The Face and Mind of the American Journalist

The typical American journalist today is:


  • At a median age of 41, five years older than a decade ago.
  • More likely to be a college graduate than in the past.
  • A little less likely to be a Democrat.
  • Better compensated than a decade ago, but with a median salary that doesn’t have the buying power of a 1970 journalist’s median salary.
  • More satisfied professionally than 10 years ago, but not as much so as in 1971.
Those are a few of the findings from the latest study of U.S. journalists conducted by researchers at Indiana University’s School of Journalism and sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The American Journalist survey continues a series of major national studies begun in 1971 and continued in 1982 and 1992 — and now again in 2002.

This is the decennial measure of the pulse of American journalism — what the U.S. Census does for the general population, this study does for the journalism profession.

This package of articles represents a first look at some key findings from the main sample of the 2002 study of U.S. journalists. It suggests, the study’s authors say, that in a time of increasing change, the core group of general-news journalists is showing signs of increased professionalism — not only with such indicators as more college graduates, but also somewhat increased endorsement of the journalistic roles of investigating government claims, analyzing complex problems, and being skeptical of business actions.

The researchers also found other signs of increased journalistic professionalism, such as less emphasis on the entertainment role of journalism; less willingness to justify employment to gain inside information, or to use personal documents without permission, to pose as someone else, to use hidden microphones or cameras; and less support of disclosing the names of rape victims. (Article continues below …)



Journalists also continued to regard journalistic training as the greatest influence on their news values, and a majority thought that the quality of journalism has been rising steadily at their news organizations. Nearly three-fourths thought that producing journalism of high quality was very important to their owners or senior managers, and a majority disagreed that profits are a higher priority than good journalism at their news organizations.

But this study suggests that there are still problems: in recruiting enough younger people to journalism; in attracting and retaining enough women and minorities; in dealing with shrinking newsroom resources. More than three-fourths of journalists think that their owners and senior managers consider above-average profits and large audience size as quite or extremely important, and a slim majority agree that at their news organizations newsroom resources have been shrinking over the past few years.

As the researchers release additional, more detailed findings from the 2002 American Journalist study, Poynter.org will publish that information.

Read more about this milestone study by viewing the detailed narratives and charts listed in the box above as part of this series (or click the links below).

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