To find out how science journalists do their job, Irene Broer became one herself. Applying the research method ethnography, she spent several weeks amidst a team of science journalists. In this BredowCast episode, she explains what this endeavour entailed and why ethnography is a useful method to study journalism.
For a total of four weeks, Irene Broer became part of the editorial team at the Science Media Center Germany in Cologne – a news agency specialized in scientific topics. During that time, she looked over the editors’ shoulders and watched their every move trying to find out exactly how they filter information, select their topics and decide what is publish-worthy.
This “editorial ethnography” was part of Irene’s PhD project which investigates the inner workings of science journalism in Germany. Ethnographic methods are ideal to study journalism behind the scenes, says Irene. “What you see in newspapers does not really give you an idea of what happens beforehand. What I find interesting are the choices leading up to it.”
In the field
While doing her ethnographic research, she fully immersed herself in the very environment she studied. She told the editors to treat her like an intern and give her concrete tasks to do, so that she would not just be there as the observer sitting in a corner taking notes.
However, this approach does not come without its challenges. According to Irene, what makes ethnographic research challenging, is finding the balance between being part of a group and at the same time observing this very group from a neutral point of view.
“As an ethnographer you need to be very aware of any preconceptions you might carry about your research object and be very transparent about them. And sometimes you will change your preconceptions because you realize that reality is a little different than you had imagined beforehand. But that is the beauty of ethnography”, she says.
Irene Broer's research project was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.
Leibniz-Institut für Medienforschung | Hans-Bredow-Institut