Study: Journalists in Estonia not shy of adding context to news items

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Microphones belonging to the major media channels in Estonia: Private media firms Postimees, Ekspress Meedia and TV3, and public broadcaster ERR.

While journalistic input into news pieces can be perceived as biased in some cases, intervention in text in placing things into context can also bring with it positive aspects, ERR journalist Grete-Liina Roosve finds in her bachelor's thesis recently defended at the University of Tartu.

A summary in English of the original thesis follows.

Intervention in journalistic work is perceptible in the news via the use of, for instance, the first person, interpretation of events, qualifying adjectives, proposals and the opinion of the individual journalist.

The role of intervention in journalism is multi-faceted, however, hence the reasons for varying greatly.

In most cases, journalists are aware of their intervention in articles and even embrace it in an unbiased way, by using their expertise and opinions to help the audience understand the content better.

In others, intervention could imply biased journalism, but it is important to note that it is nearly impossible for any person to be fully objective.

In some, more complex topics in particular, intervention could be necessary because the journalist is in that way help the audience understand the content more effectively. In that case, the participation of a journalist does not always mean that the output news is biased.

Intervention in Estonian news was detected in two news stories out of every five.

Journalists intervene most often through interpretation (28 percent of all stories). Journalists use qualifying adjectives in 23 per cent of news, and express their opinion in 13 per cent of news. It is not, however, common to use the first person or make proposals via Estonian news (this happened in around 6 per cent in each case, in news items).

There was less intervention in public service media (Eesti Rahvusringhääling, ERR) than in private media outlets. Journalists at Eesti Päevaleht (a daily newspaper, privately owned) intervened most in their stories, while journalists at ERR intervened less in online news.

The difference between interventions in outlets can be explained by the dissimilar work arrangements of the media conglomerates, and the differences in editorial press cultures.

Journalists intervened most in entertainment news, and less in news concerning infrastructure and health.

It should be noted that with the last category, the share of proposals was higher than the overall average, as it earned a lot of media coverage in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The interventionism was high in entertainment news because journalists need to be more descriptive to express more emotion in text. This makes the presence of the journalist more recognizable to their audience.

The share of interventionism was high regarding news which used private citizens as a source, and low regarding news using politicians and also businessmen.

Private citizens do not carry with them a lot of authority or power, meaning journalists can be more adventurous while interviewing them or transcribing an interview. On the other hand, when interviewing politicians, businessmen or other influential people, a certain caution is taken into account to avoid charges of favoritism, or other public criticism.

This is the first thesis to study the journalistic interventionist role in Estonian news and the varying implications connected with it. Moreover, there has not been any wide-ranging analysis of the journalistic roles in Estonian news whatsoever. This quantitative thesis focuses on the share of intervention in news, but does not look into the causes and consequences of that intervention.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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