Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-jbqgn Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-06-25T16:20:44.088Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

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 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Ahva, Laura, van Dalen, Arjen, Hovden, Jan Fredrik, Kolbeins, Guðbjörg Hildur, Nilsson, Monica Löfgren, Skovsgaard, Morten and Väliverronen, Jari. 2017. “A Welfare State of Mind?Journalism Studies 18 (5): 595613.Google Scholar
Ardıç, Özgül, Annema, Jan Anne and van Wee, Bert. 2015. “The Reciprocal Relationship between Policy Debate and Media Coverage: The Case of Road Pricing Policy in the Netherlands.” Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice 78 (August): 384–99.Google Scholar
Bardi, Anat and Schwartz, Shalom H.. 2003. “Values and Behavior: Strength and Structure of Relations.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 29 (10): 1207–20.Google Scholar
Bennett, W. Lance. 1990. “Toward a Theory of Press-State Relations in the United States.” Journal of Communication 40 (20): 103–25.Google Scholar
Berkowitz, Dan, and Gutsche, Robert E.. 2012. “Drawing Lines in the Journalistic Sand: Jon Stewart, Edward R. Murrow, and Memory of News Gone By.” Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 89 (4): 643–56.Google Scholar
Bonin, Geneviève, Dingerkus, Filip, Dubied, Annik, Mertens, Stefan, Rollwagen, Heather, Sacco, Vittoria, Shapiro, Ivor, Standaert, Olivier and Wyss, Vinzenz. 2017. “Quelle Différence? Language, Culture, and Nationality as Influences on Francophone Journalists’ Identity.” Journalism Studies 18 (5): 536–54.Google Scholar
Bruns, Axel. 2005. Gatewatching: Collaborative Online News Production. 1st ed. New York: Peter Lang.Google Scholar
Chomsky, Noam and Herman, Edward S.. 1979. The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism. Vol. 1 of The Political Economy of Human Rights. Montreal: Black Rose Books.Google Scholar
Christians, Clifford G., Glasser, Theodore L., McQuail, Denis, Nordenstreng, Kaarle and White, Robert A.. 2009. Normative Theories of the Media: Journalism in Democratic Societies. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
Davis, Aeron. 2007. “Investigating Journalist Influences on Political Issue Agendas at Westminster.” Political Communication 24 (2): 181–99.Google Scholar
Donsbach, Wolfgang. 2004. “Psychology of News Decisions: Factors behind Journalists’ Professional Behavior.” Journalism 5 (2): 131–57.Google Scholar
Donsbach, Wolfgang and Klett, Bettina. 1993. “Subjective Objectivity: How Journalists in Four Countries Define a Key Term of Their Profession.” Gazette (Leiden, Netherlands) 51 (1): 5383.Google Scholar
Drohan, Madelaine. 2016. “Does Serious Journalism Have a Future in Canada?” Ottawa: Public Policy Forum. (Accessed March 11, 2019).Google Scholar
Ekos Research Associates. 2018. “Report on Future of Audio and Video Programming in Canada: Surveys and Focus Groups—Findings Report.” Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). Scholar
Eldridge, Scott A. II (2014) “Boundary Maintenance and Interloper Media Reaction.” Journalism Studies 15 (1): 116.Google Scholar
Feather, Norman T. 1988. “Values, Valences, and Course Enrollment: Testing the Role of Personal Values within an Expectancy-Valence Framework.” Journal of Educational Psychology 80 (3): 381–91.Google Scholar
Feather, Norman T. 1995. “Values, Valences, and Choice: The Influence of Values on the Perceived Attractiveness and Choice of Alternatives.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology; Washington 68 (6): 1135–51.Google Scholar
Fry, Hedy. 2017. “Disruption: Change and Churning in Canada's Media Landscape.” Report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. Ottawa: House of Commons. (Accessed January 29, 2017).Google Scholar
Government of Canada. 2018. “Fall Economic Statement.” November 21. (Accessed March 1, 2019).Google Scholar
Greenspon, Edward. 2017. “The Shattered Mirror: News, Democracy and Trust in the Digital Age.” Public Policy Forum report, February 2. (Accessed March 1, 2019).Google Scholar
Hackett, Robert A. 2006. “Is Peace Journalism Possible? Three Frameworks for Assessing Structure and Agency in News Media.” Conflict & Communication Online 5 (2): 113.Google Scholar
Hackett, Robert A. and Zhao, Yuezhi. 1994. “Challenging a Master Narrative: Peace Protest and Opinion/Editorial Discourse in the US Press during the Gulf War.” Discourse & Society 54 (4): 509–41.Google Scholar
Hallin, Daniel C. and Mancini, Paolo. 2004. Comparing Media Systems: Three Models of Media and Politics. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Hanitzsch, Thomas. 2007. “Deconstructing Journalism Culture: Toward a Universal Theory.” Communication Theory 17 (4): 367–85.Google Scholar
Hanitzsch, Thomas. 2011. “Populist Disseminators, Detached Watchdogs, Critical Change Agents and Opportunist Facilitators: Professional Milieus, the Journalistic Field and Autonomy in 18 Countries.” International Communication Gazette 73 (6): 477–94.Google Scholar
Hanitzsch, Thomas, Berganza, Rosa, Cangoz, Incilay, Coman, Mihai, Hamada, Basyouni, Hanusch, Folker, Karadjov, Christopher D., Ruiz, Claudia Mellado, Moreira, Sonia Virginia, Mwesige, Peter G., Plaisance, Patrick Lee, Reich, Zvi, Seethaler, Josef, Noor, Dani Vardiansyah, Vartanova, Elena, Yuen, Kee Wang. 2010. “Modeling Perceived Influences on Journalism: Evidence from a Cross-National Survey of Journalists.” Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 87 (1): 522.Google Scholar
Hanitzsch, Thomas, Hanusch, Folker, Mellado, Claudia, Anikina, Maria, Berganza, Rosa, Cangoz, Incilay, Coman, Mihai, Hamada, Basyouni, Hernandez, Maria Elena, Karadjov, Christopher D., Moreira, Sonia Virginia, Mwesige, Peter G., Plaisance, Patrick Lee, Reich, Zvi, Seethaler, Josef, Skewes, Elizabeth A., Noor, Dani Vardiansyah and Yuen, Edgar Kee Wang. 2011. “Mapping Journalism Cultures across Nations.” Journalism Studies 12 (3): 273–93.Google Scholar
Hanusch, Folker. 2009. “A Product of Their Culture.” International Communication Gazette 71 (7): 613–26.Google Scholar
Kim, Kihan and McCombs, Maxwell. 2007. “News Story Descriptions and the Public's Opinions of Political Candidates.” Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 84 (2): 299314.Google Scholar
Langlois, Simon and Sauvageau, Florian. 1982. “Les journalistes des quotidiens québécois et leur métier.” Politique 1 (2): 539.Google Scholar
Lauerer, Corinna and Hanitzsch, Thomas. Forthcoming. “Surveying Journalists around the World: A Methodological Framework.” In Worlds of Journalism: Journalistic Cultures around the Globe, ed. Hanitzsch, Thomas, Hanusch, Folker, Ramaprasad, Jyotika and de Beer, Arnold S.. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
Lee, Eun-Ju and Tandoc, Edson C.. 2017. “When News Meets the Audience: How Audience Feedback Online Affects News Production and Consumption.” Human Communication Research 43 (4): 436–49.Google Scholar
McCombs, Maxwell, Einsiedel, Edna and Weaver, David. 2017. Contemporary Public Opinion: Issues and the News. New York: Routledge (e-book edition; originally published 1991).Google Scholar
Melenhorst, Lotte. 2015. “The Media's Role in Lawmaking: A Case Study Analysis.” International Journal of Press/Politics 20 (3): 297316.Google Scholar
Milliband, Ralph. 1969. The State in Capitalist Society: The Analysis of the Western System of Power. London: Quartet Books.Google Scholar
Mitchell, Amy, Simmons, Katie, Matsa, Katerina Eva and Silver, Laura. 2018. “Publics Globally Want Unbiased News Coverage, but Are Divided on Whether Their News Media Deliver.” Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project. January 11. (Accessed March 3, 2019).Google Scholar
Newman, Nic. 2018. “Digital News Report, 2018.” Oxford: Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford. (Accessed January 14, 2018).Google Scholar
Peer, Limor and Ksiazek, Thomas B.. 2011. “YouTube and the Challenge to Journalism.” Journalism Studies 12 (1): 4563.Google Scholar
Plaisance, Patrick Lee and Skewes, Elizabeth A.. 2003. “Personal and Professional Dimensions of News Work: Exploring the Link between Journalists’ Values and Roles.” Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 80 (4): 833–48.Google Scholar
Preston, Paschal. 2008. Making the News: Journalism and News Cultures in Europe. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
Pritchard, David, Brewer, Paul R. and Sauvageau, Florian. 2005. “Changes in Canadian Journalists’ Views about the Social and Political Roles of the News Media: A Panel Study, 1996–2003.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 38 (2): 287306.Google Scholar
Pritchard, David, and Sauvageau, Florian. 1999. Les Journalistes Canadien: Un Portrait de Fin de Siècle. Sainte-Foy, QC: Les Presses de l'Université Laval.Google Scholar
Rokeach, Milton. 1973. The Nature of Human Values. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
Schudson, Michael. 2002. The Sociology of News. Contemporary Societies. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
Shapiro, Ivor, Brin, Colette, Spoel, Philippa and Marshall, Lee. 2016. Images of Essence: Journalists Discourse on the Professional Discipline of Verification.” Canadian Journal of Communication 41 (1): 3748.Google Scholar
Shoemaker, Pamela J. and Reese, Stephen D.. 2014. Mediating the Message in the 21st Century: A Media Sociology Perspective. 3rd ed. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
Shoemaker, Pamela J. and Vos, Timothy. 2008. Gatekeeping Theory. Florence: Routledge.Google Scholar
Siebert, Fred S., Peterson, Theodore and Schramm, Wilbur. 1956. Four Theories of the Press: The Authoritarian, Libertarian, Social Responsibility and Soviet Communist Concepts of What the Press Should Be and Do. University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
Soderlund, Walter C., Brin, Colette, Miljan, Lydia and Hildebrandt, Kai. 2012. Cross-Media Ownership and Democratic Practice in Canada: Content-Sharing and the Impact of New Media. University of Alberta.Google Scholar
Strömbäck, Jesper. 2008. “Four Phases of Mediatization: An Analysis of the Mediatization of Politics.” International Journal of Press/Politics 13 (3): 228–46.Google Scholar
Tan, Yue and Weaver, David H.. 2009. “Local Media, Public Opinion, and State Legislative Policies: Agenda Setting at the State Level.” International Journal of Press/Politics 14 (4): 454–76.Google Scholar
Tandoc, Edson C. 2014. “Journalism Is Twerking? How Web Analytics Is Changing the Process of Gatekeeping.” New Media & Society 16 (4): 559–75.Google Scholar
Tandoc, Edson C. Jr. and Thomas, Ryan J.. 2015. “The Ethics of Web Analytics.” Digital Journalism 3 (2): 243–58.Google Scholar
Thompson, Derek. 2014. “What the Death of Homepages Means for the Future of News.” Atlantic, May 15. (Accessed March 3, 2018).Google Scholar
Tuchman, Gaye. 1978. Making News: A Study in the Construction of Reality. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
United Nations. 2018. “World Economic Situation and Prospects.” New York: United Nations publication, Sales No. E.18.II.C.2.Google Scholar
Voakes, Paul S. 1997. “Social Influences on Journalists’ Decision Making in Ethical Situations.” Journal of Mass Media Ethics 12 (1): 1835.Google Scholar
Vu, Hong Tien. 2014. “The Online Audience as Gatekeeper: The Influence of Reader Metrics on News Editorial Selection.” Journalism 15 (8): 10941110.Google Scholar
Weaver, David H. and Willnat, Lars. 2012. The Global Journalist in the 21st Century. Routledge Communication Series. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
Welbers, Kasper, van Atteveldt, Wouter, Kleinnijenhuis, Jan, Ruigrok, Nel and Schaper, Joep. 2016. “News Selection Criteria in the Digital Age: Professional Norms versus Online Audience Metrics.” Journalism 17 (8): 1037–53.Google Scholar
Wolfe, Michelle, Jones, Bryan D. and Baumgartner, Frank R.. 2013. “A Failure to Communicate: Agenda Setting in Media and Policy Studies.” Political Communication 30 (2): 175–92.Google Scholar
Worlds of Journalism. 2017. “The Worlds of Journalism Study.” (Accessed March 1, 2019).Google Scholar