Comparative research on professionalism, journalism, and “situated ethics”

Silvio Waisbord
School of Media and Public Affairs,
The George Washington University, U.S.A.


The dissonance between journalists’ normative beliefs and actual performance in the global South needs to be the point of departure for fine-grained, comparative studies about professionalism, journalism and democratic ethics. This means the study of “situated ethics” – how journalists negotiate personal beliefs and the organizational logics of newswork, and whether and how they seek to gain professional autonomy while working for news organizations driven by myriad interests rather than a solid commitment to the public good. At a time of remarkable transformations in the news industry and journalism, it is necessary to reconsider conventional perspectives in the study of professionalism and journalistic practice. It is misguided to theorize about journalistic ethics or assess journalists’ values without considering the real conditions of newswork shaped by politics, economics, and bureaucracies. We need to place the study of professional ethics within changing conditions in newswork – new conceptions of journalism and journalists, the proliferation of news content and practices, novel ways of conceptualizing and organizing newsrooms, and increased economic pressures to produce content fast and cheaply. This presentation discusses possible lines of comparative inquiry on professionalism and journalistic ethics that foreground a critical institutional approach and draw evidence from across the global South.