THE AMERICAN JOURNALIST UNDER ATTACK: MEDIA, TRUST, AND DEMOCRACY

Our paper has been selected for presentation at the 72nd Annual ICA Conference, One World, One Network, to be held on 26-30 May, 2022.

Gargoyle Statue

The news media and the journalists who create media content have undergone dramatic changes and challenges during the past years. More than a decade has passed since the last comprehensive survey of U.S. journalists was carried out in 2013 by scholars at Indiana University (Willnat, Weaver, & Wilhoit, 2017), and it is time for an update. The American Journalist study represents the most comprehensive and representative study of the demographic backgrounds, education, working conditions, and professional values of U.S. journalists.

 

This new wave of the seminal survey project conducted every ten years will be based on interviews with a national probability sample of nearly 2,000 U.S. journalists conducted in January 2022 to document the changes that have occurred in U.S. journalism in the past decade—many of them due to the rise of social media and a more politically charged media environment. The goal of this representative survey of U.S. journalists is to update the findings from the 2013 American Journalist study and ask new questions about the impact of social media in the newsroom and the growing distrust toward the news media among the American public.

 

The 2022 wave will provide detailed and comprehensive data on the backgrounds, attitudes, working conditions, and professional values of U.S. journalists, as revealed in these interviews. By comparing the findings of the 2022 wave with those of the previous four major survey studies of U.S. journalists conducted in 1982, 1992, 2002, and 2013 (Weaver et al., 1991, 1996, 2007; Willnat et al., 2017), we will be able to assess what has changed and what has remained relatively stable during the past four decades in American journalism. While the focus of this new wave of the American Journalist study will be on comparing journalists’ demographics, professional role perceptions, and attitudes toward their work with those documented in previous waves of the project (1982, 1992, 2002, and 2013), we will also ask journalists various questions that will explore how they think about the news media’s contributions to and responsibilities for the future of democracy in the United States. 

 

Method

 

The findings of this study will come from online interviews with about 2,000 U.S. journalists working for a proportional selection of media organizations throughout the United States. In drawing these samples—and to ensure that they are representative of the overall population of U.S. journalists—we had to estimate how many journalists are currently working full-time in different types of news media across the United States. Based on these estimates, we sampled journalists from 947 media organizations throughout the United States, including daily (158) and weekly (279) newspapers, TV (210) and radio (120) stations, native online (151), wire services (3), news magazines (20) and cable TV stations (6). The final sample of U.S. journalists to be contacted for our study was compiled with the help of various media directories and professional databases to ensure the inclusion of all journalists working for the selected media outlets. The more than 6,000 U.S. journalists included in our final sample will be contacted in January and February 2022 to be interviewed for this study. Based on an estimated 30% response rate, we hope to complete about 2,000 interviews with this representative group of U.S. journalists.  

 

Research Questions

 

Because this study represents a follow-up to the 1982, 1992, and 2002 national surveys of U.S. journalists, we followed closely the definitions of a journalist (working full-time) and the sampling methods used by these earlier studies to be able to compare our 2022 results directly with those of the earlier studies. While we used many of the same questions asked in these previous studies, we added various questions about journalists’ uses of social media in their work and their thoughts about the decreasing public trust in the news media, and the role of the media for the future of democracy in the United States.

 

The questionnaire used for the 2022 wave of the American Journalists includes a series of questions that will allow us to compare our findings with the four previous waves (i.e., 1982, 1992, 2002, 2013). The survey questionnaire includes a total of about 90 questions and focuses mostly on journalists’ (1) overall trends in journalism (“journalism going in either the right or wrong direction”), (2) job satisfaction, (3) levels of freedom in their jobs, (4) role perceptions (for example, how important they thought it is to “get information to the public quickly,” “provide analysis and interpretation of complex problems”), (5) acceptance of controversial reporting practices (such as “claiming to be somebody else” or “badgering unwilling informants”), (6) use of social media (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.) in their work, (7) perceived impact of social media on their work, and (8) demographics (work experience, gender, age, race, religion, political party affiliation, political leaning, income, and marital status). In addition, we will ask a series of new questions that address the decreasing public trust in the media and the way journalists think about the functions of the news media in democracy.

 

 

References

 

Weaver David H. and G. Cleveland Wilhoit (1991). The American Journalist: A Portrait of U.S. News People and Their Work. Indiana University Press, second edition.

 

Weaver, David H. and G. Cleveland Wilhoit (1996). The American Journalist in the 1990s. Erlbaum Associates, 1996.

 

Weaver, David H., Randal A. Beam, Bonnie J. Brownlee, Paul S. Voakes, and G. Cleveland Wilhoit (2007). The American Journalist in the 21st Century. Erlbaum Associates.

 

Willnat, Lars, David H. Weaver, & Cleve Wilhoit (2017). The American Journalist in the Digital Age: A Half-Century Perspective. Peter Lang.