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Just Who Do Canadian Journalists Think They Are? Political Role Conceptions in Global and Historical Perspective

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 May 2019

Heather Rollwagen*
Department of Sociology, Ryerson University, 350 Victoria Street, Toronto, ON, M5B 2K3
Ivor Shapiro
School of Journalism, Ryerson University, 350 Victoria Street, Toronto, ON, M5B 2K3
Geneviève Bonin-Labelle
Department of Communication, University of Ottawa, Desmarais Building, 55 Laurier Avenue, East Ottawa, ON, K1N 6N5
Lindsay Fitzgerald
Independent multimedia journalist
Lauriane Tremblay
Département d'information et communication, Pavillon Louis-Jacques-Casault, 1055, avenue du Séminaire, Université Laval, Québec, QC, G1V 0A6
*Corresponding author. Email:


In view of the robust link often inferred between autonomous journalism and the strength of a society's democratic institutions, and against the background of current challenges to journalists’ traditional roles as purveyors of timely and independent information, we interviewed 352 Canadian journalists about their social and political roles and the influences on their news choices. Comparison of their responses against an international data set (N = 27,567) suggests that Canadian journalists place greater value on detached monitorial roles and claim relatively greater autonomy from commercial and other influences on their work. Further, in comparing these findings to an influential panel study from 1996 to 2003, we conclude that the Canadian journalists’ “credo,” focused on neutral reporting and oriented more to perceived public interest than to business or audience interests, remains surprisingly intact despite contemporary pressures on news forms and business models. This professed neutrality is mitigated by a desire to promote diversity and tolerance.


Compte tenu du lien solide souvent inféré entre le journalisme autonome et la force des institutions démocratiques d'une société, et dans le contexte actuel de remise en question des rôles traditionnels des journalistes en tant que fournisseurs d'information opportune et indépendante, nous avons interviewé 352 journalistes canadiens sur leur rôle social et politique et les influences qu'ils exercent sur leurs choix de nouvelles. La comparaison de leurs réponses avec un ensemble de données internationales (N = 27 567) suggère que les journalistes canadiens accordent plus d'importance aux rôles de « surveillance détachés » et revendiquent une autonomie relative par rapport aux influences commerciales et autres sur leur travail. De plus, en comparant ces résultats à ceux d'une étude de panel influente de 1999 à 2003, nous concluons que le « credo » des journalistes canadiens, axé sur des reportages neutres et centré davantage sur l'intérêt public perçu que sur les intérêts des entreprises ou de l'audience, demeure étonnamment intact malgré les pressions actuelles sur les nouvelles formes et modèles commerciaux. Cette neutralité professée est atténuée par le désir de promouvoir la diversité et la tolérance.

Research Article/Étude originale
Copyright © Canadian Political Science Association (l'Association canadienne de science politique) and/et la Société québécoise de science politique 2019 

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