Systematic studies of media practitioners and journalists around the world have flourished in the last few decades. Liberalization of previously authoritarian governments, and the sometimes central role the media has played in that transition, has opened new opportunities for research and cross-comparison of demographics and attitudes (Weaver, 1998).
Researchers have completed individual and cross-comparative studies of media practitioners from dozens of nations, including Eastern European and post-communist countries. Much of this research has been patterned after studies of American journalists performed by David H. Weaver and G. Cleveland Wilhoit in 1986 and 1992, following a survey template first established in the 1970s by John W.C. Johnstone, Edward J. Slawski and William W. Bowman. Their studies have also provided a longitudinal perspective to the changing demographic and attitudinal nature of the journalistic profession.
However, many countries on the periphery of Europe, such as Estonia, have frequently been left out of studies of post-communist media systems and journalism. Estonia has been an economic and political success story since regaining its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and its media has not been immune from the global economic and technological forces that have shaped work in this field.
With the lack of research that has been performed on media practitioners in Estonia, a survey of the characteristics and attitudes of journalists in this relatively new democracy is a natural fit for the growing tradition of comparative studies that are providing a transnational view of the changing nature of media work.
The research questions for the proposed study are the following:
- What are the basic characteristics of present-day Estonian media practitioners, and how have they changed between the two surveys?
- What do Estonian media practitioners like and dislike about their profession, and how has it changed over time?
- Do Estonian media practitioners in editorial management positions have different attitudinal characteristics from those in non-management roles?
- What do today’s Estonian media practitioners consider ethical behavior in their field, and how does it compare to perceptions of ethical behavior to practitioners in 2006?
- What do Estonian practitioners see as the most important roles for the media profession? Has it changed over time?
- How do Estonian media practitioners compare to their colleagues in other countries? How could these differences be explained by external factors?
The proposed research project is a normative study of media practitioners; asking questions about changing media practices and its reform.
The marketplace-of-ideas theory posits that a mass-media system as an analogue to that of a self-regulating product market, one that has allowed widely divergent interpretations, and that "duality" inherent in that philosophy has allowed wide divergent interpretations of the metaphor to develop" (Napoli, 1999).
Professional standards in media are ever-evolving, and have been codified in a series of industry codes of ethics, which include such conceptions such as a "watchdog" role of media; guarding the welfare of the public. In some ambitious formulations of this role, the media are envisioned as independent watchdogs, a social institution called the Fourth Estate of government, charged with making certain all other institutions - the three branches of government, business, religion, education, and the family - serve the public.
The initial study seems to indicate that there are particularities in how Estonian media practitioners see themselves in this role. Have the attitudes of media practitioners changed in the decade since the initial study? Have they kept the particularities in their view of the performance of media work in the intervening time, or moved towards more Western view of the "watchdog" role? Answers to these questions would shed light on normative practice and standards in the Internet era -- in both Estonia and by comparison to similar studies in other nations, of the so-called "Western concept" of media, which involves media systems that embrace aspects of both libertarian and social responsibility conceptions of media and communication practice.
The authors plan to conduct a longitudinal examination of the current makeup and attitudes of media practitioners in Estonia. It will utilize data, at present unpublished, from a quantitative survey performed first by the Scott Abel (potential PhD student on the project) in 2006 to examine the demographic characteristics and attitudes of these journalists to determine what they see as the role and state of their profession as Estonian society.
This study, revised and re-run, will reveal how those demographic and attitudinal markers have changed over the past 12 years as the traditional media models have been upended by technological and economic change. This study also seeks to illuminate how Estonian journalists compare to their colleagues in other nations, utilizing the rich comparative global literature published in the last few decades.
The current project will build upon a previous study conducted in 2006 to obtain longitudinal data and survey the changes that have taken place in the industry during the last 12 years.
For the purpose of this study, a media practitioner is defined as the editorial staff of a news-gathering organization, or as the group of people who participate in the gathering and processing of news that is relayed to the public. A quantitative survey instrument, translated into Estonian, Russian, and English, was designed in 2006 to answer research questions related to the makeup and attitudes towards their work of current Estonian media practitioners, utilizing techniques established in previous studies of other nations. These questions attempted to provide a descriptive baseline for the further examination of the backgrounds, careers, attitudes and work of the media in Estonian society.
The original survey in 2006 contained nominal, ordinal, and scale-level items, either in the form of demographic questions about gender, age, amount of media experience (e.g. “How many years of professional media experience do you have?” or in the form of a Likert-scale queries, where respondents were asked to note their degree of agreement or disagreement with questions (e.g., “How important are these aspects of your current job to you?”). These were followed by questions about such items as salary level, job security, and questions about what they believe is in ethical behavior in the field.
A national sampling strategy was used in the original study. A database of addresses and e-mails of all Estonian journalists working at Estonian-language or Russian-language media in the country was constructed. 892 contacts were identified as part of the population for study. A total of 227 useable surveys were returned for a 25.4% response rate, acceptable for survey research using mail or e-mail correspondence (Poindexter and McCombs, 2000; Wimmer and Dominick, 2000).The data was analyzed with SPSS software for Chi-Square analysis comparison.
The general statistical “profile” of the typical Estonian media practitioner in 2006 was the following: A married ethnic-Estonian female in her 30s with a four-year bachelor’s degree. They worked in the capital Tallinn, was not religious, and her political leaning was on the right-side of the Estonian spectrum. Estonian media practitioners did not embrace the concept of the “watchdog role” in the field to the same extent as workers in older democracies. They did, however, embrace an activist role for media and journalism, and feel an increasing need to cater to public interests.
Media practitioners at Russian-language newspapers, radio and television programs were included in the initial study. However, the rate of response was too low to determine if the demographics or attitudes of these journalists differed statistically in any significant way from workers at Estonian-language outlets.
In 2006, Estonia was one of the few countries that demonstrated a balance in gender hiring practices, with a little more than half of the workforce in this study self-identifying as female. In a study of global differences in media, which included 21 nations, Finland was the only country with comparable numbers.
One of the areas that Estonians differed from their peers in other countries, especially in Europe, is in their political outlook. Politics, particularly in the Scandinavian-Baltic Sea area, are generally led by center-left social democratic parties, and media practitioners tend to fit that mold in Europe, as they do in the United States. Political leanings or affiliations of media workers is a sensitive subject for many in Europe, as many believe that the credibility of media and journalism might suffer if journalists’ political attitudes were known by the public (Heinonen, 1998).
A vast majority (83.7%) of Estonian media practitioners reported in 2006 that they were very satisfied (20.3%) or satisfied (63.4%) with their job, which was close to the average of many European nations and the United States during that period. Only 12.3% said they thought they would not be in media work in five years. Earlier studies of media workers around the world indicate that there is a direct correlation between the percentage that put freedom/autonomy as one of the top aspects of their job and job satisfaction.
This was also indicated in this research. Estonian media practitioners cited, by a large majority (63.7%), the amount of freedom they have at work as a very important aspect of their job. A statistically significant correlation between freedom at work and the level of job satisfaction was found. The most-often mentioned problems about working in Estonian media was the small salary, the dependence on technology and the stress level, and there was a statistically significant impact of salary and stress levels on job satisfaction.
Given the changes in that have taken place in media since that time – both economically and technologically, it would be fascinating to re-visit those questions; to see how today’s Estonian media practitioners think about their work, think about their job satisfaction, and see how the demographic characteristics of the field have changed in the intervening time. Internet survey techniques developed since the first study offer the possibility of a more immediate and through sample of the study population, as well.
Also, given that lists of people working in media in Estonia were assembled for the initial study, it would be possible to compare the list with those working in the profession today and examine what the turnover rate has been in the study period. Selective interviews with current and former media practitioners could shed light on the primary reasons for turnover in Estonia.
Relevance of the study
The planned longitudinal study hopes to shed light on how the economic and technological changes have impacted the media landscape in Estonian society, and fit into global portrait of media work and attitudes that has been evolving over the last five decades.
By completing a longitudinal study of this type, it would allow the Estonian case to be directly compared to sister studies in other nations, and see if Estonian media continue to still have characteristics still unique to their workforce in the 2000s, or if they have changed, either becoming more distinct or have evolved towards baselines shown in studies of other countries.
Such a study could help illuminate the changes that have taken place in the business and social environment of Estonian society, help connect Estonian media to the larger global scholarship on media and business change, and give practitioners a snapshot of how they fit into the larger picture of their profession. It will also provide valuable insights into the media management of Estonia.
Heinonen, A, (1998) “The Finnish Journalist: Watchdog with a Conscience,” in Global Journalist: News People around the World, ed. David H. Weaver (Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, Inc.), 165.
Johnstone, J.W.C, Slawski, E.J. and Bowman, W.B. (1976) News People: A Sociological Portrait of American Journalists and Their Work. Chicago: University of Illinois Press
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Poindexter, P. and McCombs, M. (2000), Research in Mass Communication: A Practical Guide (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2000), 150.
Weaver D.H and Wilhoit G.C. (1986) The American Journalist: A Portrait of U.S. News People and Their Work, Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Weaver D.H and Wilhoit G.C. (1998) Journalists in the United States. In Global Journalist: News People around the World, ed. David H. Weaver. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, Inc., 395-414.
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Wimmer, R. and Dominick J. (2000) Mass Media Research: An Introduction, 6th ed. (Belmont, Wadsworth, 2000), 186.
Supervisor: Professor Katri Kerem