Thematic Connection to Social Cohesion
Inherent to the social function of journalism (in Germany) is the democratic-theoretical idea that media and journalism (should) contribute to social cohesion. To this end, journalism must reach an (or: its) audience. Hence, the quality of journalism’s relationship to its audience is at the core of most public debates about journalism today: be it with regard to the fragile trust in journalism, the "insurgence of the audience" in commentary sections and social media, or more fundamentally, journalism’s importance for opinion formation and democracy. However, both public debate and research have, so far, largely neglected to shed more light on what citizens expect of journalism and to what extent this matches journalists’ own perceptions of their role. A precise picture of this is, however, indispensable for journalism to fulfil its societal function because it is only when the public’s expectations are not belied on a permanent basis that journalism can reach an audience.
Such findings are also relevant from a legal and media regulatory perspective. For example, constitutional communication rights, current media laws and media-related self-regulation provisions all start from the premise that journalism assumes specific functions in a deliberative media democracy. The empirical findings may provide indications of possible misperceptions of these functions by journalists, but also incongruent attributions and expectations of citizens towards journalism.
Thus, the project will examine the attitudes and reciprocal expectations of two groups of actors, both of which are particularly involved in the production of public spheres and the social cohesion mediated by them. This will, on the one hand, provide us with insights into the relationship between journalism and its audience and on the other hand, allow us to analyse the supra-individual aspect of how a social institution – journalism – re-orients itself within a changing media environment and society. The project aims to contribute to a better understanding of affective attitudes, which are the basis for the production and perception of (media) reality, especially from an empirical-analytical perspective. At the same time, however, we aim to develop conceptual and theoretical foundations that help us understand the importance of the journalism/audience-relationship for the realization of social cohesion.
Methods, Empirical Approach, Procedure
In order to answer the two guiding questions of the sub-project we will realize a number of interrelated work packages:
- an exploratory qualitative pre-study on reporting styles that are “sensitive” to social cohesion;
- a quantitative survey among journalists in Germany;
- a quantitative representative survey among German citizens (in cooperation with the subproject “Integration-Related Remit and Functions of Public Service Media”, which is also situated in Hamburg);
- a legal assessment of the findings from the perspective of media and constitutional law.
During the pre-study, we will conduct a literature review and two workshops with journalists and communications experts to determine the basic features of a reporting style that is sensitized to questions of social cohesion. The results will be summarised in the form of a handbook for journalism practitioners and the general public. Aspects will, for instance, include the objective and comprehensible presentation of social conflicts as well as the sensitisation for power differences.
The second and third work packages are interlinked: Based on two surveys – one among journalists, the other among citizens – we will examine and compare journalists’ self-image (i.e., which roles and tasks they ascribe to themselves) and their corresponding image among the general public (which expectations citizens have of journalists). We will place special emphasis on the journalistic discussion of cohesion and social conflicts as well as the associated representation of different social groups’ interests and goals. The results of the pre-study will be included, too. Comparing the findings for the population’s side with those for the journalists’ side will show us how close or how far apart the respective attitudes are – in other words, it will show what journalists themselves want to do, and what they ought to do in the eyes of the public.
In the fourth work package, the empirical findings will serve as the starting point for a legal analysis that compares the attribution of functions to journalism under media law and constitutional law with the self-perception of journalists and the population’s expectations towards them. Based on this, the analysis will develop conclusions for both media policy and (constitutional) media law.