Attitudes and experiences with journalism ethics of students in internship in French-speaking Belgian newsrooms
The four main Journalism Schools in French-speaking Belgium (ULB, UCLouvain, ULiege and IHECS) have conducted a qualitative research study on journalism students' perceptions of journalism ethics, in a report that was published by the Conseil de Déontologique Journalistique (CDJ). This study was based upon focus groups with 33 students that had recently finished an internship in a professional newsroom. The focus groups were conducted between September and November 2019. The objective of the research was to analyze how journalism interns are confronted with the topics of deontology and ethics, how they apprehend potential issues around those topics and how they deal with them, deviating from or adjusting to those common standards. A particular focus was students' perception of professional ethics as adapted or not to the current evolutions in the profession: digitalization, economic crisis, and blurring professional identities.
The results highlight that students have a hard time to define precisely what the ethical norms are, and how to apply them in their practices. A lot of respondents have a rather normative view of what they consider to be "good journalism", i.e. journalism that follows ethical rules. The students mentioned the malleable nature of deontology in the profession which depends, from their point of view, on the editorial line, personal judgement, circumstances, technical constraints, topics and sources, as well as profitability and productivity requirements. However, most respondents hold very high standards of journalistic quality and consider ethics to be a keystone of their professional identity. The focus groups offer a deeper insight into some of the results of the survey of European journalists: Belgian young journalists, like respondents under 25 in the survey, tend to defend that the principles of journalism ethics are still necessary in the digital age, but they need adaptation in order to be able to apply them in new contexts, such as social media.
Deontology and ethics are seen by the participants as a set of norms that range from the legal to the personal field. Relying on this normative vision of deontology within the journalism field seems to be reassuring in that it allows journalism students or trainees to place their developing professional practices within a defined framework, despite the perceived issues of this framework.
This study is also available in French.