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Wikimania 2011 in Haifa. The Jerusalem Post combined with a view of Haifa (Ziko van Dijk)

Deep Dive: How Israeli Readers Imagine Journalists

… and what the takeaways of a new study mean outside of Israel.

Words: Emily Tamkin
Pictures: Ziko van Dijk

Journalists often imagine our readers. We try to picture our audiences, that we might serve them (and, more cynically, get them to subscribe to and buy what we are selling). But a new paper looks at this in reverse. It is not only true that journalists imagine their audiences. Audiences also imagine their journalists.

That, at least, is the case put forth by Ayala Panievsky, Noam Gidrom, and Lior Sheffer in “Imagined Journalists: New Framework for Studying Media–Audiences Relationship in Populist Times,” a new paper published in The International Journal of Press/Politics.

After reminding us that audiences hate journalists, particularly in times of hostile populism (a bit hurtful, but so it goes), the authors explain that by imagined journalists they mean “the entirety of ideas, feelings, stereotypes, and imaginaries that audiences hold regarding their imagined news producers.” 

They looked to bring together research on trust in media, audience perception, what they deem an emotional turn in journalism, and antimedia populism. They did this by “analyzing 1,215 responses to an open-ended question regarding journalists’ traits in Israel in 2021.”

The authors found that right-wing and pro-populist respondents held more negative views of journalists.

The combination of open-ended responses and a large-scale survey was intended to both investigate people’s views as they themselves articulated them and also explore variations in how journalists are thought of across society. And Israel as case study made sense, they argued, as it is a place where journalists are under constant barrage of “populist media bashing” as well as online harassment.

The authors also found that right-wing respondents were more likely to offer personal or national criticism and less likely to offer professional critique than respondents who voted for center-left parties. Voters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were even more personal and less professional in their critiques than those who voted for anti-Netanyahu right-wing parties. This suggested to the authors that journalists’ conduct is not, in fact, the only thing  on which trust in media hinges.

Finally, the authors also found that bias is a concern, but democracy is not at top of mind when people share their thoughts on journalism. “Journalists might be interested in educating the public about the societal role of journalism,” they wrote, “as it does not seem to be a main lens through which audiences assess journalists and their work.”

Emily Tamkin

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