Perceptions and Manifestations of Autonomy, Transparency and Harm among U.S. Newspaper Journalists

Patrick Lee Plaisance, Joan A. Deppa

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


The media ethics literature is filled both with calls to more clearly define the values that govern media practitioners and with claims about which values ought to drive good journalism. Yet virtually nowhere in the field has social psychology research into the nature of values been brought to bear on this discussion. Based on an analysis of a series of in-depth interviews with 15 newspaper journalists in California, New Jersey and North Carolina, this examination of how journalists perceive, articulate and seek to embody their personal values in their work suggests that, far from working in a moral vacuum, journalists bring to bear a number of morality-based and competency-based values on their everyday ethical decision-making. Drawing from the body of value-theory research in social psychology, the analysis suggests that 1) journalists may have an inadequate conceptualization of journalistic autonomy; 2) the field suffers from an excessively wide range in the degree to which journalists embrace the goal of transparent deliberation; and 3) the journalistic admonition to “minimize harm” requires clarification within the profession.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)327-386
Number of pages60
JournalJournalism and Communication Monographs
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication


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