Studying journalism in France is not the same as studying the same topic in Germany. It is not only about language, the differences go way beyond. Research traditions, different turning points, certain research personalities that have shaped the academic landscape, certain ways of conceptualizing the research topic and research methods that vary between the two countries on both sides of the Rhine. Although it seems that France and Germany have similar media and journalism systems, a closer look reveals numerous differences. History, politics, and culture might explain some details, but an analysis of different dynamics in the development of journalism research and the interplay with academic journalism education allows the differences that exist today between two research communities to be better understood. These two research communities rarely cooperate in the field of communication research in general and journalism research in particular.
Of course, there are many examples of French-German cooperation in the field of journalism, as among them ARTE, binational university degree programs, programs for young journalists, French-German associations, etc. However, in the scientific community only few researchers are working at this intersection. The lack of a French-German dialogue in the field of journalism studies might seem astonishing from an outside perspective. A look at the history of German and French journalism studies and journalism education provides a better understanding of the different pathways that the disciplines in both countries have taken and their impact (or not) on academic journalism education.
Any research into the epistemology of a research field, the development of its institutionalization, the evolution of methodological approaches, and the different scientific discourses requires that the researcher take a step back and builds up a distance to their own academic field and their own academic routines. Especially given the risks of personal bias, it is impossible to do justice to more than a century of journalism research in Germany and more than thirty years in France. This contribution can only be an attempt to shed light into the parallels and differences of two research landscapes that are not that homogenous as it might seem.
The different developments and institutionalizations make it difficult to name the academic disciplines. The German Kommunikationswissenschaft can be translated as Communication Science, especially as both are epistemologically and methodologically relatively close. And the German field of journalism research, called Journalismusforschung or Journalistik is relatively close to international Journalism Studies. A closer look at the editorial boards of international journals or the representatives of international associations in the field of journalism studies shows that German scholars are internationally active and present, which underlines the similarities between the academic disciplines. It is more difficult to translate the names of the disciplines on the French side: the translation of the French Sciences de l’Information et de la Communication is “Sciences of Information and Communication” and there is no equivalent to Journalism Studies in French, as will be explained later. When naming the German and French academic disciplines in English, one has to keep in mind the complexity behind the denominations.
This article is a possible response to the main question as to why there is no German-French dialogue in the field of journalism studies and how the development of journalism studies and university journalism training in France and Germany might have an impact on journalism studies. In a first step, it is important to comprehend the different developments of journalism research in France and in Germany and to understand the institutionalization of journalism research as well as the role of journalism research within communication science. Then, in a second step, an analysis of the development of journalism research and academic journalism education reveals a particular relationship between the two, their dynamics are different in both countries. Finally, in the third chapter, a closer look at aspects of past and current French and German journalism research accentuates the differences between them, while also revealing the possible complementarity as well.
The History of Journalism Studies in France and Germany
Today Journalism Studies is an international field of studies, being one of the biggest divisions within international scientific associations such as the ICA or ECREA, and there are research communities in many counties. But the beginnings and the development of Journalism Studies differ between countries, in this case France and Germany. A look at the history of the academic disciplines and the place of Journalism Studies within the national communication associations enables us to better understand why there are such different perspectives on journalism, which even today are hardly perceived in the other country.
The Beginnings in Germany After 1916: Journalism as a New Field of Study
Siegfried Weischenberg, a German journalism scholar, includes the theories of Max Weber in German journalism research as Weber’s research concerned journalism and media among other things. In 1910, Weber conceptualized and presented a research plan to study the press from a sociological point of view. Even though the study was never completed, it can be interpreted as the first demand for journalism to be studied using empirical research methods. His wish was first fulfilled approximately 60 years later. At first, academic research into journalism and newspapers, the so-called Zeitungswissenschaft (“science of newspapers”), had a historical and normative approach and journalism was considered to be the result of the talent and the capabilities of a few individuals.
Although journalism had already been the subject of lectures in the 19th century, the first journalism departments were founded at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1916, Karl Bücher founded the first German department in the large field of Communication Studies. The Institut für Zeitungskunde in Leipzig offered an academic program for future journalists as well as a place to study journalism and newspapers. The second department was founded three years later in Münster (1919), the so-called Lektorat für Zeitungskunde under the direction of the journalist Friedrich Castelle and with Karl D’Ester as an academic teacher. Both are today two of the biggest departments for Communication Studies in Germany. In both cases the scientific interest for journalism resulted in the creation of departments that would soon not only work on journalism research, but on communication as well.
The lack of empirical studies on journalism and journalists in the early phase of the German Newspaper Science called Zeitungswissenschaft was a topic that caused Ferdinand Tönnies in 1930 to publicly criticize the lack of a sociological approach in Zeitungswissenschaft and to describe it as a part of sociology. Emil Dovifat, however, was of the opinion that Zeitungswissenschaft should be an independent academic discipline and couldn’t imagine it being studied as a mere aspect of different disciplines such as sociology, literature, economics and psychology. The dispute showed the first steps towards the institutionalization of academic research of journalism studies and the emergence of a scientific community. From that beginning until 1960, the German Zeitungswissenschaft passed through four stages: between 1890 and 1925 scholars began to identify the newspaper as their common research object. During the second stage (1925-1933) researchers intensified research on newspapers and started to create a scientific network around this object of study. The third phase (1933-1945) was overshadowed by World War II and Nazi-ideology, and so the fourth stage was about the reconstruction of journalism research after 1945.
New Developments in the 1960s: A Turning Point in Germany, a New Field of Study in France
Although German Journalism Studies has always been a field of research that integrates different fields of expertise and academics, in 1960 Werner Schöllgen introduced the notion of “integrating science”. The 1960s also marked a turning point in German Journalism Studies, which transitioned from a normative human science (Geisteswissenschaft) to an academic field that incorporated sociological and psychological perspectives as well as the (at that time in particular quantitative) methods of empirical social research. The inspiration came from the observation of US American communication research, which led German Journalism Studies being repositioned as a social science. Different researchers described this transition as a liberating and new and necessary recommencement after World War II, while others are still criticizing the neglect of certain perspectives and research methods.
In France, the first center for Communication Studies (CECMAS, Centre d’Études des Communications de Mass-média) was founded in 1960 with the aim of conducting research into “massive phenomena of our contemporary society such as press, radio, television, cinema, advertising” with all their different dimensions: “economic, sociological, ideological, even anthropological”. Methodologically, the research center concentrated on content analysis, but Roland Barthes indicated that this would not be sufficient as the so-called mass media had a language, that needed to be analyzed along with the content. Despite the collaborative work on popular culture, the researchers did not want to found an academic discipline that would concentrate on communication science. But the CECMAS paved the way for the establishment of the later new academic discipline. Roland Barthes, for example, would be one of the founding members of the French Sciences de l’Information et de la Communication that was created in 1975, and the academic journal Communications of the research center CECMAS is to this day one of the major French journals in Communication Science.
The Science of Communication and Journalism Studies Since the 1970s
As a result of the development of media and the scientific interest for broader topics regarding the large field of communication, journalism was no longer the only center point in Germany. The renaming of the national association from “Deutsche Gesellschaft für Publizistik- und Zeitungswissenschaft” (created in 1963) - with an emphasis on journalism - into “Deutsche Gesellschaft für Publizistik- und Kommunikationswissenschaft” (1972) Communication Science in Germany formally became a field of study that covered a huge variety of topics.
The historical development in Germany from journalism to the wider field of communication was not mirrored in France. The French Sciences de l’Information et de la Communication (SIC, in plural) were founded by Roland Barthes, Robert Escapit and Jean Meyriat and have a strong literature tradition. During the first conference, Escarpit explained the new way of thinking and analyzing information and communication: information as data and communication as permanent process. The pluralistic-disciplinary approach to communication changed into a discipline that distinguished itself from others while still maintaining a pluralistic-theoretical interdisciplinary approach. Not the research topic – communication – was (and is) specific to the new field of study, but how researchers think and work in their discipline. Yves Jeanneret and Bruno Oliver summarize this by focusing on two main aspects: the idea that information and communication are one ensemble and by conducting interdisciplinary research. Specific to French communication research is the pragmatic-cultural-semiotic approach to analyzing simultaneous interaction on different levels, such as public, interpersonal or mediated communication.
Löffelholz describes the study of Manfred Rühl “Die Zeitungsredaktion als organisiertes soziales System” (1969) (“The newsroom as an organized social system”) as the turning point in German journalism theory. Instead of an individualistic approach, that is to say journalists in the center of research, Rühl describes journalism as a system. According to Rühl, newsrooms are based on the structures of roles within the newsroom and decision-making processes during the work. This meant no longer seeing journalism as a purely talent based profession and seeing newspapers within their societal structures. Journalism research in Germany thus converted from an ideology regarding the profession to “modern empirical-analytical journalism research”.
Journalism Studies in France, in contrast, is a quite recent field of studies, mainly since the 1990s. In the 1990s, different researchers in France studied the development, the institutionalization and societal challenges of journalism and the journalistic profession during the first half of the 20th century. Denis Ruellan underlines that the first studies in the 1990s concentrated on different aspects of journalism, but that they highlighted that journalists were a “group” with their own structures and who voluntarily formed a collective dynamic. While journalism was the starting point of the history of Communication Science in Germany, it was the opposite in France: a specific interest in journalism emerged approximately three decades after the creation of the CECMAS. Journalism Studies still do not exist as such in France, which results in the lack of visibility of journalism research in France.
Nicolas Pélissier and François Demers identify three time periods in the development of French journalism research. During the first phase (1937-1976), researchers developed a common knowledge on press and journalism even though they marginalized journalism research at the same time. The French Institute for Press (Institut Français de Presse, IFP) played a specific role during the first period as being the only place dedicated to journalism and press providing a first doctoral dissertation in the 1970s. The second stage (1976-1996) was characterized by the affirmation of academic knowledge on journalism. Researchers began to work on different topics within journalism research, they started to interact and align with researchers abroad. The topics of research included other media as well, especially television. Even though different academic disciplines (political sciences, sociology, economics, linguistics, etc.) began working on journalism and contributed to a dispersed field of research, the second phase of journalism research at the beginning of the 1990s is marked by its first structuring. The authors see the beginning of the third phase in journalism studies being kick-started by Pierre Bourdieu, who published his famous Sur la télévision in 1996. Different research methods and perspectives were applied to journalism research (content analysis, discourse analysis, qualitative research methods, narratology, anthropological and experimental approaches, constructivism). In contrast to Germany, French journalism research, in general, uses qualitative methods to understand the “mechanisms of journalistic productions as a collective action”. Since 1996, different coalitions and cooperation enabled new dynamics within the field of journalism studies which will be explained in the next chapter.
Journalism Research and the Structure of Academia in Germany and France
German Communication Studies in general and Journalism Studies in particular are much more internationally oriented than in France. Many in Germany (and German speaking colleagues) are on the editorial boards of the international journals and are representatives of different associations and divisions on an international level. Without diving deeper into the different ways in which international careers and publication activities are recognized by the scientific community in France and in Germany, it is obvious that international activities are very visible within the German community of Communication Science, whereas international activities in France are often limited to international, but French-speaking communities.
The German association of Communication Studies (DGPuK) holds an annual conference and each division, such as the division of Journalism Studies, holds an annual conference as well. As many German scholars attend international conferences (ICA, ECREA) as well as local ones, and as internationally and locally there are divisions of Journalism Studies, it is quite easy to identify the scholars that are working in the same field. The annual meetings enable bonds to be created beyond the presentations. The German Journalism division (Fachgruppe Journalistik/Journalismusforschung) was founded in 1991 and is one of the biggest divisions within the DGPuK. In a statement describing the aims, the division describes a wide range of interest that researchers are working on, such as: “journalistic practices and contents, the structures that shape journalism, the general framework of journalism and its role in society as well as the relationship between journalism and its public”. The division is for researchers that are working on theory and on empirical questions regarding journalism, on the academic and practical education of journalists as well as on the application of scientific knowledge in journalistic practice. All in all, Journalistik – German Journalism Studies – combines “different theoretical perspectives with a variety of empirical and normative approaches”. The division underlines the importance of international research and debates, but which tends to mean that international exchange is generally prioritized towards countries in which the research approach is similar and where the main research language is English. This is certainly one of the main reasons why there is little French-German exchange within Journalism Studies.
Even though the SFSIC (Société Française des Sciences de l’Information et de la Communication) is the French national communication association and plays an important role in the planning and organizing of academic careers in the field of Communication Science, researchers do not necessarily connect via events organized by the SFSIC. There are no formal thematic divisions as in Germany or as they are known within the ICA and the ECREA. Academic research in France is organized in research units (laboratoires de recherche) that organize smaller conferences, research seminars or working groups. In the field of Journalism Studies – that do not exist as such in France – there are two working groups or consortiums that should be mentioned to give an idea of research dynamics on journalism in France: REJ and the GIS Journalism.
The REJ (Réseau d’Etudes sur le journalisme) is an international research network (France, Quebec, Brazil, Mexico) of journalism scholars that was created in 1999 with the aim to develop a theoretical framework in order to unite different methodological approaches. Hence, all kinds of (new) journalism and (new) journalism practices were taken into consideration, without establishing a certain definition of journalism. The GIS Journalisme was created as French journalism scholars wished to give more visibility and dynamics to journalism research in France, which at that point in time was done by individuals, scattered around France without any clear common structure. Four research units from four French universities were the founding members that organized the conferences: CARISM (Paris-Panthéon-Assas University), CRAPE (University of Rennes 1), ELICO (Lumière University Lyon 22) and GRIPIC (Sorbonne University). Between 2011 and 2017, five conferences enabled scholars to exchange their knowledge of this relatively new field of study. There are, of course, other research collectives such as the Brazil – France – Francophone Belgium Journalism Research conference series, or the French-Brazilian collaboration called MEJOR or the conferences for young scholars in journalism (Jeunes chercheur·es en journalisme). In addition, the French-Québecois journal Les Cahiers du Journalisme as well as the international and multilingual (English, French, Portuguese and Spanish) journal Sur le journalisme - About journalism - Sobre jornalismo provide other ways of increasing the visibility of French Journalism Studies.
Whereas in Germany Journalism Studies is a major field of study in Communication Science with one formal division within the national association of Communication Studies, French journalism research and the visibility of a French journalism academic community relies more on the commitment and the dynamics of individuals. The frequently deplored lack of international visibility of French journalism scholars can be explained by the structure of the French academic system and by how academic recruitment works in France. As young scholars in France do not necessarily need international experience or international publications (even though this might be as asset) to get a tenured academic position, there is no specific need to spend time abroad or to publish internationally.
Of course, each country has its own way of creating and structuring scientific communities, and France and Germany are only two examples that illustrate how scholars and exchange are organized within the field of Journalism Studies. The structure of the main scientific association, the way recruitment works in different countries, the role and importance of certain individuals regarding the structure of the scientific community have an impact regarding the research topics and research habits as well. In the case of France and Germany, it is striking to see how Journalism Studies and Communication Studies have had different dynamics in their development which have resulted from the history of the academic disciplines, the point of view and influence of certain individuals, the timing of certain decisions, traditions within the scientific communities, etc.
Journalism Education in France and Germany
Both in France and in Germany there are many ways to become a journalist and there is no (formal) need to have a certain degree or to have studied at a journalism school. There are more or less common ways to enter the profession of journalism, but in both countries, there are numerous examples of journalists who have not followed a journalistic degree program or any other kind of formal professional training. However, the connection between university journalism education and Journalism Studies differs slightly between France and Germany and gives a glance into Journalism Studies which, in France, is strongly linked to journalism education and the activities linked to this. Before taking a closer look at Journalism Studies and its link to Journalism Education, it is important to understand the main ways of becoming a journalist in France and in Germany, since academic journalism education doesn’t have the same significance in both countries.
Becoming a Journalist in Germany: Choosing Between Traineeship, Journalism Schools and Academic Journalism Education
In Germany, there are three main ways to become a journalist: A traineeship (Volontariat) that takes usually about 18 to 24 months at a media organization enables the prospective journalists to learn and work in a newsroom and to contribute immediately to the daily journalistic tasks. Further training complements the professional experience, even though the standards and benefits can vary. Different media organizations decided around 1980 to take care of the education of their future colleagues and founded journalism schools. In addition, there are journalism schools that belong to an association or an institution. Studying at one of the journalism schools sometimes does not require a certain degree, but realistically the candidates need a university degree in order to enter the most prestigious schools, such as the German Journalism School in Munich (Deutsche Journalisten Schule). The third main way to get journalism training is by studying at one of the universities that offer academic journalism training (Journalistik). In the 1970s a greater exchange regarding journalism education took place with the aim to reform journalism training and to install university degrees that would meet the new demands required of journalists. The universities of Dortmund and Munich were the first to really combine theory and praxis. These three routes are the most common ones when aiming for a career in journalism, but there are many other possibilities and smaller programs for professional journalism education, too.
Becoming a Journalist in France: 14 Elite Schools for Journalism Education
In France the main pathway into journalism is by studying a journalism degree at a university. Even though there are over a hundred journalism degrees in France, the main path into journalism is by studying at one of the 14 journalism schools that are “recognized” by the profession (“reconnues par la profession”, CPNEJ) – even though only about 20% of the new journalists come from one of these schools. The “recognition” by the profession means that the degrees at those 14 schools are more valued by media organizations than other degree programs, which means that graduates have better prospects in journalism. As most of those schools offer a master’s degree program, students in France start their journalism training right after a three-year bachelor’s degree.
History of Journalism Education and Journalism Studies
It is, of course, impossible to take into consideration all journalism degree programs. In the following I will return to some points of journalism education that are directly linked to Journalism Studies, which means the university journalism programs in Germany and the journalism schools in France.
The History and the Development of Academic Journalism Education in Germany
Both in France and in Germany the first attempts to establish journalism education go back to the 19th century. Authors and journalists wrote about their experiences in journalism and gave advice to future journalists. J. H. Wehle, for example, gave insights into journalism and newspapers as well as the work of journalists in order to teach a new generation of journalists that would be able to meet new demands in the journalistic field. And in 1899, Richard Wrede founded a private journalism school in Berlin and published a handbook shortly afterwards in 1902. Despite these early attempts and the journalism focus of the first academic institutions that today are among the biggest departments for Communication Studies, Günter Kieslich’s working paper from 1970 on problems of journalistic education (“Probleme der journalistischen Aus- und Fortbildung”) marks the beginning of academic journalism education in Germany. This text led to the “memorandum of journalism education” (“Memorandum der Journalistenausbildung”) that the German Press Council published one year later describing the journalism education in Germany and asking for applied university degrees and academic professional training. A second memorandum two years later (1973) insisted even more on the necessity of (applied) academic journalism education and marked a turning point regarding the perception of the profession of journalists that no longer was considered as purely talented based.
These texts were the beginning of a larger discourse on academic journalism education. The German association for Communication Studies (DGPuK) organized a first conference on this topic in 1976 at which the curricula from three universities (Munich, Dortmund, Hohenheim) that combined theory and praxis were presented. Different German universities developed different ways of incorporating applied journalism education into their curricula. It is impossible to explain all the characteristics of all the degree programs as they are quite different, but two German universities have implemented two interesting programs in an effort to combine theory and praxis: the University of Dortmund and the University of Munich. The so-called Dortmund Model (Dortmunder Modell) favored the “integration of theory and praxis” by integrating a practical traineeship (Volontariat) into the academic curriculum that allows extended exchanges with media organizations in order to adapt the study program. In Munich, the department for communication research cooperates with the German journalism school (Deutsche Journalistenschule).
Siegfried Weischenberg, Klaus-Dieter Altmeppen and Martin Löffelholz described in the 1990s, the main skills that journalists would need in order to be a professional journalist. They identified journalistic knowledge (Fachkompetenz) as important, for example, the ability to investigate, to select the right news item, to write news as well as knowledge on media economics, media politics, media law, media history and media technique. The authors describe intermediation (Vermittlungskompetenz) as the second competence that journalists need: They specify the ability to articulate and to present news for a certain public or audience as well as knowledge of genres and formats. The third competence refers to specific knowledge (Sachkompetenz) that journalists need in order to write news for society: knowledge about their specialty and knowledge of societal issues (sociology, politics, etc.) as well as knowledge of sources, scientific work and research methods. Later researchers amplified this framework by adding further competences that became important as a result of the changes in the media landscape, such as technical and entrepreneur competences or an understanding of professional values. Explaining why prospective journalists would need specific instruction and how this knowledge would be necessary for working as a journalist was important to Wolfgang Donsbach, who called for interdisciplinary “team-teaching”. All in all, academic exchange about journalism education is rich in Germany and attempts to combine theory and praxis.
How to integrate theory and praxis is one of the main questions of academic journalism education. Whereas journalism schools do not have to justify their curriculum since their main goal (and their legitimation) is the professional education of future journalists, it is more complicated for academic or university journalism training, which try to offer practical training through external teachers, cooperation with media companies or internships, for example. Even though the metaphor of a zipper describes the ambition of combining theory and praxis, practical elements are usually additional to the theoretical studies than being really integrated into the discussion about journalism.
The History and the Development of Journalism Schools in France
Even though Delphine Girardin wrote about a journalism school in 1839, and she was not the only one during the 19th century to envision journalism education in France, the first French journalism school was founded in 1899 by Jeanne Weill, better known as Dick May. This happened at a time when journalism had a great impact on society (cf. Dreyfus affair) and when it changed a lot in France, from political and literature journalism towards reportage journalism and a more popular journalism for a broad readership The peak of this development was during the so-called golden press era (“âge d’or de la presse”). Strictly speaking, the journalism school was one of four departments of the School of Social Science (École des hautes études sociales), but was less popular that the other departments. Dick May was interested in journalism and the emerging sociology and combined both by teaching the newly founded social science within the journalism program. Contemporary journalists criticized the new journalism program as the profession was still viewed as talent-based. Before the rise of structural journalism education, journalistic writing was not yet perceived as a technique, but was rather a writing style that could be learned from older journalists. Hence, Robert de Jouvenel, a member of the labor union of French journalists (Syndicat national des journalistes, SNJ) criticized in 1920 the idea of journalism schools that would undermine the secrets of newspaper production. When in 1929, the labor union was asked to help develop the curriculum of the Parisian journalism school, the labor union, in return, demanded that a greater emphasis be put on practical teaching as the conferences did not seem to prepare the students for the later professional life as journalists.
However, the labor union was interested in a theoretical discussion about journalism, especially Georges Bourdon, who had returned from Germany, where he had heard about the newly founded Berlin institute for press research, the Deutsches Institut für Zeitungskunde (1927). He founded the center for journalism studies (Centre d’études journalistiques) in 1929 (that later resulted in the creation of the Institut de Science de la Presse, ISP) and envisioned a press science. Denis Ruellan points out that the labor union’s interventions gave it the control in journalism education as well as in scientific discourse on journalism, with still the same goal in mind: the recognition of journalism as a collective profession. After World War II the ISP was transformed into the French Institution for Press (Institut Français de Presse, IFP). Nicolas Pélissier and François Demers describe how academic interest decreased and how the journalists would rather turn to the newly founded journalism school. The first journalism school that still exists in France today was founded in 1924: the ESJ (école supérieure de journalisme) in Lille. In 1945, the Parisian journalism school CFJ (Centre de formation des journalistes) was founded. Both schools gained the status as being “recognized” by the journalistic profession in 1956. Other journalism schools were founded after World War II.
In France, journalism research and journalism education have strong links, which can be explained by taking a look at the structure of academic research as well as at the collaboration between researchers and journalists. However, journalism research was for a long time not done within journalism schools. Today, in France, new academic colleagues (maître de conferences) are immediately responsible for certain degree programs or part of them. That means that during the recruitment process for a certain position, the candidate’s experience and research program have to fit with the needs of the institution. Colleagues that are responsible for a journalism degree program are usually researchers with a proven expertise in the journalism research that would be needed for teaching in journalism programs and for linking journalism research and journalism education, although there are cases where journalists are recruited in order to supervise a degree program.
Today, the 14 main journalism schools in France are grouped as the Conférences de écoles de journalism (CEJ), and are all “recognized” by the national committee of employers and the trade unions (Commission Paritaire Nationale de l’Emploi des Journalistes, CPNEJ). For the students this status is a guarantee they will have a quality education and an easier start into their professional career thanks to privileged pathways into the media organizations (stipends, awards, etc.). The collaboration between the journalism schools as part of the CEJ enables them to have a collective voice, for example, during the Covid19 pandemic when their collective effort allowed journalism students to do parts of their practical journalism sessions outside during the strict lockdown in France or to come back to university earlier than other students as the technical equipment was indispensable for their education. Once a year the 14 schools take part in a national conference on journalistic professions (Conférence nationale des métiers du journalism, CNMJ) when researchers, journalists among others discuss current topics in journalism. In 2019, members of the CEJ organized the World Journalism Education Congress that took place in Paris. Another annual meeting, the Assises du journalism, independent of the CEJ, reunites researchers and journalists to discuss a main topic that changes each year. These different (working) groups show how journalism education is linked to a greater debate concerning journalism, in which journalism researchers are involved.
The dynamics between Journalism Studies and journalism education in France and in Germany are quite different: In Germany, journalism was the main interest that made Bücher in 1916 found the first institute to analyze journalism. This was the beginning of German Zeitungswissenschaft that later became German Communication Studies. In numerous debates, conferences and publications German researchers exchange views about the relationship between Journalism Studies and journalism education and try to find the right balance between praxis and theory. In France journalism education preceded the French science of communication and so journalism research does not exist as such in France. The orientation of journalism schools towards praxis has led to a lack of research in the field of journalism studies, which might explain why the majority of research on journalism has been conducted outside journalism schools and why journalism research is scattered.
Journalism Studies in France and Germany today
Journalism Studies in France and Germany have certain commonalities but are quite different when looked at in detail. As seen above, the thought processes during the early phases of the Communication Science in Germany (Kommunikationswissenschaft) and Sciences de l’information et de la Communication in France) were not the same. In Germany, there was a need to better understand journalism at the beginning of the 20th century, whereas mass media related questions were the starting point of a new academic discipline in France. Several researchers underline the differences between the two sciences of Communication as they are represented in both countries: the German Kommunikationswissenschaft addresses questions regarding public and mass media communication using empirical research methods, whereas the French SIC have a broader understanding of social communication when analyzing the mediation of signification through communication processes.
Even though it is impossible to point out every development within Journalism Studies in one country, a look at the tendencies of journalism research and the major readings in Journalism Studies helps one to better understand the esprit of Journalism Studies in France and in Germany, especially against the background of the history of its development in alliance with academic journalism education.
Journalism Studies in France and Germany are geographically close, but differ in many aspects, regarding their methodological approach, common literature, etc. The object of analysis – journalism –, is the same but how researchers approach this field and how they analyze it, differ between France and Germany. It is quite astonishing to see that certain topics are well studied in one country, but only a little in the other.
Niklas Luhmann’s theory of social systems (Systemtheorie) is one of the major theories that considerably influenced German Journalism Studies. The system approach to journalism enabled researchers to understand and study journalism within society and journalism as a system itself. Social systems, according to Luhmann, are systems of communication and are defined by the boundary between themselves and the environment, between the interior and the exterior. The distinction between systems is a distinction of meaning (Sinn). Considering journalism as a system therefore is to define boundaries that distinguish journalism from other areas and to define its structure and functions. The systemic approach underlines the stability of journalistic structures and routines and allows us to understand why new media technologies are not always immediately adopted as “innovation as well as tradition enable evolution”. Different scholars have suggested different ways of applying the theory of social systems to journalism. Siegfried Weischenberg introduced an analytical framework that enabled empirical research on journalism according to the system-theoretical dictum. He suggested four axis for the analysis of journalism: media systems (societal frameworks, historical foundation, professional and ethical standards), media institutions (economic, political, organizational and technical contexts), media statements (information sources, formats, construction of reality) and media actors (demography of journalists, political orientation, understanding of the journalistic role, professionalization). This way of perceiving and studying journalism is still a current framework among German Journalism Scholars. During the annual conference of the German Association for Communication Science (DGPuK) 2019 in Münster, researchers even organized a panel to discuss system theory and journalism (Journalismus als System revisited). In France, in contrast, this approach is not found in journalism research. On the one hand, Luhmann’s books Social Systems and Theory of Society were only translated into French in 2011 and 2021 and therefore do not (yet) play an important role in French communication and journalism research. On the other hand, the perspective of social systems does not coincide with the esprit of French journalism research, which emerged with a more materialistic and applied vision (“conception informationnelle”) of journalism.
The importance of the sociological point of view is apparent in different overviews of German Journalism Studies throughout the years. Three books from 1998, 2004 and 2016 give an insight into the evolution of journalism research and journalism theory in Germany and show at the same time the constants within the scientific community. These three books are far from being the only ones written on those topics and this choice does not implicate that other handbooks or overviews are less valuable. In fact, as there are numerous handbooks of journalism and handbooks of journalism theories in Germany this shows that Journalism Studies in Germany are more structured than in France.
Armin Scholl and Siegfried Weischenberg describe different approaches and orientations of journalism research in Germany: normative-ontological journalism research with a focal point on journalists, empirical journalism research, research on gatekeepers, newsrooms, professionalization and socialization of journalism as well as constructivist system theory.
Since the turning point in the 1960s, German Journalism Studies primarily has a sociological orientation and operates with different theoretical backgrounds. Nevertheless, different kinds of theories exist regarding journalism research. Löffelholz describes eight concepts in order to classify theory in journalism studies: normative individualism (Normativer Individualismus), materialistic media theory (Materialistische Medientheorie), analytical empiricism (Analytischer Empirismus), legitimistic empiricism (Legitimistischer Empirismus), critical theories of action (Kritische) Handlungstheorien), functional system theories (Funktionalistische Systemtheorien), integrative social theories (Integrative Sozialtheorien) and Cultural Studies. This list neither represents a chronological development nor a hierarchy among the theories and rather represents the coexistence of theories regarding journalism and the “discontinuous development of a multi-perspective” Löffelholz states that journalism theory is neither a linear process nor a process with different “normal and revolutionary” phases, but rather is characterized by the existence of different theoretical perspectives at the same time, even though the empirical-analytical perspective has been the dominant one in Germany since World War II. He describes progress as the “addition of complexity” regarding theoretical frames.
Martin Löffelholz insists on the empirical dimension of German journalism research, especially since the first empirical studies in journalism and the so-called empirical turning point in the history of the German discipline. Symptomatic for empirical research is the relationship between theory and the object of study; empirical Journalism Studies is no exception. Journalism does not exist per se, independently of all experience and empirical observation. Löffelholz states: “The observation of journalism affects theory construction, the theory determines what is observed.” The constructivist perspective therefore describes journalism as the observed observer of society.
Martin Löffelholz and Liane Rothenberger divide the field of journalism theories into system theories, action oriented theories (such as journalism as communicative or rational action), social integrative theories, culture oriented theories, critical and participation oriented theories, middle-range theories (such as agenda setting and framing), theories regarding different dimensions of journalism (such as gender and ethics), theories regarding interrelations of journalism (such as journalism and politics, or journalism and science).
The field of journalism research in France is not as structured and institutionalized as in Germany. Whereas German Journalism Studies have a theory-based approach to journalism and media, involving rather strict research protocols (validation or not of assumption, hypothesis) and aims to systematize empirical research results and to obtain a holistic perspective, French journalism research rather values the heterogeneity of different journalistic practices. There is not a common way of doing journalism research in France or a common methodology as the openness of journalism research regarding disciplines has been one of the main characteristics of the field since the new developments after 1996. The qualitative approach, as well as the disciplinary openness (interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary) in France, is seen as a lack of methodological rigor by some German researchers, whereas others perceive this as a chance to pursue other research questions.
Whereas the discussion about theory, models and empiricism is important in German Journalism Studies and defines this field of research, French journalism research is rather structured by a large panel of topics that are the core identity of the academic discourse as well as the volitional openness regarding disciplines and research methods: The association of directors of the French research units in Communication Science (Conférence permanente des directeur.trices d’Unité de Recherche en Sciences de l’information et de la communication, CPDirSIC) has provided an overview of current research in the field of journalism. The five main orientations they have identified are: social and economic aspects of media organizations, the morphology and working conditions of the journalistic profession, the media coverage and media representation of events and social identities, media as places of discussion, and the interdisciplinary dimension.
There is more and more research on journalism within French communication research and journalism is still an interdisciplinary research topic in France. In particular, historians, sociologists or scholars of literary studies participate in the general research into journalism which underlines the interdisciplinary history of French journalism research. Pélissier and Demers identify three characteristics of French journalism research: 1) the concentration on the activity of journalistic production, which means the journalists, the journalistic production and the public (in line with international Journalism Studies), 2) the collection as well as the editing and the dissemination of journalistic information (rather in line with the Information and Library Sciences) and, finally, 3) the internal and external interaction processes. The focus on the writing and editing process with a semiotic-pragmatic interpretation as well as on the concrete and daily journalistic practices is specific to French journalism research in comparison to Germany: écritures and pratiques of journalism are the two terms that characterize a major part of contemporary journalism research in France.
It is striking to know that two neighboring countries have such different histories regarding the development of Journalism Studies and points of view concerning journalism research. On the one hand, German Journalism Studies position themselves as an empirical social science that uses empirical research methods. Theoretical frameworks shape the scientific discourse. This was not always the case as the Zeitungswissenschaft at the beginning of the 20th century was more historically oriented. The empirical turning point after World War II was not only inspired by the reception of American empirical social research, but as a way to leave behind Nazi ideology. Journalism and newspapers that were the first research topics in Germany underwent the same evolution towards an empirical orientation.
In France, research into journalism came after the institutionalization of French communication science and mass media were the primary topic of interest in the 1960s. The history of journalism education and the orientation towards the practical side of the profession enables us to understand why it took so long before journalism research was an important part of communication studies in France, especially within Communication Science.
Research practices and research habits depend on many factors such as the history and the development of the institutionalization of an academic discipline, certain turning points, the opinion of certain researchers that played a major role in history, etc. The different dynamics between journalism research and journalism education in France and Germany hark back to such factors and can explain the gap that seems to exist between the two counties, even though some researchers who are actively involved in the French-German academic discussion within Communication Science suggest a “terre de milieu” stating the differences, but underlining the complementarity.
All in all, the different dynamics between Journalism Studies and journalism education as well as between France and Germany oblige researches to put into perspective their own integration into academic disciplines and underline the difficulty to really understand different habits within different research communities.
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