Journalists Discuss Reporting on Common Ground and Divisiveness

June 23, 2022

Home Reports & Resources Journalists Discuss Reporting on Common Ground and Divisiveness

Executive Summary

How do journalists view their roles and responsibilities in reporting on cross-partisan
common ground and divisiveness? What do they believe would help to support
developing different approaches to journalism that addresses those issues? To explore
those questions, Public Agenda conducted in-depth confidential interviews with a
snowball sample of 18 journalists in the fall of 2021. Findings include the following:

  1. The journalists interviewed for this research generally did not view the media’s
    focus on partisan conflict as a problem. They assumed that stories about
    common ground had to be “positive” stories.
  2. Interviewees said that journalism focused on divisiveness reflects reality and that
    they have a responsibility to inform the public about partisan conflict.
  3. These journalists emphasized that institutional norms in the media encourage
    a focus on conflict. But they were divided over whether conflict-based stories
    actually drive business in the news industry.
  4. Interviewees said that in order to cover common ground and divisiveness
    differently, they need resources, namely time and skills to understand issues
    more deeply and to connect with communities. They emphasized that individual
    journalists cannot change institutional practices alone but need support from
    news organizations.

The report concludes with brief reflections on the findings. The Kettering Foundation served as a collaborator in this research.

Public Agenda explored these questions by conducting one-on-one confidential
interviews with a snowball sample of 18 journalists. Interviews were conducted by
video from October to December 2021. Participants included the following:

  • Thirteen print journalists and five radio journalists
  • Eleven journalists working at local news organizations and seven working at
    national news organizations
  • Eleven journalists working at for-profit news organizations and seven at nonprofit
    news organizations. Several of the interviewees who currently work at nonprofit
    news organizations had previous experience at for-profit news organizations.