Experience rather than Academic Knowledge. Legitimizing Expert Sources in German Mass Media.

TitleExperience rather than Academic Knowledge. Legitimizing Expert Sources in German Mass Media.
Publication TypeConference Paper
Author(s)Noelleke, D.
Affiliation (1st Author)University of Muenster
Section or WGJournalism Research and Education Section
DateSat 29 June
Slot CodeJRE S3b
Slot Code (Keyword)JRE S3b
Time of Session14:00-15:30
Session TitleRedefining Ethical Implications Theme III: Professional Journalism
Submission ID4754

Expert sources are an important feature in professional journalism. They do not only have a growing quantitative relevance, they are also remarkably relevant regarding their influence on public opinion. But obviously, superior knowledge is not the only basis for making an appearance as an expert in reporting. Knowledge seems to be replaced by other factors – or at least seems to be supplemented by other criteria. Research has shown that expert sources’ estimations often turn out to be wrong. Still, journalists explain their usage of experts with their attempt to enhance the objectivity and credibility of a story. Taking these considerations into account, this paper asks (a) whether journalists expose who their expert sources actually are and (b) how journalists legitimize the expertise of their expert sources. In other words,, Do journalists identify their expert sources by name and/or organisational affiliation? Do journalists explain in their reporting why an 'expert source' is considered an expert in the respective field? And to which kind of 'expertise' do journalists refer? To answer these research questions, the reporting of two German newspapers (Sueddeutsche Zeitung and Bild) and two German TV stations (ARD and RTL) was analysed for a period of two weeks. All in all 5,674 stories were searched for expert appearances. Those stories in which experts could be identified (n = 1,104) were further investigated for hints helping the recipient to identify who the experts actually are and which grounds their expertise is based upon. Results indicate that German journalists tend to identify their experts by name and by their organisational affiliation. Insofar, they mostly expose who their expert sources are. Thus, for the recipients it would be possible to check whether they perceive the expert source as legitimate or not. However, journalists do not provide information about the basis for an expert source’s expertise. In only 22.7% of the cases (n = 1,563) journalists explain, why a person is introduced as an expert source. Interestingly, academic knowledge plays a minor role. Data suggest that if an expert source is explicitly labelled as an ‘expert’ or if he has a university affiliation, the expertise is not further legitimized. When justifying an expert’s expertise journalists mostly refer to personal experience in the respective field. However, even these hints are scarce. For the recipients, it mostly remains unclear why exactly a person is presented as an expert. However, TV stations deploy another method to let their sources appear legitimate,, Most of the experts are staged at their place of work suggesting that they have a kind of functional responsibility in the respective field.

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