What Journalists Should Do – and What They Want to Do

What Journalists Should Do – and What They Want to Do

The relationship between journalism and the audience has changed due to media change: behaviour in media use is changing, more transparency and a stronger focus on participation and dialogue are demanded from journalism. In parts of the population, confidence in quality media is also dwindling, and their media coverage is criticised, even to the point of accusations of being the “lying press”. Declining subscription numbers to daily newspapers and the poor willingness to pay for online journalism are also indicators that journalism often does not meet the expectations of its users.

However, little is known about the expectations the population has of journalism. We know even less about how audience expectations of journalistic performance relate to what journalists themselves regard as their professional task, their self-image. This also means that we know very little about how far the views of good quality journalism differ on both sides.

Therefore, the aim of the planned survey is, for the first time, to collect representative data on the population's expectations of journalism in order to compare them with existing data on journalistic self-image, which was collected in a representative survey of journalists. The findings will provide a profound picture of what different tasks journalists should perform from the audience's point of view and how important they are considered in detail. The comparison of the findings on both the audience and journalism sides will also reveal how far the respective views differ, i.e. what journalists should do and what they want to do.

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Project Description

Concretisation of the Question

The planned study seeks to answer the following questions:

  • What services do citizens expect from journalism?
  • How do they prioritise these different services? Or in other words, what should journalists focus more on and what should they focus less on in their work from the population’s point of view?
  • What are the differences between different groups of the population?
  • What is the relationship between classic journalistic tasks such as "neutral information" and newer ones such as "entering into a dialogue with the audience"?
  • And what (in)congruencies are shown in what individual journalistic achievements between what the audience expects and what journalists themselves regard as their professional task?

For the planned study, we can draw on numerous relevant preliminary works that were developed in the DFG-funded project “(Re-)Discovering the Audience: Journalism under the Conditions of Social Media.” Different audiences such as Tagesschau, ARD-Polittalk, Süddeutsche Zeitung and Freitag showed consistently higher demands in terms of editorial transparency, participation and dialogue than the respective editorial offices expected.

Approach to the Examination

According to the aim of the study, the audience's expectations of journalism are to be assessed in a survey representative of adults living in Germany. In order to prevent an over-representation of citizens who are particularly interested in technology and participation, the survey will not be conducted online, but as computer-assisted telephone interviews (CATI). The problem of the declining distribution of fixed-network lines is taken into account by a dual-frame procedure, according to which 60 percent of the random sample is recruited via landline numbers and 40 percent via mobile phone numbers. A sample of n = 1,000 respondents will ensure the representativeness of the results and allow basic comparisons between different population groups (e.g. by age group, gender, formal education, new/old federal states, political orientation, the media they use).

The core of the questionnaire is an internationally accepted battery of items, adapted for the audience's perspective, which represent different facets of the perception of the role by journalists. This was also used by Steindl et al. (2017) to ensure direct comparability with their representative journalist survey.

Steindl, N., Lauerer, C., & Hanitzsch, T. (2017). Journalismus in Deutschland. Aktuelle Befunde zu Kontinuität und Wandel im deutschen Journalismus [Journalism in Germany. Current Findings on Continuity and Change in German Journalism]. Publizistik, 62(4), pp. 401–423. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11616-017-0378-9

Project Information


Duration: 2019-2019

Research programme:
RP1 - Transformation of Public Communication

Third party

ZEIT-Stiftung Ebelin und Gerd Bucerius

Cooperation Partner

Contact person

Prof. Dr. Wiebke Loosen
Senior Researcher Journalism Research

Prof. Dr. Wiebke Loosen

Leibniz-Institut für Medienforschung | Hans-Bredow-Institut (HBI)
Rothenbaumchaussee 36
20148 Hamburg

Tel. +49 (0)40 45 02 17 - 91
Fax +49 (0)40 45 02 17 - 77




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