February 10. Maria Bendix Wittchen: Different role, different ethics? Journalists’ role performance and their views on ethical challenges and dilemmas while covering a murder trial.

Welcome to a K3 seminar with Maria Bendix Wittchen, visiting PhD candidate in Media and Communication Studies, K3.

The title of the seminar is Different role, different ethics? Journalists’ role performance and their views on ethical challenges and dilemmas while covering a murder trial.

This will be an online seminar, carried out through Zoom, and it will take place on Wednesday, February 10 at 10.15-12.00. Please join here: https://mau-se.zoom.us/j/63396017631?pwd=VzZGa2xPM001aXAwNHJRamkwcm9iQT09.

Here is an abstract for the seminar:

The trial against amateur submarine builder Peter Madsen for the murder of the Swedish journalist Kim Wall was one of the most publicized trials in recent Danish history. This article presents the result of a study examining journalists’ press ethical views and attitudes when covering the high-profile murder trial. Drawing on qualitative interviews with 10 of the most prominent reporters covering the trial, I examine the various ethical dilemmas the journalists face on the court beat during this intense period in 2018. Though the Submarine Trial may be considered an extreme case, today’s trial journalists work in a media industry characterized by increasingly online reporting and live coverage of unfolding events. This includes covering the police’s ongoing crime investigations (Wittchen 2019) and live trial reporting from the courtroom (Knight 2017). At the same time we see a ‘featurization’ of hard news (Steensen 2011) which increasingly involves crime news (Lehrmann 2011, 2016b). All these changes bring a focus on new ethical challenges facing reporters covering live crime trials (Deuze and Yeshua 2001; Friend and Singer 2007). Previous research on press ethics in relation to crime and trial reporting have focused on the press council verdicts (Brurås 2009), court reporters understanding of codes of ethics (Ezhar et al. 2012), race and bias in television magazine trial coverage (Grabe 2000) and the elements of entertainment in court reporting (Chibnall 1981; Vinson and Ertter 2002; Whannel 2010).

This paper has a qualitative and empirical focus and I draw on the theoretical framework of role performance (Mellado 2015). Through role performance the study shows how the journalists can be divided into two main roles, the storyteller and the reporter. To some extent their role performance is different as well as their perception of the ethical dilemmas they are facing. The reporters are focusing on facts, objectivity, relevance and avoiding biased reporting. The storytellers are more concerned about telling the real story and paying regards to the readers (in relation to publishing too many details). By using a qualitative approach, the study shows that within the same beat – covering the same trial – journalists to some extent have a common understanding of the ethical pitfalls in the coverage but at the same time perceive the ethical dilemmas quite differently which relates to their role, media type and demand of content. The analysis also shows how one journalist can switch role and ethical perspective depending on the time of the trial (before or after the verdict).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *