Journalists in the Netherlands

Late december, we (Liesbeth Hermans, Maurice Vergeer & Alexander Pleijter) published a report on a survey amongst journalists in the Netherlands. The report itself is in Dutch, but maybe with a little luck the graphs and tables speak for themselves.
Read the summary of the report below, or read the report online or download it from this download link.

The average Dutch journalist is a man of 50 years having attended a journalism course at college level. He works for a print medium, on average some 25 years. Journalists mostly have a permanent position, something that is not too obvious, because almost half of the journalists nowadays work on a freelance basis.
In recent years journalists saw more women make their appearance in the newsroom, often having a university degree. This is part of an ongoing  trend: many younger colleagues have an academic degree. What has not changed is the political orientation of his colleagues, which is still quite leftish.
The journalistic profession is mostly a full time job of 38 hours per week. Of course, there are colleagues who work part time, but there are also many colleagues who put many more hours, some up to 60 per week.
The journalists’ main activity on an average workday is writing reports and articles. In addition, they also edit the texts of other editors. All journalists perform some additional tasks. Some leave their desks to do reports, and some even take the photos to go with the articles.
Journalists see it as their task providing a service, to bring the latest news, current and important developments as quickly as possible to the audience. But also to interpret the news and complex information and to be able to present it in an understandable manner to the audience. Journalists aim to be critical of politics and government. If there are serious societal problems, it is journalists’ task to make it public. However, journalists do not want to be activists; influence the political agenda or stand up for weak groups in society. Commerce influencing journalism is something the journalists do not like at all: adapting journalistic production to suit the needs of advertisers is an abomination to them.
Journalists in general subscribe to the classic journalistic values. Independence is especially important to them, i.e. not being influenced by pressures from the government, political parties, or businesses. Journalists have their own responsibility to assess what is important and what is not. In this respect they report in an objective and neutral manner. Still considered of great importance is rebuttal and checking of information. Maintaining such journalistic principles is badly needed, according journalists. They thinks it is good that these journalistic principles are drafted in a journalistic code of conduct and supervised by the Press Council. The ethics of journalism are too important to just be left unmonitored.
Incidentally journalists think nuanced about journalistic ethics. It is not all black and white; it depends on the situation at hand. Journalists look into business or political documents, even if it is illegal, as long as it is in the public interest. This is different when it concerns private documents (e.g. letters). They would never use it, although a minority still think it is allowed in some cases. The same holds for bothering uncooperative sources and if the situation demands it –  if the situation demands it, then it needs to be done. However, journalists detest the shaming of the confidence of people who have entrusted them with information. A promise is a promise. Sources and the public should be able to trust a journalist.
Journalists provide a service to the public. When journalists write articles, they always keep in mind who the public is. They consider comments and feedback from his readers as useful. The public also provides valuable contributions at times, for example, tips or photos. That does not mean that the public should have more influence on the content of the news. Checking the facts, interpretation of trends and selecting what is important is still something that should left up to the journalists, not the public.
The Internet plays an important role in their work. Journalists are online for about 50% of the day, in particular to track the latest news, check facts and run background checks.
Journalists rarely have a blog. Some have started a blog, but about half of them already have stopped, mostly because it takes too much time because of the extra work it entails. Mostly, journalists think there are more important things to do than to maintain a blog.
Journalists use social media for journalistic work only marginally. A minority uses Twitter, particularly to read tweets. Some fanatic journalists tweet messages themselves, but that is a minority in the newsroom.
The Internet is useful, but is the Internet’s a great blessing for journalism? No, not really, according the majority of journalists. Although the Internet is no threat to the credibility of journalism, journalists feel that the Internet has affected journalistic accuracy. Most journalists feel their colleagues are too careless using information they find on the Internet. With regret they conclude that the era of checking the news first and then publishing is over.

Nederlandse journalisten in 2010. Onderzoek naar de kenmerken van de beroepsgroep, professionele opvattinge…

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Maurice Vergeer

I am Maurice Vergeer, working at Communication Science department of the Radboud University Nijmegen, in the Netherlands.