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Working environments influence quality in the media

| Text: Björn Lindahl

Investigative journalism and the media’s role in a democracy are the main arguments used by media companies when they ask for special treatment. There is a debate in all the Nordic countries over the media’s framework — should they be exempt from paying VAT and should digital media be subsidised?

The Norwegian foundation Fritt Ord has carried out a survey showing public trust in journalists and the media is depressingly low. The Norwegian Work Research Institute has also published a report showing how the working environment in editorial offices influences quality.

Fritt Ord commissioned the Institute for Social Research in Oslo to carry out the biggest survey of Norwegians’ opinion on the media since 1999. Some of the results include:

  • One in three people have little or no confidence in the media investigating their own social role.
  • Two in five do not believe the media are free and independent from their owners and advertisers.
  • One in five do not believe the media are free and independent from the state. 
  • One in three do not believe the media look at issues from several different angles.

“So we have low confidence in the media performing their social role which the media themselves consider to be so important. This is problematic for the media,” says Elisabeth Staksrud, one of the researchers behind the study. 

In Norway the social role is set out in what is called the ‘Be Careful Poster’, It says “a free and independent press is one of the most important institutions in a democracy”.

Behind the scenes

“It has never been easier to voice your opinion or file reports. What we need to maintain an informed public debate is that someone can carry out quality journalism and go behind the scenes and see what is really happening,” says Asbjørn Grimsmo, co-author of the report ‘Journalistic quality — what role does the working environment play in the editorial office?’ with Hanne Heen.

It is hard to believe the massive cuts to editorial jobs would not influence quality, write the two researchers. They point to a survey of journalists from the spring of 2012 where 69 percent of a representative group from the Norwegian Union of Journalists said they feared cuts would impact on quality. 

Grimsmo and Heen’s study looks at whether companies with strong social capital, defined as possessing collaborative skills, trust and righteousness, are also more quality oriented, creative and productive compared to companies with weak social capital.

To measure quality, for example, they have used 11 different criteria and compared this to how journalists answer in existing major surveys on working environments. Do they follow the ethical guidelines, is there a culture for discussing management’s priorities and do they publish their own editorial finances, and so on?

They have also used criteria for social capital and compared it to what journalists have answered to questions on whether editorial staff trust each other and whether employees trust information from management.

A link between social capital and quality

By comparing the answers to the questions about social capital with answers relating to quality and creativity, they found a link. Yet there is no statistic correlation between how engaged employees were and the quality of their work.

“Social capital and creativity has approximately the same impact on quality. Variations between the two can explain nearly 20 percent of the variation of journalistic quality between editorial offices,” says Asbjørn Grimsmo.


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