There’s a new article in Journalism Studies titled “Normative Expectations“. My colleague John Steel and I wrote this to document our findings from the first phase of an ongoing research project looking at normativity and local journalism. For this project, we worked with members of two community groups in Sheffield.
Our starting point was an un-directed conversation about what people think about news and information.
We wanted to challenge a prevalent starting point in journalism studies of how journalism positions itself in society, often around lofty and idealised roles – the ‘Fourth Estate’. By seeing what members of our community groups raised when they discussed news and information without any prompting of ‘normative’ values, we were able to develop a more nuanced understanding of their perception of journalism’s role in society. This allowed us to see how members of our community discussed their own views on journalism, and whether this reflects assumptions of what journalism should do for the public, as well as whether they feel journalism does fulfill these roles. Importantly, we asked whether they would change or alter the journalism and news they engage with.
This study was a good starting point to revisit our own normative expectations of journalism, and those community members we worked with have quite different expectations of news and journalism that what is included in the idealised language of journalism as the ‘Fourth Estate’. While we found a lowered expectation in terms of the idealised status of journalists and news, we also found that the combination of commercial, sensational, and more serious news offered a good mix of what people wanted. We also found people think about news in different ways – a conversation at the pub or with a neighbour around the corner can be an important source of news and information.