward audiences are not mutually exclusive phenomena. Other media may be important for journalists because a previous publication on a topic indicates that it has audience appeal. Journalists may rely heavily on other media for story ideas not for lack of interest but instead because of that very interest in the audience. Another reason may be that the media must meet the expectations that come along with their position in the daily news cycle. For example, an evening newspaper can succeed only if it picks up the stories from morning papers and radio news, adding the latest information (McManus 1994).
Competition among media may be the main reason for the intense interactions among journalists. In this view, tracking the products of competitors is a way of controlling the environment of the news organization. From the journalists’ perspective, the control is necessary because they think that success depends on providing more timely, comprehensive, or exclusive reporting than their competitors. In fact, some evidence suggests that journalists do follow only a limited number of media closely, mostly those that compete directly with them. The competition does not seem to be equally intense for all kinds of stories. For example, Herbert Gans (1979) found at the magazines he investigated that competition was most intense for cover stories. The processes of economic concentration, which lead, for example, to media monopolies in local markets, also reduce the need to monitor competitors.
Other research stresses the qualities of journalists and media as information sources: perceived reliability, saturation with news factors, correspondence with journalistic styles of presentation, constant availability and low cost, as well as their usefulness in various stages of news production. These qualities make other media especially valuable sources. Other media can provide an overview about what is on the news map, can be an indicator of audience interest, and can provide background information or new angles for a story. Colleagues also play a central role, post-publication, in evaluating the quality of individual stories or the appropriateness of the placement and weight a topic receives. No other source is so multifunctional (McManus 1994; Reinemann 2004).
Effects Of Journalists’ Group Dynamics
Close interaction and mutual observation in journalism lead to dynamic processes within and between news organizations. Most studies argue that these processes may lead to homogeneous concepts of newsworthiness and, as a consequence, of news content. There may be a mainstreaming effect on the general attitudes of journalists. News organizations foster professional socialization and establish editorial control through interpersonal discourse, through editing each other’s work, and through monitoring the reception of the medium. Interactions between journalists from different media can also lead to dynamic intermedia processes.
In processes of intermedia agenda setting, journalists pick up stories or issues covered in another medium. A possible consequence of the processes is the focusing of the media agenda; that is, a consonance of the issues covered in the media. Warren Breed (1955a) was the first to describe this process. His seminal study led authors to look at several issues, such as the influence of scientific journals on media serving a general audience or the differences in agendas of national and regional media at specific points in time (Shaw & Sparrow 1999).
In intermedia frame setting, journalists adopt the perspective or story angle used in another medium in their reporting. In periods of routine coverage, the repeated reception of certain news frames in other media reinforces their use by the recipient journalists. In phases of orientation, such as after surprising key events when no known news frame is easy to apply, intermedia frame setting can establish a perspective for reporters throughout the media system (Scheufele 2006).
In intermedia opinion leading, the reporting and commentary of one medium affects not only other journalists’ agendas or frames, but also their opinions and evaluations of persons, issues, or events. A conformity of issues discussed in the media may be functional for democratic processes, but a consonance of opinions may instead be dysfunctional in pluralistic democratic societies, where the media should present a diversity of viewpoints on political issues. Some authors argue that the socio-psychological processes that Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann described in her theory of public opinion can help explain the processes of consonance building within the media system.
One special type of intermedia process is the wave of coverage, also called media hype or feeding frenzy, in which the media pick up an issue and respond to each other in a spiral of peeking coverage, before largely dismissing the issue. The amount of coverage often does not reflect the importance of the issue or the real development of the problem. Key events or scoops spark media hype, which differs from ordinary day-to-day intermedia agenda setting in intensity and dynamics. Similarly, in a feeding frenzy, a critical mass of reporters jumps on a prurient or shocking matter and pursues it with excessive intensity (Sabato 1991). This kind of reporting is also called pack journalism, a term referring to the crowds of journalists trying to get information from a source, who may act like hounds pursuing their prey.
Studies investigating intermedia processes try to identify the most influential media in a system or in the context of a specific issue or event. These media take the role of opinion leaders (Breed 1955b). Like interpersonal opinion leaders, the so-called prestige or quality media are trendsetters that present and interpret topics in ways that generate a chain reaction in other media (Noelle-Neumann & Mathes 1987). Because agenda setters do not necessarily set frames or opinions at the same time, no consensus exists about which media most influence a media system. The evidence from content analyses and surveys of journalists is mixed.
In the mid-twentieth century, Warren Breed (1955a) postulated a clear direction of influence in intermedia processes from larger to smaller newspapers. Since then, several studies have come to differing conclusions. Some authors found spillover effects from alternative to mainstream media. Others found not only topdown processes from national to regional but also bottom-up processes from regional to national media. Still other studies observed top-down processes for some issues but not for others. Evidence regarding influences between TV and the press is also ambiguous. Some studies found a stronger impact from the press, but others found varying directions of influence, perhaps because the structure of influence differs among TV, daily newspapers, and news agencies for specific aspects of an issue. When media hype occurs, even the most influential journalists and media may fall in line with the mainstream.
Finally, countries seem to vary in the types of media regarded as most influential within the media system. National quality newspapers traditionally held that position, but changes in a society and its media system can alter the assessment of influence. In some countries, news magazines, TV newscasts, or even tabloids seem to have a strong impact on journalists working in other venues. Famous individual journalists have emerged in recent years as media opinion leaders in some countries.
Although strong evidence supports the relevance of intra and intermedia dynamic processes in journalism, several questions remain. Although journalistic co-orientation appears important for journalism around the globe, international comparative studies need to look for differences in factors such as the intensity of media use and the role of influential media organizations. Most studies restrict themselves to political or general news journalism, although different processes and influential news organizations may exist for different types of media or for different areas of reporting, such as the economy, sports, or culture. Because media content is far from consonant all the time, systematic studies need to explain under what circumstances consonance emerges or media hype develops. Current explanations for intermedia processes deserve reconsideration. Competition can prevent intermedia agenda setting when journalists either try to get exclusive stories or come to the conclusion that their audience has seen enough of an issue. The circumstances when journalists choose adoption or differentiation also deserve thorough investigation. Finally, 24-hour news channels, the Internet, and shortening news cycles likely have made dynamic processes within journalism change. Whether and to what extent those changes have occurred are important subjects for future studies of journalist group dynamics.
- Berkowitz, D., & Limor, Y. (2003). Professional confidence and situational ethics: Assessing the social–professional dialectic in journalistic ethics decisions. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 80, 783 – 801.
- Breed, W. (1955a). Newspaper “opinion leaders” and the process of standardization. Journalism Quarterly, 32, 277– 284.
- Breed, W. (1955b). Social control in the newsroom: A functional analysis. Social Forces, 33, 326 –335.
- Burgoon, J. K., Burgoon, M., Buller, D. B., & Atkin, C. (1987). Communication practices of journalists: Interaction with public, other journalists. Journalism Quarterly, 64, 125–132, 275.
- Clayman, S. E., & Reisner, A. E. (1998). Gatekeeping in action: Editorial conferences and assessments of newsworthiness. American Sociological Review, 63, 178 –199.
- Crouse, T. (1973). The boys on the bus: Riding with the campaign press corps. New York: Random House.
- Donsbach, W. (1999). Journalism research. In H. B. Brosius & C. Holtz-Bacha (eds.), German communication yearbook. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, pp. 159 –180.
- Fishman, M. (1980). Manufacturing the news. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.
- Gans, H. J. (1979). Deciding what’s news: A study of CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, Newsweek and Time. New York: Vintage.
- Halloran, J.D., Elliot, P., & Murdock, G. (1970). Demonstrations and communication: A case study. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
- McManus, J. (1994). Market-driven journalism: Let the citizen beware? Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Noelle-Neumann, E., & Mathes, R. (1987). The “event as event” and the “event as news”: The significance of consonance for media effects research. European Journal of Communication, 2, 392 – 414.
- Reinemann, C. (2004). Routine reliance revisited: Exploring media importance for German political journalists. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 4, 838 – 856.
- Sabato, L. J. (1991). Feeding frenzy: How attack journalism has transformed American politics. Baltimore. MD: Lanahan.
- Scheufele, B. (2006). Frames, schemata, and news reporting. Communications, 31, 65 – 83.
- Schudson, M. (2003). The sociology of news. New York: Norton.
- Shaw, D. R., & Sparrow, B. H. (1999). From the inner ring out: News congruence, cue-taking, and campaign coverage. Political Research Quarterly, 52, 323 –351.
- Shoemaker, P. J., & Reese, S. D. (1995). Mediating the message: Theories of influences on mass media content, 2nd edn. White Plains, NY: Longman.
- Weaver, D. H., Beam, R., Brownlee, B., Voakes, P., & Wilhoit, G. C. (2006). The American journalist in the 21st century: US news people at the dawn of a new millennium. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
- Zelizer, B. (1993). Journalists as interpretive communities. Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 10, 219 –237.ф