Whistleblowers and their faith in journalism

Karin Assmann. “Whistleblowers and their faith in journalism,” Journalism Practice (forthcoming).

Abstract: Reporters, to enact their role as watchdogs and their commitment to uncovering corporate or governmental wrongdoing, often must rely on individuals willing to risk their careers and reputations, at times their lives, to expose their employers’ malfeasance. Some whistleblowers turn to the news media to get their messages and stories out. This is often a leap of faith that implies a level of trust in journalists and in their outlet’s adherence to their normative roles. This study explores whistleblowers’ perceptions of the news media as they recall crossing over from the employer’s institutional logic to journalism’s institutional logic. In-depth interviews conducted with 16 U.S. whistleblowers who contacted journalists from the 1970s through the 2010s, find that trust in individual journalists is a consistent theme. Of all norms, participants most valued source protection and accuracy, followed by a reporter’s expertise and willingness to listen. Almost all interviewees lack faith in the impact of today’s press. As austerity measures take hold in newsrooms across the country, this study shines a light, from the source’s perspective, on what will likely be lost if newsrooms neglect beat reporting and overlook the specter of government surveillance and control.

Fuzzy Boundaries: Journalists telling branded stories

Abstract: Brand Studios have become ubiquitous in news outlets across the United States. Situated in news organizations with the attention of audiences that brands hope to reach, these in-house creative studios represent a unique collaboration between advertisers, designers and journalists. This study investigates the practices and professional identities of content creators tasked with “telling a brand’s story.” The goal is to gain insights into the intersection of journalism and advertising from the standpoint of content creators.

A Test of Free Speech: Applying the Ethics of Care to Coverage of Snyder V. Phelps

Leslie Klein (Grady PhD. student) and Johnson, B. G. (2022). “A Test of Free Speech: Applying the Ethics of Care to Coverage of Snyder V. Phelps. “ Journal of Media Ethics, 1-15.  https://doi.org/10.1080/23736992.2022.2057995

Abstract: U.S. journalists must walk a fine line when reporting on hate speech. Journalists have a vested interest in standing up for the First Amendment, which gives them the freedom to do their work. However, the legal protection that people who spew hateful rhetoric enjoy vastly outweighs any protections upon which the victims can rely. As such, dealing with hate speech in the United States is an inherently ethical issue. Applying the ethics of care to their reporting would allow journalists a clear framework with which to counter hate speech. This study examines if and how journalists used the ethics of care framework when covering the Snyder v. Phelps Supreme Court case through analysis of articles published in U.S. newspapers. Using these articles as a representative sample for the national coverage of the case, the study finds that journalists failed to consider the human impact of their reporting.

The “ProQuote” initiative: Women journalists in Germany push to revolutionize newsroom leadership

Abstract: Using standpoint epistemology and critical mass theories this study examines outcomes of the 2012 ProQuote [ProQuota] initiative in Germany demanding at least 30% women in leadership per newsroom. In-depth interviews with 53 journalists in 21 newsrooms show that ProQuote boosted women’s ascension into leadership by triggering and sustaining a debate about gender in newsroom leadership. This contributed to the normalization and legitimization of women in top positions, somewhat alleviating the stigma of tokenism. With critical mass in a given newsroom, women’s standpoints have entered the discourse on leadership. More representation of women of different backgrounds and overall diversity in leadership are still needed.

Whistleblowers and their faith in journalism: The (d)evolution of trust among the sources that journalists need most

Abstract: Using in-depth interviews conducted with 12 U.S. whistleblowers  who contacted the press in the 1970s through the 2010s, this paper examines changing perceptions of the news media and journalists among those who have confided in them and how these views have evolved. I find that trust in individual journalists, more so than in the news organizations they work for, is a consistent theme among all participants. Of all norms, source protection is most valued, followed closely by diligence and the willingness to listen and accept the whistleblower as subject matter expert. While all interviewees believed in the news media as an institution with impact when they blew the whistle, almost all of them expressed a profound lack of faith in today’s press to bring about change, some blaming this on the corporatization of the industry along with a rise in what they call agenda-driven reporting. As austerity measures take hold in newsrooms across the country, this study shines a light on what we stand to lose when newsrooms neglect specialization and beat reporting.