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London, Thousand Oaks CA


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[1367 5494(199801)1 1, 123-143, 002589_

A professional, unreliable,
heroic marionette (M/F)
Structure, agency and subjectivity in

contemporary journalisms
Liesbet

van Zoonen
University of Amsterdam

ABSTRACT
In this article, journalism in all its popular, educational,
sensational, serious and political varieties is examined. This variety is

analytically contained by categorizing the field along two dimensions that


pervade contemporary journalism: gender and goals (mstitutional vs
audience orientations). The four resulting domains of journalism are then
analysed in terms of structural constraints resulting from the characteristics
of the production process on the one hand, and the diversity of subjective
inputs of journalists on the other. The particular articulations of structure
and subjectivity found in each domain produce various forms of agency
within journalism and construct so-called organizational identities of
journalists. Contrary to the professional mythology surrounding traditional
news journalism, subjectivity in its myriad manifestations is a constitutive
and necessary element of these organizational identities in all genres of
journalism. It is argued that subjectivity does not contradict objectivity, and
that both could function as ethical standards for contemporaryjournalisms.
KEYWORDS

gender, journalism,

media

ethics, objectivity, organizational


identity, popular culture, subjectivity

The journalist is a pivotal actor in the production of contemporary


cultured Whether she or he is working in the elite press, the magazine
sector or in the hybrid TV-infotainment genres, it is the journalists daily
work that is directly behind the texts of journalism. Notwithstanding the
wide array of social, cultural, economic and organizational forces bearing
onjournalists work, they are the people behind the keyboards; their
words and images end up in the press and on television.
We simultaneously know very much and very little about journalists.

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Academic and popular knowledge hovers between stereotyped dichotomies : in popular culture, for instance, journalists are often cast in the
role of heroic individual fighting for justice and truth against the odds of
bureaucratic social powers, but battling also with the laziness, narcissism
and silliness of their fellow journalists. It is the latter image that
resonates in public opinions deep wariness of journalists. When asked
the question Do you trust these people to tell the truth?journalists
invariably score extremely low in the resulting ratings, together, for that
matter, with politicians and government ministers.2 In critical academic
analyses, journalists hardly fare better: they are shown to be structurally
aligned to particular class interests, patriarchy and white culture. (E.g.
Glasgow Media Group (1977, 1980) on class; Van Dijk (1991a, 1991b) on
ethnicity; Creedon (1989) on gender). Journalists in these studies are
constructed as interest-driven marionettes, thus adding to rather than
undermining the popular image ofjournalists as untrustworthy. But the
opposite image of the journalist as popular hero has its resemblance in
surveys on professional qualities and values among journalists also:
results by and large suggest that journalists are mostly inspired by the
desire to help people, finding the investigation of government claims
infinitely more important than the provision of entertainment and
relaxation. Almost always - or at least more often than not - they seem
to be able to select which stories they will work on; see, for instance,
Weaver and Wilhoit (1986, 1992, 1994), referred to in Weaver, 1996.
Neither the academic dichotomy of the relatively independent professional on the one hand and the manipulated marionette of the powersthat-be on the other, nor the parallel popular opposition between the
reliable heroes and their sleazy mass of cheating colleagues, captures the
complexities of working in contemporary journalism. In the image of the
professional hero, the structural constraints of the profession have disappeared, whereas in the unreliable marionette individual honesty and
agency are underrated. In addition, journalism is not an undivided field,
but consists of a variety of subgenres or domains, each with its own rules
and values.
In this article I intend to develop an in-between view that does justice
to the structural determinations as well as to the moments of agency and
subjectivity in journalism and which incorporates the diversity in the
field. Although there is much work that can inform such a position
(showing that the dichotomies I have just set up are extremes that serve
better to introduce the point rather than adequately summarizing the
state of the art) there is next to nothing in terms of theoretical concepts
or models that aim at a general understanding of the wide variety of
practices and experiences that typify the day-to-day work of contemporary journalists. To understand journalists work in a general sense is
crucial for critical cultural analyses: not only do journalists claim a direct

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(albeit

in

world

out

genres rather ambiguous) relation with truth and the


there - a claim legitimized in democratic societies by
numerous social and and legal privileges for journalists - but also,
people
as citizens and consumers rely on and believe in the
capacity of
journalism to present them with a true picture of reality. In addition,
journalism has as its social assignment the provision of material with
which people can make sense of this reality and act according to it,
whether in the realm of the public world, in the realm of consumer
affairs or in the realm of the private. In other words, journalism is a
prerequisite for civil society.
In this article, therefore, I focus on the institutional workings of
journalism and in particular on the journalist. My first goal is to show
how the constraints and possibilities for journalists vary across different
journalistic domains. I then use this empirical variety to develop the
more general concept of organizational identity that
abridges the mix of
structural constraints, agency and subjectivity that typifies the work of
some

contemporary journalists.

Domains in

journalism

Journalism at present is a heavily disputed profession, the debate being


often about the decline of its institutional role in democracy and the
public sphere and its withdrawal into the realm of popular culture and
consumption. Whereas such changes may certainly be seen to occur in
many news media, it is part of journalisms own mythology to suggest
that such popular tendencies have only recently come to the fore, while
m fact they have a long tradition. Schudson (1978), for instance, has
described storyjournalism as a constant and historical feature of
American journalism rooted in migrant traditions of story-telling. Bird
and Dardenne (1988) analyse the mythic qualities of news narrative,
observing many commonalities with urban legends and other elements
of folklore. In addition, many traditional specialisms in journalism have
always been part and parcel of popular culture, the most obvious
example being sports and crime news. Already in 1971 Tunstall pointed
at the varying organizational goals of journalistic subfields with sports
and crime firmly aimed at maintaining popularity among large
audiences (audience goals) and other goals such as financial and foreign
news aimed at gaining prestige in the
public arena (non-revenue goals).3
If one considers such traces of popular journalism as belonging to the
field as a whole, then other domains need consideration too. Journalists
working for womens magazines, for instance, have hardly ever been
deemed worthy of research (but see Ferguson, 1983) but differ little from
their colleagues working for the womens pages in newspapers, who in
turn have much in common with journalists working in other audience-

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oriented subfields. The present distinction between these fields signifies


mainly an acceptance of a hierarchy of serious and popular news (which
is comparable to the distinction between high and low culture), rather
than a useful division between truly different kinds of journalism. Sparks
(1992: 67), in an argument about the press, suggests: From every point of
view it seems sensible to adopt a more catholic defimtion of journalism
and of the scope of the press. In this article then, I will focus on
journalism in its totality, in its popular, educational, serious, political and
other expressions in print as well as on television. Nevertheless, the
variety in journalisms is such that for reasons of clarity and analysis an
ordering device is necessary. For that purpose I use two prominent
distinctions within journalism: goals and gender.

126

Goals
As I mentioned earlier, journalistic organizations pursue a variety of
goals that may differ within and between organizations. The commonly
observed difference is between goals that have to do with the status of
journalism as a prime institution of democratic societies and goals that
have to do with thejournalistic organizations need to satisfy and serve
their audiences. These goals need not be contradictory, but in recent
times they are often considered to be conflicting, especially by journalists
working for institutionally oriented media (Hallin, 1996). The institutional goal of journalism implies that the frame of reference for
journalists consists of the norms and values provided by the requirements
of democracy and the public sphere (defined narrowly here). Thus, nonpartisanship, balance, factual information, the priority of certain themes
(politics, finance, business, foreign affairs) and a mode of address that
assumes audiences as citizens are characteristic of such an institutional
goal. Tunstall (1971) has called this the non-revenue goal of journalism,
because despite its high social status it has a relatively low profit rate.
This and the resistance of audiences towards the traditional forms of
citizenship belonging to it, has put enormous pressures on the institutional goal in journalism to sell out - as it is often perceived - to
audience concerns and needs. Such an orientation towards audiences
produces a frame of reference forjournalists that is said to be characterized by interesting (as opposed to important) issues, convenient and
practical information, commitment and emotionality (rather than
objectivity and rationality) and a mode of address that assumes audiences
as consumers. Consumer-oriented or market-driven journalism distinguished by its audience goals like sports and crime has a low social status
but can be an enormous profit machine. The trend in journalism as a
whole, therefore, is towards an audience goal; there are many news texts
that can be considered purely aimed at attracting the largest audience
possible, but there are very few that are purely institutional.

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Gender
In popular

culture, gender and genre have

been recognized and analysed


closely related. For journalism, such specific analyses
are absent. Journalism is usually qualified as a masculine domain because
of its themes, style, mode of address and the gender divides in its
audiences (see Fiske, 1987; Morley, 1985). But to define journalism as a
masculine domain is only possible if one limits it to institutional forms of
journalism. Local news, feminist media, talkshows, etc. are all part of
journalism and cater for mixed or female audiences. In addition,journalism itself thinks along lines of masculinity and femininity in defining
its targets groups for new outlets, especially in the magazine market.
Gender is also expressed in the composition of the journalistic workforce
of the various subdomains: the field as a whole is segregated with men
being the majority in political, foreign, financial, sports, etc. and women
dominating human interest, consumer, health and other such domains.
Gender is also one of the determining discourses injournalists identities
and their texts (cf. Van Zoonen, 1994).~
Projecting the particular goals of journalism and its gender features
onto each other and placing journalisms genres in them, the following
picture emerges (Figure 1 ):

by many authors

Figure

7 Domains

as

journalism

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127

thorough and empirically grounded location of media and texts in this


figure would require an additional study. The placement here is tentative
and consists of a mixture of information on production, textual characteristics and audiences of various media and genres. Gossip and celebrity magazines, for instance, are completely tuned towards audience
wishes, cover themes from private lives and are read by female audiences
in particular. Tabloids are aimed at and draw mixed audiences. Sports
journalism as a whole is characterized by audience goals and masculinity
but sports magazines (soccer in particular) are more masculine than
sports television. Reality TV with its focus on crime and accidents
belongs in the masculine domain because of its topics and the composition of its audiences. Its feminine parallel is emo-TV, which brings
real-life surprises, marriage proposals, etc. to people. The quality press
and news magazines have clear institutional goals, especially in their
foreign and financial sections, and are masculine in terms of production
(dominance of male journalists), themes (underrepresentation of women)
and reception (slight dominance of male audience members). Journalism
with an institutional goal and with clear feminine qualities is quite
rare. The womens magazines that were produced during the Second
World War could quahfy as such because of their clear commitment to
the maintenance of social and public life in the absence of men (Douglas,
1996). Contemporary feminist media also clearly belong in this cluster.
The serious local or regional press draw mixed audiences although
A

readers seem to have more interest in them than in the national


But
the relative emptiness of this cluster indicates the historical
press.
exclusion of women from the public sphere (McClaughlin, 1993). Some
genres are truly hybrid and can be located in all four clusters, depending
on the
specific form and contents: docudrama is a good example,
talkshows another.
women

Structure, agency and subjectivity


Having divided the whole field of journalism into domains, we can now
consider in some detail how structure, agency and subjectivity are
articulated in the work of journalists in these domains. Of these terms,

128

agency and subjectivity need some preliminary clarification. Agency


refers to what journalists do within the structural constraints posed by
the organization of the profession and is thus always embedded in
organizational routines and pressures. It can be seen as the interface
between structures and the subjectivity of journalists. Subjectivity seems
easily defined as the opposite of objectivity in journalism. The meaning
of objectivity in journalism is heavily contested, however, and can refer
to the desire to be fair and accurate (in which case subjectivity would
mean being unfair and sloppy) as well as to the intention of avoiding bias

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(in which case subjectivity would mean taking sides), as


a detached outsider (in which case
subjectivity would
mean being an interested and committed insider). Such meanings of
subjectivity relate to professional performance, but there is another
relevant meaning of subjectivity that relates to the identities of
journalists as gendered, ethnic and sexual human beings and which in
some cases is said or felt to be at odds with a notion of objectivity as
neutrality and detachment. In my discussion of the various domains in
journalism, most of these meanings of subjectivity will occur but I focus
specifically on subjectivity defined as gendered, coming back to all forms
of subjectivity later.
Because obviously some areas of journalism have been subject to more
research than others, the status and kind of information presented below
on the articulation of structures, agency and subjectivity in the four
domains inevitably vary from undisputed research results to tentative
propositions and suggestions.
and partisanship
well as to being

1. Institutional, masculine
This is the category that is usually considered as the news; it is assumed
to contain all the elements that are necessary for the adequate
functioning of the public sphere and democracy, and therefore has a high
social status. Most studies of the production of news concentrate on this
particular domain and have shown that there is very little room for
subjectivity (defined as personal interests and opinions) because of the
organizational requirements of (daily) news production and the constraints posed by professional ideology (objectivity, distance and
neutrality), which reluctant newcomers will learn through processes of
professional socialization (Van Zoonen, 1989). Structures of many kinds
all seem to be overriding components of journalists work in this area and
agency seems more or less completely determined by these constraints.
Gans (1979: 3) therefore says: obviously, journalists are in the end
individuals, but news organizations are also sufficiently bureaucratized
that very different personalities will act much the same in the same
position. Similarly, Tuchman (1978) points at the bureaucratic character
of news work, which she calls routinizing the unexpected.
Feminist research on journalism has shown how gender is enclosed by
structures and the resulting notions of professionalism. While femininity and professionalism are not inherently at odds with each other, the
current definitions of femininity and the historically specific requirements of this domain produce tensions which - while expressed in
different forms - are felt by many female journalists. In the Netherlands,
for instance, many female journalists feel that they are judged primarily
as women, being subject to continual comment on their appearance and
invitations of male colleagues. Playing this game implies losing a great

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129

deal of prestige as professional journalists. Women who ignore it,


however - or worse, criticize it - will not be accepted by their male
colleagues as real women (cf. Diekerhof et al., 1985). Senegalese female
journalists experience a different kind of tension between femininity
and professionalism. They are accused of having lost their femininity
since their jobs require them to be away from home and neglect their
husband and children (Van der Wijngaard, 1992). Whereas such tensions
are primarily the result of externally imposed definitions of femininity,
Neverla and Kanzleiter (1984) mention tensions experienced by female
journalists who feel that their own feminine qualities, such as
compassion, kindness and humanity, are at odds with qualities expected
of journalists, such as a certain amount of directness, distrust and

toughness.

130

While the pure institutional form of journalism thus favours a


masculine subjectivity, its shift towards an audience goal may at least
affect the gender dimensions in the profession. This can be illustrated by
looking at developments in Dutch national TV news (Van Zoonen, 1991).
Since the mid-1980s, the majority of news readers on Dutch national TV
news have been female. They are all highly acclaimed professionals with
a vast
experience in other fields of journalism and do not feel that there
is anything specifically feminine about their professional performance.
Their principals too contend that the women are hired for their superior
capacities, not because of affirmative action policy or because of supposed
attractiveness to audiences. There is, however, an undeniable genderspecific element in their presence that can be considered a by-product of
the organizational goals and editorial policy of the national news. In the
mid-1980s the editorial policy and style of the national news was revised.
It was thought that the news should offer audiences opportunities to
identify with events and personalities. Human-interest stories therefore
had to be a major ingredient of the news, and news readers were urged to
transform their hitherto serious mode of address into a more personal
and intimate style. Previously, the rationalistic approach was acclaimed
to prevent identification; now the entertainment value and emotional
qualities have to be emphasized. In theory this could have been achieved
with an all-male anchor team, but that would deny the gendered nature
of subjects and the gendered nature of cultural expectations and values.
While it is definitely not the case that the anchorwomen were recruited
simply because they were women, it does seem that the change in
editorial policy towards audience goals opened up a space in which
feminine subjectivity may be quite functional.5
Holland (1987) has observed such tendencies in British TV news and a
similar phenomenon can be seen in war reporting, another former
stronghold of institutional, masculine journalism. Sebba (1994, cited in
Gallagher, 1996) claims that it is no coincidence that a high proportion of

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the women journalists who covered the Gulf War worked for television.
She argues that war is given added drama when reported by a woman
and that the image of women themselves may distract audiences from
the horrors of the war: The worlds war zones are chock-a-block with
would-be Kate Adies risking their lives for minor stations in the hope of
landing the big story because they know that what the major networks
want is a front-line account from a (preferably pretty) woman in a
flackj acket (quoted in Gallagher, 1996: 2).
We can conclude then, that in the institutional, masculine domain of
news, organizational routines, requirements and its specific definition of
professionalism and objectivity are the prime constituents of journalists
daily work, preventingjournalists from taking sides or being committed
to specific causes. Journalists can vary their approaches within the
confines of these constraints, but as gender analyses of journalism have
shown, the gender subjectivity assumed of journalists and that fits with
overall structures is masculine. The latter element may change with
journalisms general shift towards an audience goal, making femininity a
more self-evident component of this kind of journalism (Van Zoonen,

1998).
li. Audience, masculine
This is an extremely popular and profitable category, with sports, crime,
sex and cars/motors and a high journalist and audience investment as its
main features. Compared to the institutional, masculine domain of
journalism, there is little research in this area (but see Chibnall, 1977).
Tunstalls work onjournalists ( 19 71 ) and television producers ( 1993) provides some ideas on the articulation of structure, agency and subjectivity,
especially in the work of sports journalists.
Television coverage of sports involves an enormous amount of people
and a rather high level of technical complexity, especially when it comes
to the coverage of live events. In addition, the commercial and financial
ramifications of sportsjournalism are considerable. Also, as Tunstall
points out ( 1993: 70), recent developments in TV sports contracts involve
a gradual merging of the interests of television with the interests of
professional sport. A telling example of this development could be observed
in the Netherlands recently, where the national soccer federation tried to
launch a commercial sports-channel in cooperation with business
interests and failed miserably. Also, sports journalists are closer to their
audiences than journalists in the masculine insitutional domain.
These features of sports journalism produce a daily work routine that
is characterized by closeness to the source and a recognized mutual
interest of journalists and sources; by love or fandom of the topic (sports)
rather than distance; and by siding with the audience and asking their
questions rather than trying to inform them on the basis of objective

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131

standards. In addition, it requires a thorough knowledge of the collective


and individual psychologies of sports people and their subcultures. Since
most sports journalism is about men, here too it is masculinity (or at least
a thorough understanding of it) that is a key element for professional
performance. Thus, subjectivity thought of as being a sportsman rather
than reporting on him seems a necessary part of sports journalism; in
many sports shows, former sportspeople appear as commentators and
experts. Defined somewhat differently as taking sides, subjectivity is also
required of sports journalists especially when it comes to covering
national sportspeople and teams in international contests. Then, obviously, we have the best team, and objective statements as to the
qualities of the opponent would be rare. In addition, Tudor (1997) in discussing English sports journalism has convincingly argued that sports
reporting is also subjective in terms of its racist treatment of black soccer
players and teams.
Technical, financial and organizational structures will provide strong
constraints for sportsjournalists. However, these structures are articulated differently with gender than in traditional news journalism. The
blurred line between sports journalism and its field, and the high
personal and audience investment, seem to require the masculinity of its
journalists willingly and visibly put in, as opposed to traditional news
journalism, where masculinity is the hidden norm.
Whether structure, agency and gender are articulated similarly in
other genres in this domain is an empirical question. Although it is
tempting to suggest that in the areas of sex, crime and motoring masculine subjectivity seems also necessary to perform as a professional who
knows how to meet structural requirements, historically crime journalism has provided possibilities for women journalists as well, for
mstance for the sob sisters working for the turn-of-the-century yellow

press (Mills, 1996).


Audience, feminine
In this cluster, at first sight quite different media texts come together,
but local television news and gossip or celebrity magazines seem too far
apart to be easily reconciled in one domain. What the texts in this cluster
share, however, is a profound sense of community among their audiences.
In gossip magazines this is the imagined community of stars, which
function as a kind of extended family for readers (Hermes, 1995), in local
television news it is the immediate geographic community. The
gendered composition of their journalists and audiences varies but in
both women have a higher visibility than in the two masculine genres
discussed thus far.
The low social status of these texts may be one of the reasons for the
absence of research on the way these media are produced. Feminist
111.

132

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researchers have focused somewhat on womens magazinejournalists, but


from a highly critical perspective. Talkshows and local television news
have attracted mainly reception researchers. I draw from Fergusons
(1983) analysis of womens magazines, Birds (1992) study of supermarket tabloids and some of my own work on Dutch gossip journalists to
explore the articulation of structure, agency and gender in this domain

(Van Zoonen, 1997).


Ferguson (1983) calls the editors of womens magazines the high
priestesses to the Cult of Femininity. She describes them as fairly
different from each other, with a variety of personal and editing styles
that makes it impossible to speak of a typical womens magazine editor:
As might be expected from such a collection of &dquo;unique&dquo; individuals,
their ways of working are various and frequently mysterious (Ferguson,
1983: 120). Nevertheless, Ferguson claims that these editors do comprise
a group, not only because most of them are female but also because they
share certain standards of what constitutes professional womens
magazine journalism and because they form a fairly cohesive network.
They agree in particular on the definition of professional success in
commercial terms, such as circulation and advertisement revenues; they
care for their readers in ethical as well as affective or cognitive terms;
and they value therefore practical advice to readers, entertainment and
value for money. Most of them agree on the utility, validity and
legitimacy of antuition as a guide for action (Ferguson 1983: 141-2,
emphasis added); they value autonomy, meaning that they expect to be
free from external pressures and free to take decisions on subject and
advertising matters; and they all see themselves as professional
journalists. As in other genres, womens magazine journalists are constrained by financial, organizational and genre requirements, but what is
particularly striking in Fergusons account is the role of intuition in the
editorial process. Whereas on closer examination this intuition can
sometimes be seen to be the individual translation of various known
audience and market imperatives, it is quite clear that a thorough
knowledge of and feeling for the world of women is necessary for
womens magazine editors. In other words, gender subjectivity
(femininity) accords particularly well with the structural requirements
of womens magazine journahsm.
Birds (1992) study of American supermarket tabloids shows that
partly thesejournalists work does not differ very much from that of
other news journalists, especially those doing feature stories. They too
have stables of sources, they use similar kinds of background material,
write frequently about science, medicine and self-help. Not surprisingly,
many tabloidjournalists have a background in straightjournalism and
Bird therefore wonders: How is it that experienced newspaper
journalists can so readily adapt to a tabloid setting, even continuing to

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133

many of the same techniques they have learned in daily newspapers?


The articulation of structure, agency and subjectivity
individual
(meaning
preferences here), however, is different from traditional news journalism. An extremely important structural constraint
Bird mentions is that of the specific tabloid formula expressed in the use
of certain kinds of words, the single metaphor as the gist of every article
and the extensive use of adjectives. In feature writing for straight
newspapers the formulaic constraints seem less. In addition, the
commercial pressure to come up with stories that people want to read
leads to what is called creative interviewing and quoting sources that do
not exist. Bird quotes a former tabloid journalist who says: stories have
less to do with what is really happening and more to do with what &dquo;the
editor wishes to have happen&dquo; (1992: 89). Such practices are, of course,
what have earned the tabloids the reputation of debasement and sleaze,
and are well documented for other countries as well. Gunther Walraffs
astonishing undercover story of being a reporter at the German
Bildzeltung, for instance, testifies to numerous such practices (1977). It
leaves ample room for the individual crusades of editors and journalists,
albeit within the confines of the general editorial policy. In the Dutch
gossip press, for instance, analogous to the American supermarket tabloids, journalists have been seen to use their pencil to fight their personal
animosities with Dutch celebrities or politicians (Van Zoonen, 1997).
Within a tighter structure, then, it seems there is more room for subjectivity to be defined as being unfair and sloppy, or committed to a
personal cause. On the basis of this literature nothing can be said about
use

(1992: 105)6

gender.

134

IV. Institutional, feminine


As I indicated earlier, the emptiness of this cluster seems to point to the
fact that institutionally orientedjournalism with feminine overtones is
a contradiction in terms. There are some nationally specific
examples of
talkshows that could qualify as such (Sreberny-Mohamaddi and Van
Zoonen, 1998), but the only complete genres that may be seen as part of
this cluster are womens magazines during the Second World War,
feminist media and to a certain extent the local press, particularly
because of the composition of its readership.
Research in this area is just as scarce and delivers an incomplete
picture. From a study on feminist television programmes broadcast by
public service stations in the Netherlands in the 1980s it appeared that
these producers had to struggle very hard for decent air-time, technical
support and financing. Once these struggles were over - if very rarely
won - producers experienced complete autonomy and by and large these
programmes can be seen as the product of the subjectivity - defined in
political, feminist terms - of their producers (Hermes and Van Zoonen,

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1988). However, the enormous distance between the subjectivity of the


producers and the organizational structure most of the time produced
ever-recurring struggles and thus a lot of dissatisfaction among the
producers. They have all turned away from feminist programming,
partly because of the incompatibility of feminist subjectivity with
organizational goals and policies. Similar results have been found among
youngjournalism graduates trying to incorporate feminist ideals in their
performance as professional journalists; they too experienced conflicting
expectations between their subjective interests and the interests of their
employers. For some this resulted in a withdrawal from journalism
altogether, but most slowly and sometimes painfully adjusted to organizational requirements and their feminist ideals slowly disappeared into
the background (Van Zoonen, 1989). Thus, feminist journalism within
larger institutionally or audience-oriented organizations seems quite
impossible, showing how structures allow for subjectivity only when
more or less in line with accepted goals.
Independent feminist media present only a marginally different
picture. Whereas here subjectivity in the form of explicit feminist ideals
is a requirement that is stimulated by the organization instead of frustrated, the economic viability of feminist media themselves is a factor
preventing the development of organizational identities altogether.
Many of these media (see Jallov, 1996) are produced by volunteers, who
are a continuously changmg
group. There are very few feminist media
that can be called journalistic organizations in the sense that they frequently, regularly and continuously produce feminist news. The few that
can be qualified as such are monthly
magazines like Ms, Emma or the
Dutch Opz*. They have small editorial staff teams and often work with a
large pool of freelancers.
If anything emerges from these preliminary comparisons of the articulation of structure, agency and subjectivity in the different domains of
journalism, it is the collective nature of journalism. In each domain, subjectivity is constrained by structural factors resulting in different forms
of agency. However, what these factors specifically are, how subjectivity is
articulated and what kinds of agency are the result, differs considerably.
In masculine journalism pursuing institutional goals, the constraints
of organizational routines, relations with sources, editorial policy, etc. are
embodied in a professional ideology that prescribes that journalists are
detached outsiders that cannot be caught promoting specific interests.
Masculinity is an inevitable but denied component of this kind of
journalism, which is, however, modified by the increasing tendency
towards the pursuit of audience goals. Agency seems more or less completely determined by structural factors despite professional mythologies
of journalism as a profession of individualists.

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135

136

In masculine journalism pursuing audience goals, the structural constraints stem primarily from the extremely close, sometimes symbiotic
relation with sources. In sports journalism in particular, closeness rather
than distance is required of journalists and, when it comes to covering
national sports events, subjectivity is a required instead of the undesirable element of professional performance. In sports journalism,
structural constraints and a professional ideology that prescribes closeness and subjectivity, thus construe a different form of agency than in the
masculine institutional domain; in addition, masculinity is the visible
rather than hidden norm for professionaljournalism here.
In feminine journalism oriented towards audiences, it is not so much
the relation with sources that circumscribes journalistic practice, but the
requirements of the market or the community that is catered for.
Journalists need a thorough understanding of their readers, either
because they are in a sense part of it (as with womens magazines) or
because they understand the readership. Professional ideology and
behaviour in this domain are typified by intuition and subjectivity, which
determine agency as much as structural constraints.
Finally, in feminine journalism connected to institutional goals, political ideology poses an important structural constraint, requiring
deliberate subjectivity but dependent in its turn on the particular
organizational setting in which it is located.
All four domains are thus typified by structural constraints of various
sorts and by subjective inputs of various sorts, the range of both seemingly endless. The research discussed by and large suggests that there is no
such person as the individual journalist. She or he has to cooperate with
colleagues, has to take the specific needs, routines and traditions of the
profession as well as the organization into account, and is limited by the
social, economic and legal embedding of the news organization. Nevertheless, as Schudson (1991: 141) observes, flesh- and -bloodjournalists literally compose the stories we call news, and we cannot think of
journalists as mutually replaceable machines. As has become clear, their
subjectivities play a part in their performance and are in three of the four
domains even expected to play a role. Only in institutional, masculine
journalism, subjectivity in whatever form is seen as an undesirable
opposition to objectivity. And even in the latter, discussions about subjectivity are coming up, partly because objectivity itself has come under
fierce attack and has been shown to be built on specific methods that
tend to favour dominant institutions, positions and persons (see for
example Hall et al., 1978; Schudson, 1978). In addition, the position of
women and ethnic groups in journalism has generated debate on the subjectivity of journalists, the key issue being whether particular gender and
ethnic subjectivities could and should play a role in journalism in order
to improve the representation of women and ethnic groups in news texts.

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Organizational

identities

suggestion resulting from this comparison of different domains in


journalism is that structures and subjectivities come together in the daily
work of journalists, resulting in various forms of agency and construing
what can be called organizational identities in journalism. The concept
intends to show that the journalist as an organizational person or a teamplayer is the primary actor in journalism, rather than the subjective
individual constrained (or not) by structural factors. As such, organizational identity is more or less coterminous with agency and can be seen
as the interface between structure and subjectivity.
The power of structures is usually conceptualized as limiting and
destructive, inhibiting the expression and impact of subjectivity: structures are thus often theorized as the antithesis of agency, as journalists
being forced into action rather than as acting. But organizational power is
not merely restrictive, it is significantly productive as well: specific
organizational policies and budgets, routines,job requirements, market
needs, etc. are intersected by discourses of subjectivity - among which
are those of gender and ethnicity - and construct an organizational
identity that reflects both the individual styles and preferences of the
communicator and the structural imperatives of the media organization,
and which is more than the sum of its parts (see Van Zoonen, 1994: 65).
Organizational identity can be visualized as follows (Figure 2):
The

Figure 2 Organizational identity

in

journalism

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137

At the

of Figure 2 is organizational identity, drawn with a thin and


line
curling
indicating that it is a product of its constituent parts, which
inter-relate in various ways, depending on the nature of the organization.
Thus, a journalist who moves from one kind of journalism to another is
expected to find her or his place and to develop a kind of organizational
identity that meets the new requirements of professionalism and organization. Likewise, when elements of journalists subjectivities change,
their organizational identity may change as well, depending on the
available space for subjectivity in the specific category. The anecdotal
example here is ofjournalists becoming parents and suddenly developing
an interest in government policy on childcare and education (Diekerhof
et al., 1985). Which specific elements of structures and subjectivity are
feeding organizational identity, and the relative strength of each part,
depends on the particular genre of journalism one is working in, as has
been shown in the discussion of the four domains of the field. The fit (or
lack of it) of structures and subjectivity in organizational identity will
greatly determine job satisfaction, performance, status and most importantly the measure of freedom and respect the journalist experiences.
The frustration of many female journalists in the institutional masculine
journalism discussed in this article is the most obvious example here.
For the very reason that work, and journalism in particular, with its
mythology of being a 24-hour life-style rather than a profession, fills
such a big part of life, it seems justified to speak of an organizational
identity rather than of an organizational role. Whereas the role concept is
much used in organizational sociology, it seems too limited and too
volatile to capture the particular mixtures of structure and subjectivity
elements that come together in journalists day-to-day performance. Also
it does not seem an appropriate concept to cover the feeling that many
journalists have that their profession is part of their whole life-style and
sense of self - a calling rather than a job.
core

Discussion
of this analysis of organizational identities in jourissues
arise: the fragmentation of present-dayjournalism;
nalisms,
and the meaning of objectivity and subjectivity in contemporary
As

an

offspring
two

journalisms.
obvious that in contemporary studies of journalism and
it
journalists has become impossible to take the field as an undivided
whole and consider journalists as a more or less homogeneous group: not
only do journalistic organizations vary with regard to their location in
society, their position in the market and their overall orientation; but also
journalists themselves comprise an increasingly varied group of people
differing in terms of gender, ethnicity, sexuality, political preferences,
It

138

seems

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Together organizations and journalists produce an important part of


the symbolic environment in which we live and by which our knowledge
about important, consequential, interesting, trivial and senseless issues
and events is guided. It is imperative in mediated societies like ours to
know and understand how our symbolic environments are constructed,
but our comprehension of contemporary journalisms and journalists is
arguably limited to a modest understanding of the workings of institutionally oriented, masculine journalism. We know comparatively little
about audience-oriented journalism either aimed at the womens or
mens market, nor of institutionally oriented journalism practised in a
feminine context. These subgenres all have different market and
organizational logics, different norms of professionalism, are made by
different kinds of people, and are differently implicated in their
audiences or readers social and political life. In many cases, it may even
seem that journalisms are incompatible with each other: is there anything a feminist journalist has in common with a motoring reporter? Is
there anything a financial reporter shares with a gossip editor?
The concept of organizational identity enables a simultaneous look at
the differences and commonalities between journalisms and journalists.
It shows that for all journalists structures and subjectivities are part of
their day-to-day performance and constitute their self-understanding as
professional journalists, that is, knowing how to meet the specific
demands of the organization in time (see McQuail, 1983). It shows at the
same time that, as organizations and subjectivities differ, journalists as
the embodiments of organizational identities differ. Thus organizational
identities in the context of institutional masculine journalism are quite
different from those in the audience-oriented, feminine field. Whereas
involvement, loyalty and a desire to please audiences would distinguish,
for instance, the womens magazine journalist, the political reporter
would stand for detachment, critical distance and a desire to examine the
quality of the political process. For both, however, subjectivity is an
integral and necessary part of their performance that is openly acknowledged by the womens magazine journalists but suppressed and
hidden in the form of invisible masculinity by the political reporter. As
we saw in the analyses of the different kinds of journalism, contrary to its
mythology the field is indeed pervaded by subjectivity embedded in and
enabled by organizational structures and taking on myriad forms.
The acknowledgement of subjectivity as a core element in contemporary journalisms requires us to look again at objectivity in journalism.
Objectivity in journalism has come under siege for various reasons: its
epistemological and ontological untenability; its practical impossibility;
its effects as an instrument of domination, etc.; nevertheless, the term
itself has maintained its value as a marker of good journalism (see
Lichtenberg, 1991), whereas its opposite, subjective journalism, is hard to 139
etc.

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envisage as positive, except possibly for clearly distmguished advocate


publications. With the ubiquity of subjectivities in journalism, however,
it seems more fruitful to consider whether the linguistic contrast
between objectivity and subjectivity implies a necessary practical
contrast too, and to examine how subjectivity and objectivity can complement each other in newly defined standards of good journalisms. When
pertaining to accuracy and fairness, for instance, objectivity can very well
be articulated with subjectivity, whether defined as taking sides or as
being part of a specific gender, ethnic or political community. The only
kind of subjectivity it would be at odds with is the sloppiness and
personal crusading characteristic of gossip and tabloid genres. A prerequisite for subjectivity to function as an ethical standard of the same
stature as objectivity, however, is its explicit presence in journalism. The
very reason why advocate journalism is often taken seriously is its
explicitness about its angles and viewpoints. Likewise, the presence of
organizational structures and requirements in journalisms should be
made explicit. The current descriptive and prescriptive denial of subjectivity and structural constraints undermines the credibility ofjournalism,
and fools no one any more, as the increasing distrust ofjournalists among
the larger public seems to suggest. In other words, journalism should
become more open about its own constructedness, subjectively and structurally, to maintain its status as a core institution of democratic societies.
Notes
1. By journalist I

here the various professionals involved in making


media, including among others reporters and editors.
In a recent poll conducted in The Netherlands only 38 per cent of the
Dutch trustedjournalists to tell the truth. In Britain this figure was only 10
per cent in 1993, whereas in 1983 it was 19 per cent. Data from the
unpublished inaugural address of Holly Semetko, University of
Amsterdam.
Tunstall distinguishes furthermore advertising goals (motoring and
fashion) and mixed goals (aviation, education, labour).
Whereas class and ethnicity are similarly important discourses as gender,
for the particular purpose of this article they seem less helpful in trying to
order the diversity of journalism. The journalistic market as a whole is
indeed also divided along class lines, for sure, with different genres aimed
at different classes, but hardly along lines of ethnicity as the almost
complete neglect of black audiences both in terms of marketing and
journalistic practices testifies. In addition, the journalistic workforce by and
large consists of white middle-class men and - to a lesser extent — women.
Both class and ethnicity, and other discourses of inequity like sexuality, are
thus important in specific journalistic contexts, such as the coverage of class
and ethmc conflict, or being a minority in the workforce, but, unlike
gender, do not pervade the field as a whole.
mean

news

2.

3.

4.

140

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5.

The fact that the most popular and successful anchor of Dutch TV news
was a man only shows that feminine
qualities are not necessarily absent

in

men.

6.

This situation is similar among journalists in The Netherlands working for


similar magazines (called gossip press there); cf. Van Zoonen (1997).

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Biographical

note
Zoonen is Associate Professor and Chair of Media Studies at the
University of Amsterdam. She has published widely on gender, media and
journalism in various international journals. She is the author of Feminist
Media Studies (1994) and co-editor of The Media in Question: Popular Cultures
and Public Interests. ADDRESS: Department of Communication, University of
Amsterdam, Oude Hoogstraat 24, 1012 CE Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Liesbet

van

[email: vanzoonen@pscw.uva.nl]

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