Daniel Hallin and Paolo Mancini’s classifications of media systems according to geo-political divisions dominate research in the field but many argue that their model is outdated.
Media researchers Frank Esser and Andrea Umbricht from the University of Zurich, Switzerland, have analysed media coverage from the U.S., Great Britain, Germany, Switzerland, France and Italy in a large-scale study to see if the Hallin and Mancini classification reflects the present reality of media systems.
They conclude that while much of the model is still valid, it is too favourable to Anglo-American media and too critical of the South European. The British media, in particular, has more in common with Mediterranean press than US newspapers.
Hallin and Mancini describe three models of media systems: the Democratic Corporatist Model for North/Central Europe countries such as Germany and Switzerland, the Polarized Pluralist Model for the Mediterranean regions such as France and Italy, and lastly the Liberal Model which is present in the U.S. and Great Britain.
In their study, Esser and Umbricht embrace the theory that media companies within one nation develop similarities because they are subject to similar political, legal, and economical frame conditions. The authors focused their analysis on the print media from each country, including a regional and a national daily as well as a weekly newspaper (see below for detailed list). In total they analysed 6,625 political articles from the years 1961-62, 1972-73, 1994-95 and 2006-07.
The researchers focused on three criteria that define the three print media models. The first criterion is the percentage of opinion pieces in the political coverage. The second factor is the degree of objectivity and the last criterion is the percentage of negativity in the news.
In studying levels of opinion, the authors classified the different types of news articles. Straight news and long news articles with background providing contexts were regarded as opinion free formats; interpretations and analyses were regarded as mixed formats between opinion and information, and editorials, personal columns and commentaries were regarded as opinionated pieces.
As foreshadowed by the previous studies, Esser and Umbricht’s analysis shows that there are fewer opinion pieces in the U.S. media coverage compared to media coverage of the other countries. However, the percentage of straight news is comparably low in the U.S. media is just 15 percent, –just a bit higher than in France and Italy. In Germany, by contrast, 29 percent of the analysed articles are straight news.
The authors emphasize that the U.S. media run background stories as well as on interpretations and analyses. The interpretation and analysis format has often been criticized for leaving journalists a backdoor to slip-in opinions in the coverage and to communicate in a political way.
Esser and Umbricht argue, “The ideal of Anglo-American journalism as a coherent benchmark turned out to be a category of limited and, at most, historical value. In current practice, American and British press journalists fulfill the ideal’s expectations remarkably differently and inconsistently.”
In their view, the British media, in particular, does not only show the features of the Liberal Anglo-American media system but also of the Mediterranean media system as they often include polarising elements in their coverage.
The discrepancy between the classification of the British and reality becomes even more obvious when the researchers analyse the degree of objectivity in the media coverage. To measure objectivity the researchers constructed an aggregate objectivity index. For each story, the pros and cons, expert sources, quotes and paraphrases as well as a hard-facts-first structure were identified. In addition, they looked at whether the facts and opinions were separated in the articles.
The British newspapers show as many – or rather as few – objectivity indicators as the French newspapers; only a little more than half of the possible index points (57 out of 100 points). The German newspapers have reached 64 index points, the U.S. media 69 points. Only the Italian newspapers are less objective than the British and French papers (48 points).
The researchers also emphasize the significance of negativity in news stories for the role that media plays in society. A negative tone in the political coverage can boost cynicism among citizens of a society. In previous research, negativity in news stories has been rather ascribed to media in Liberal Systems due to critical watchdog reporting and higher commercialization as well as to media in Mediterranean countries due to polarized pluralism and coverage of attack politics.
In fact, also Esser’s and Umbricht’s study indicates that the Anglo-American media and South European media show more negativity in political news stories than the media in Democratic Corporatist systems.
Overall, the researchers confirm the previous assumptions on media coverage in the analysed countries, but recommend reconsidering the classification of the British media because the Liberal model seems to have become invalid.
Liberal media system:
USA: New York Times, St. Luis Post-Dispatch, Time Magazine
Great Britain: The Times, Birmingham Mail, The Observer
Democratic Corporatist media system:
Germany: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), Rheinische Post, Spiegel
Switzerland: Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ), Berner Zeitung, Weltwoche
Polarised Pluralist media system:
France: Le Monde, Ouest France, L’Express
Italy: Corriere della Sera, Resto del Carlino, Espresso
Source: Esser, Frank; Umbricht, Andrea (2013): Competing models of journalism? Political affairs coverage in US, British, German, Swiss, French and Italian newspapers. In: Journalism, 14. Jg., H. 8, S. 989-1007.
This article was translated by Tina Bettels from the German “Medientheorien – verkrustet oder zeitlos?“
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