“Journalism is a function of society and not restricted to only the media or journalists. It’s much more fluid and relies on an active audience in all scenarios.”
Vinzenz Wyss, Professor of Journalism
As an academic discipline, Journalism Studies analyses the role of journalism in a societal context as well as how its structures and configurations come into existence. It also examines how these structures enable or restrict journalistic activity. Our approach is transfer-oriented and cross-disciplinary, and we apply theories and methods from the social sciences and media studies to gain useful insights for those involved in public communication.
We recognise the importance of innovation in improving journalistic quality and see ourselves as a critical authority that actively contributes to public discourse on media services. We regard journalism as an indispensable function of society and as a fluid system of organised exchange whose empirical manifestation is becoming more and more complex. We research the social practices of those involved in journalism both within and outside media organisations as well as their structural contexts, which, in turn, shape journalistic activity.
The building blocks of a quality management system
In Switzerland, radio and television stations are legally required to have the quality of their programmes assessed by an independent certification body on a regular basis. But what does quality of media products imply? How can this quality be assessed and how can it be maintained on a long-term basis through systems of quality assurance?
To answer these questions, we have developed a quality management system. It aims firstly at developing and adhering to quality-related or process-defined rules and standards. In other words, it focuses on establishing an organisation’s culture of accountability. This culture should incorporate transparent forms of self-commitment, such as codes of conduct, ethical principles and media accountability systems. Secondly, allocative and authoritative resources and procedures, such as qualified staff, performance reviews and opportunities for continuing education, are crucial for efficient quality management. Editorial quality management can only achieve its goals when, on the basis of quality principles and a quality strategy, negotiated quality objectives and standards are communicated internally and externally. Furthermore, to achieve these goals, established organisational rules and resources should be applied through ongoing management and supervision.
During the evaluation process, we use methods from the social sciences (document analysis, online surveys, guided interviews and random observations on location) in determining the extent to which quality management instruments and approaches are applied to daily editorial routines.
Journalism Studies describes, analyses and assesses frames of reference, institutional regulations (policies, resources, chains of command) and social practices involved in journalistic activity in relation to each other. This allows researchers to derive a system encompassing research, training and consulting. These are fields that we address and in which we can bring our expertise to bear in order with the aim of providing research-based recommendations and guidance.
Selected research projects
The Worlds of Journalism: Switzerland project surveys the structures of journalism in Switzerland: working conditions, standards, positions and fields of operation. This is a two-year project and is being conducted as part of the initiatives of Worlds of Journalism, an international research organisation. Project partner in western Switzerland is Professor Annik Dubied (University of Neuchatel).
The Medienqualität Schweiz (Media Quality in Switzerland) project analyses, compares and assesses the informational offerings of approximately 30 of the farthest reaching national press publications, news sites, and information formats delivered via electronic media (radio/tv) in accordance with an established rubric and based on relevant quality metrics. Additionally, we measure and assess the organisational structures of the selected media establishments or editorial offices to ensure for quality.
The Radar Medienkritik Schweiz (Radar Media Criticism) project is also being financed over a two-year period through the Swiss National Science Foundation. Using a multimethod approach, this study explores the configurations and content of public media criticism in Switzerland. Project partners are HTW Chur University of Applied Sciences and the European Journalism Observatory at the University of Lugano.
Our Introduction to Journalism Studies course focuses on journalism as a public functional system. Students become familiar with the underlying conditions that drive journalistic activity and are able to assess the impact of organisational structures on journalism. Additionally, they learn how journalism and the media are utilised and how the impact of media on recipients is established. They become aware of the factors that facilitate journalistic quality, particularly in light of constantly changing conditions.
Students know the fundamental principles and lines of reasoning in media ethics. They are in a position to justify or sanction their own activity and that of others according to standards shaping the culture of the profession. Additionally, they learn that public journalistic media also call for quality assurance and accountability. In this regard, media criticism plays an essential role, compelling media to be analysed both internally and externally. Finally, students apply theoretical principles to examine concrete issues at the heart of Journalism Studies, such as terrorism coverage, gender, working conditions, notions of quality, media politics, media promotion, innovation, data journalism and engagement.
At the consecutive Master’s level, we offer an MA degree in Digital Journalism in conjunction with our partner institution, the Hamburg Media School.
Research-based consulting projects in the field of journalism studies address issues pertaining to the practice of journalism and contribute to optimising journalistic activity and its configurations.
The following examples illustrate the spectrum of consulting activity within Journalism Studies:
On behalf of the Swiss Unions and Organisations of Journalists (SSM), we are undertaking a project titled Journalistic working conditions in public and private broadcasting in Switzerland, in which we examine the working conditions of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SRG) journalists and private sector journalists. These have become unstable over time and our objective is to draw conclusions to meet trade union requirements. Project leader: Professor Vinzenz Wyss
The ORM4Soil: Farmer driven Organic Resource Management to build Soil Fertility project (2014-2020), which is being conducted in conjunction with ten African universities and research institutions in the countries of Mali, Ghana, Zambia, and Kenya, analyses why farmers in Africa do not make use of existing technology to enhance soil fertility. As an extension of this research, new agrarian and communicative measures are being tested in an attempt to overcome documented obstacles. General project leadership: Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL). IAM Project leader: Christoph Spurk, SNF project website
Our Quality management in public and private broadcasting project, conducted in collaboration with MQA- Media Quality Assessment since 2009, has been evaluating the quality management systems of ten public (SRF) and private broadcasters in German-speaking Switzerland at regular intervals. Project leader: Professor Vinzenz Wyss. SRG Quality Guidelines (In German)
Scientists in the research and work domain of Journalism Studies regularly publish their findings in scientific publications.