"It Looks Like a Fun Job!"
An Examination of Media Exposure and the
Cultivation of Perceptions about a Broadcast Journalism Career
Submitted for consideration for the AEJMC 2003 Convention:
Radio-Television Journalism Division
Laura M. Trendle Polus
Department of Communication
Illinois State University
Campus Box 4480
Illinois State University
Normal, Illinois 61790-4480
(309) 438-8447 (phone) (309) 438-3048 (fax)
e-mail: [log in to unmask]
"It Looks Like a Fun Job!"
An Examination of Media Exposure and the
Cultivation of Perceptions about a Broadcast Journalism Career
Enrollment in journalism and mass communication programs has risen in the
last several years, with a significant 5.6 percent increase reported just
four years ago (Becker, Kosicki, Hammatt, Lowrey, Shin & Wilson,
1999). This is coupled with a steady increase in the number of colleges
and universities offering a journalism or mass communication program, from
394 such programs in 1988, to 449 less than 10 years later (Kosicki &
Becker, 1998). Clearly students are attracted to this field.
But what do these students expect of their desired career? Previous work
has demonstrated a gap between mass communication and journalism programs
and the profession itself (Duhe & Zukowski, 1997). Broadcast managers have
indicated dissatisfaction with the job-related attitudes and behaviors of
their new and potential hires (Funkhouser & Savage, 1987), and journalism
students have demonstrated unrealistic perceptions of the profession
(Endres & Wearden, 1990).
The reason may stem from the fact that most young people have limited
personal interaction with people in certain jobs, and instead form
perceptions based on media exposure. With broadcast journalism, this is
further compounded by the performance nature of the work. Young people who
watch real television reporters (as opposed to fictional TV or film
characters employed as television reporters) may perceive that they are
observing a realistic example of the occupation, while seeing only a few
minutes of an eight or 10-hour workday.
The present study is a continuation of previous work by this author, in
which broadcast journalism students reported their occupational
influences. In that first study, exposure to real broadcast journalists
was found to be a significant factor of perceived influence in the
students' career choice (Trendle Polus, 2002). The current study will
measure students' television exposure and their perceptions and
expectations of the profession of broadcast journalism, in an attempt to
establish correlations between exposure and perceptions/expectations. Both
general exposure measures and content-specific exposure measures will be
Review of Literature
This study is based in the tradition of cultivation effects research,
which states that people who watch more television will be more likely to
perceive real life to be like what they have viewed (Gerbner, Gross, Morgan
& Signorielli, 1994).
The concern with television portrayals is that much research has shown
that viewers, especially children and adolescents, can and do learn from
what they see on TV. According to Gerbner, Gross, Morgan and Signorielli
(1994), "television has become the primary common source of socialization
and everyday information (p. 18)." Bandura (1994) contends that virtually
all direct-experience learning can occur vicariously as well, and that
television provides a multitude of models from which to learn. In
addition, television has been shown to have particular impact on
perceptions for younger children, poorer children and children of minority
groups (Beuf, 1974; Calvert & Huston, 1987; Durkin, 1984; King & Multon,
1996; McGhee & Frueh, 1980; Morgan, 1982; Repetti, 1984; Signorielli, 1989).
Many researchers have documented the role of media in occupational
socialization. They have found that young viewers gain occupational
information from television (Huston, Wright, Fitch, Wroblewski & Piemyat,
1997; O'Bryant & Corder-Bolz, 1978; Wroblewski & Huston, 1987), with the
most salience attached to occupations about which they lack personal
experience. Previous work has also shown television to be a source of
inspiration for occupational decision-making (King & Multon, 1996; Wright,
Huston, Truglio, Fitch, Smith, & Piemyat, 1995). When young people see a
liked character engaged in an occupational activity, especially if that
activity is rewarded, they may develop an interest in pursuing that same
Jablin (1987) includes media as one of his five factors of "vocational
anticipatory socialization," the process of gathering occupational
information, intentionally and unintentionally, weighing that information
against one's self-concept, and eventually making a career choice.
Observing occupational models is also a component of Gottfredson's (1996)
theory of circumscription and compromise. The theory states that people
hold images of occupations, made up of "the personalities of people in
those occupations, the work they do, the lives they lead, the rewards and
conditions of the work, and the appropriateness of that work for different
types of people (p. 184)." Gottfredson contends that Americans from all
segments of society share basically the same images of occupations and the
people in them.
Occupational Models on Television
Signorielli (1993) states, "Occupational roles are central to most, if not
all, of television's stories (p. 316)." In her analysis of primetime
television programs from 1969 to 1985, Signorielli (1989) reported that 68
percent of male characters and 48 percent of female characters worked in
some recognizable job. The majority (19.7%) were categorized as
"professionals," followed by managers and blue-collar
workers. Police/private investigators were portrayed most often; judges
and scientists were portrayed least often. "Journalists" were not included
in the categorization scheme.
Typically, those television characters who have jobs do not do much actual
"work," spending more time on romance, family dynamics and social
relationships. Previous content analyses have demonstrated a focus on the
glamorous, dramatic aspects of jobs, with little emphasis on the hard work,
boredom and routine elements (Wright et al., 1995). For example,
Signorielli (1993) points out that TV police programs stress the violent
and active aspects of catching criminals, typically ignoring more mundane
assignments and clerical duties. The popular medical drama ER offers "a
vivid glimpse into the practice of medicine," according to one medical
educator, but also tends to glamorize the work of emergency room physicians
In situation comedies, the workplace generally serves as a backdrop for
plotlines that emphasize social relationships and romantic pursuits. The
cast of characters is like a surrogate family (Douglas & Olson, 1995).
There is little variation from one show to another (Whissell, 1998) and
little change in the level of reality they portray (Winzenburg, 1995).
Occupational Perceptions and Expectations
Several studies have indicated that TV's representations of occupations and
occupational behavior may affect expectations of how people behave at work
(DeFleur & DeFleur, 1967; King & Multon, 1996; Wroblewski & Huston, 1987).
Wright et al. (1995) found clear differences in children's knowledge of
real occupations and TV occupations. Children thought that TV jobs entailed
higher income, more glamour, and more dramatic events without
consequences. Real jobs involved more effort, gained more respect,
required more education, and (contrary to prediction) offered more
In studies regarding the influence of television viewing on perceptions of
doctors and attorneys (Pfau, Mullen, Deidrich & Garrow, 1995; Pfau, Mullen
& Garrow, 1995), people who watched more programs which featured doctors
and attorneys perceived the real-life counterparts as similar to the
fictional portrayals. Heavy viewers of medical shows perceived doctors as
more likely to be female, young and physically attractive. Heavy viewers
of shows featuring lawyers were more likely to perceive lawyers as powerful
Sources of Influence for Broadcast Journalism Students
In the specific instance under examination here, how do broadcast
journalism students form perceptions and expectations of their future
careers? Previous surveys of such students point toward high school
newspaper/yearbook experience and high school teachers as reasons for
choosing this career, but that work did not extend into the realm of job
perceptions and expectations ("ACT research shows", 1987; Dodd, Bellow &
Tipton, 1990; Forrester, 1985; Mann, Wooldridge & Marema, 1987).
Media effects are rarely addressed in the available literature. In a 1990
study of high school journalism students (Dodd et al.), 18% ranked their
own reading as the most important factor in their decision to pursue a
journalism career, but type of reading material was not specified. In
another study (Endres & Wearden, 1990) college journalism students reported
they got the most and best information about their chosen field from
"observing media performance," but no specifics were provided.
Media Models of Broadcast Journalists
Both real and fictional broadcast journalists are available to be observed
and to serve as potential media models during the career decision-making
process. Real media models include broadcast journalists who appear on
local and national TV and radio, as well as on news magazines and interview
programs. Fictional media models include characters who portray TV and
radio journalists in television series and television movies, as well as in
films, which for several years have been easily available for home viewing
through cable movie channels and video/DVD rentals. Examples of real and
fictional media models will be presented in the next section.
Fictional TV Models
TV shows about police officers, doctors and lawyers have long ruled the
television airwaves, each evolving into a full-fledged genre. There have
been 3-4 medical shows and as many as 10 police shows on prime-time
television over the last several seasons (Peyser, 2000). Shows about news
broadcasters have not reached that level, but there are many examples that
can be examined.
News director Lou Grant, producer Murray Slaughter, anchorman Ted Baxter
and associate producer Mary Richards were among the first TV characters
employed as broadcast journalists, on the 1970s sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore
Show. Typically, the plots centered on relationships rather than job
duties. In newsroom scenes, Murray was always typing, and Ted was often
reading (bumbling) news stories, but viewers rarely saw realistic details
of the daily grind of newscast production.
Later sitcoms set in TV and radio newsrooms exhibited the same emphasis on
characters' personal lives and relationships. These include WKRP in
Cincinnati, NewsRadio, and The Naked Truth (Hiltbrand, 1991, 1995). In the
90s, newsroom-based sitcoms Murphy Brown, SportsNight and Lateline added an
infusion of reality by incorporating story meetings and control rooms,
featuring guest appearances by real newsmakers and mirroring current news
and sports events (Marin, 1998a, Marin, 1998b).
Dramatic examples of fictional broadcast journalists on television are
harder to find. TV newsman Lou Grant switched to print when his character
was resurrected for a 1980s dramatic series. Another series, WIOU featured
reporters, producers, anchors and photographers at a local, low-rated
television station, working to put daily newscasts on the air (Hiltbrand,
1990). It aired for only a few weeks in the fall of 1990.
Several TV dramas have had one or two lead characters employed as broadcast
journalists. On Beverly Hills 90210 the character Brandon Walsh worked at
his high school and college newspapers, then became a TV journalist. On
Dawson's Creek the title character's mother was a television news
anchor. On the soap opera Days of Our Lives, characters Jennifer Horton
and Jack Devereaux worked as TV news reporters. Other soap operas,
including All My Children, Another World and Guiding Light have featured
news reporters and television stations at various times.
Broadcast journalists have appeared as minor characters on television
dramas, such as ER, The West Wing, and Law and Order. These characters
typically appear in a single episode, often part of a "pack" of reporters,
and are not usually known by name. Mahon (1994) characterizes these
appearances as plot-moving devices and laments that they are extremely
negative and stereotypical portrayals.
Because the most enduring TV portrayals of broadcast journalists are found
in situation comedies, they are subject to the limitations of that genre,
about which there is prior research. The cast of characters is like a
surrogate family (Douglas & Olson, 1995), and their relationships are
central to most plotlines. Romantic relationships (or the lack of them)
provide much of the comic material and characters are frequently put into
ridiculous situations, especially in shows that rely on physical
comedy. Prior analysis of broadcast journalist characters on situation
comedies indicate commonly-appearing stereotypes: the arrogant,
narcissistic anchorperson, the "news nerd" (or "news nun"), the overly
ambitious intern/assistant, and the crusty-but-lovable boss (Hiltbrand,
1990, 1991, 1995; Marin, 1998a, 1998b).
Fictional Film Models
Fictional broadcast journalists who have appeared in films offer more
potential occupational models. They are included in the current project
for two reasons. First, these portrayals are readily available for home
viewing, through the proliferation of cable movie channels and the
availability of video rentals. Current college-age students may not make a
significant differentiation between a network TV sitcom and a feature film
on HBO. Secondly, the portrayals in the feature films to be presented are
markedly more serious and dramatic than the situation comedy portrayals
presented previously and therefore offer opportunity for a richer analysis.
More than 1000 movies have featured reporters as central characters, but
the majority were print journalists (Mahon, 1994). Notable broadcast
journalists in film include Network's anchorman Howard Beale and The China
Syndrome's reporter Kimberly Wells, both characterized as extremely
dramatized and exaggerated (Hanson, 1996).
Film critic Roger Ebert called 1987's Broadcast News "as knowledgeable
about the TV news-gathering process as any movie ever made (1987)." Based
at a fictional TV network news operation, the film featured producer Jane
Craig, reporter Aaron Altman and reporter/anchor Tom Grunick. The
characters were shown in all facets of newsgathering: interviewing,
reporting, and editing. News broadcasts were shown from both the anchor
desk and control room perspectives. There was emphasis on newsroom
decision-making and crisis management, as well as political and economic
realities of network news.
Personal relationships were the focus of two other newsroom-based films:
the 1988 comedy Switching Channels (a remake of the newspaper-based The
Front Page) and 1996's Up Close and Personal. The first emphasized a
competitive relationship between characters involved in newsgathering,
(Ebert, 1988) while the second emphasized the marketing and packaging of
television news by talent consultants, agents and ratings services (Ebert,
1996). Still, both were primarily billed as love stories.
Two highly negative portrayals of broadcast journalists came in two mid-90s
films: Natural Born Killers and To Die For. In the first, the character
Wayne Gale was a reporter for a tabloid TV magazine program who became
embroiled in covering a cross-country killing spree perpetrated by a young
husband and wife and eventually became a killer himself. Hanson (1996)
called this portrayal "the lowest form of life." Gale was shown performing
some aspects of his reporting job, but his work was not the film's
focus. In To Die For, the Suzanne Stone character aspired to a career in
network television and took a weathercasting job at a small cable station,
which became the setting for several scenes. Other scenes involved Stone's
efforts to shoot and edit a news documentary about local teenagers, one of
whom she seduced and coerced into murdering her husband.
Fictional portrayals of real journalists Mike Wallace, Don Hewitt, and
Lowell Bergman, all of TV's 60 Minutes, were featured in the 1999 film The
Insider. Like the earlier Broadcast News, this film centered on a producer
and offered a behind-the-scenes perspective of investigative news reporting
and an ensuing ethical crisis. Ebert (1999) suggests that the film
demonstrated "what a long, slow, frustrating process investigative
journalism can be," and that is also presented an example of "skilled
Some films have featured fictional broadcast journalists in small roles. A
TV reporter character, Gale Weathers, appeared in the three Scream
movies. In Primal Fear and The Fugitive, Chicago TV reporters and anchors
played themselves in brief roles. Reporters who are not central characters
are usually anonymous and overwhelmingly negative, "a pack of shouting men
and women armed with cameras and notebooks," hounding the show's major
characters (Saltzman, 1993, p. 55).
The portrayals clearly vary in their level of realism, although no
objective content analysis has been conducted to date. They also vary in
their level of stereotyping. Gersh (1991) contends that reporters are
"usually portrayed as rude, divorced, hard-drinking, cigarette-smoking
misfits who will do anything for a front-page byline (or a lead story)" (p.
Real Media Models
A vast number of real broadcast journalists can be watched and listened to
on a daily, even hourly basis. The proliferation of all-news channels on
cable services, the creation of multiple news magazine programs, the
expansion of newscasts at the local level and the popularity of news/talk
radio all add to the potential sources of influence. 1422 non-satellite
television stations in the US produce an average of 2.9 hours of local news
content each weekday (Papper & Gerhard, 1999), with an average of 32
full-time news employees.
CNN, local TV news and public television were cited as the most trustworthy
news sources, in a 1998 Gallup Poll (Prato, 1998). Nightly network
newscasts and local newscasts were ranked first and second as the prime
sources of news in that poll. In another study, 84% of 509 households
surveyed named local TV news as their most frequent and most influential
source of information (Trigoboff, 1998).
Recent content analyses of local TV newscasts (Fitzgerald, 1997; Grossman,
1997; US Department of Health and Human Services, 1998) reported a heavy
emphasis on crime. Thirty percent of available news time was filled with
crime stories, according to one study. Crime coverage was followed in the
rankings by coverage of government and politics, weather, and
At the national level, observers have noted a shift from traditional
journalism, to a softer, more entertainment-oriented focus. Network
newscasts have been described as "a deep layer of feature stories and
analysis topped off with a relatively thin layer of actual news (Adalian,
1999, p.1)." Alter (1999) states that analysis and entertainment are the
highest values in current TV news operations. He blames the popularity of
and reliance on talk show formats for this shift.
Many broadcast news executives blame tabloid programs like A Current
Affair, Hard Copy and Inside Edition for fueling a trend toward
sensationalistic news coverage (Viles, 1993). Those programs were the
first to employ various production techniques: flashy graphics, creative
editing, high-energy story-telling and increased use of music within stories.
The emergence of the news magazine format has also changed the national
news landscape. In the late 1990s, news magazines were among the
highest-rated primetime programs, and the anchor positions are some of the
most coveted in the news business (Levin, 1997). Levin quotes CBS News
president Andrew Heyward, "Unfortunately, prime-time is seen as more
happening or more glamorous than newscasts (p.1)." 60 Minutes producer Don
Hewitt said of the news magazine phenomenon, "It's spawning a generation of
personalities, not newspeople (Levin, 1997, p.1)." Many news anchors have
indeed achieved celebrity status. Much has been written about their
salaries, their lifestyles, their successes and failures (e.g., Levin,
1997; Pickerill, 1997; Zoglin, 1989). Analysts contend that this further
contributes to the blurring of entertainment and journalism (Alter, 1999;
Clearly viewers can gain occupational knowledge from watching TV
newscasts and other news programs. Specifically, they can observe a great
deal about the performance aspect of the job. They do not have much
opportunity to observe the work that occurs behind the scenes.
Research Questions and Hypotheses
The current study will draw from and attempt to build upon previous work in
measuring both general perceptions of the profession and more specific
expectations of what a broadcast journalism job will entail.
Perceptions and Expectations
Most prior research with journalism students has focused on their
perceptions. In several studies (Bowers, 1974; Dodd, et al., 1990; Endres
& Wearden, 1990; Mann et al., 1987) high school and college journalism
students perceived broadcast journalism as interesting, challenging and
offering a variety of assignments. Other reported perceptions include
"useful to society" (Dodd et al., 1990) and "ethical" (Endres & Wearden,
1990). In one survey (Mann et al., 1987) students ranked broadcast
journalism high in "prestige," but in another survey (Dodd et al., 1990)
students ranked it low.
Students' expectations of a career in broadcast journalism have also been
addressed previously. Students expected poor job security (Endres &
Wearden, 1990), and low salaries (Dodd et al., 1990; Mann et al., 1987),
and they ranked glamour as least important out of 20 factors (Funkhouser &
Cultivation Theory and Exposure Measures
The grounding studies of cultivation theory utilized a measure of total
television viewing, based on the contention that over time viewers are
exposed to a set of messages that essentially repeats itself. However,
there is a move toward more focused measures. Potter (1990) noted "a
growing body of evidence that cultivation is linked to particular patterns
of exposure" (p. 846). Recent studies found content-specific viewing to
be a more reliable predictor of occupational perceptions than total viewing
(Pfau, Mullen, Deidrich & Garrow, 1995; Pfau, Mullen & Garrow, 1995).
In the present study, cultivation theory would indicate that broadcast
journalism students may form certain perceptions of the profession in
accordance with the extent of their TV viewing. Heavy viewers, or those
exposed to particularly salient content, would come to believe that
broadcast journalists are like what they see on TV, but with both the real
and fictional broadcast journalists available to be viewed, it is not clear
which models might have greater impact. Therefore, the cultivation
portion of this project will begin with the following research question:
Research Question 1:
How does exposure to fictional and real broadcast journalists relate
perceptions of the field of broadcast journalism ?
Many researchers (Griffin & Sen, 1989; Huston et al., 1997; Wright, et al.,
1995; Wroblewski & Huston, 1987) have found that television portrayals of
have a greater impact among those who have the least personal experience
with these occupations. A second research question will address this aspect:
Research Question 2:
How does experience level relate to students' perceptions of the field of
Application of cultivation theory allows for the formulation of predictions
regarding how television exposure might correlate with particular
expectations of the profession. As discussed earlier, most lead
television characters employed as broadcast journalists are and have been
in situation comedies. Because sitcom characters are seldom seen performing
realistic job-related duties and are more often portrayed in social
settings, the following hypotheses are made:
Exposure to fictional TV broadcast journalists will be positively
with expectations of easy work
Exposure to fictional TV broadcast journalists will be positively
expectations of sociability
Film portrayals of broadcast journalists have historically offered more
intense and realistic characterizations, as noted in the previous
literature review. Journalists on film deliver passionate speeches about
journalistic responsibility. They work to uncover corruption and expose
evil. The characters' motivations are often expressed and developed in a
way they cannot be in a 30-minute sitcom, or even in an actual news
broadcast. This leads to the next hypothesis:
Exposure to fictional film broadcast journalists will be positively
with expectations of usefulness to society
Exposure to real broadcast journalists on newscasts, news magazines and
newschannels may cultivate expectations that a job in broadcast journalism
offers interesting work, has high status and provides good material
rewards. Newscast viewers typically observe a well-dressed, well-groomed
anchorperson sitting at a desk. They see reporters doing live shots,
stand-ups and conducting interviews. Further, especially at the network
level, anchors and reporters travel frequently and often interview
high-ranking leaders, politicians, celebrities and athletes. As discussed
earlier, many current broadcast journalists are themselves celebrities who
attract media attention about their lifestyles, salaries, etc. These
factors form the rationale for the next set of hypotheses:
Exposure to real broadcast journalists will be positively correlated with
expectations of intrinsic rewards (challenge, creativity, autonomy)
Exposure to real broadcast journalists will be positively correlated
expectations of status
Exposure to real broadcast journalists will be positively correlated
with expectations of extrinsic rewards (job security, advancement, salary)
Predictions regarding the seventh dimension, expectations of aggressive
span two categories of exposure. Real journalists, especially those
involved in field reporting, live reporting and in aspects of celebrity or
tabloid journalism, could be perceived as aggressive, offensive and
confrontational (the three items which comprise this
dimension). Journalists and analysts writing about news coverage of the OJ
Simpson murder trial, Princess Diana's death and the Clinton-Lewinsky
scandal have all portrayed journalists in this way (Effron, 1997;
Trigoboff, 1997; Witcover, 1998). Likewise, fictional film characters
playing broadcast journalists have also been characterized as aggressive
and confrontational (Gersh, 1991; Hanson, 1996; Saltzman,
1993). Therefore, the final set of hypotheses is as follows:
Exposure to real broadcast journalists will be positively correlated
with expectations of aggression
Exposure to fictional film broadcast journalists will be positively
with expectations of aggression.
The respondents were 191 students enrolled in mass communication or
journalism programs at four universities in Arkansas, Florida, Illinois and
Wisconsin, with two large programs (about 900 students each), one medium
program (390 students) and one small program (> 75 students). More than
half the respondents were female (56.5%), and 43.5% were male. The
majority (79.6%) of the respondents were white, 12% were African American,
3.1% were Latino(a), 1% were Asian American, 1% were Native American, .5%
were Arab/Middle Eastern and 2.6% were of mixed race or other ethnicity. A
third (33.5%) were freshmen, 23.6% were sophomores, 24.1% were juniors,
15.2% were seniors and 1.6% were graduate students (2.1% did not indicate
The majority of respondents reported being "very certain" (47%) or
"somewhat certain" (41%) of their decision to pursue a career in broadcast
journalism. Most made their decision during high school (41%), with 19%
reporting their decision was made before high school, 16% between high
school and college, and 24% during college. Regarding the job they most
hope to have, students selected "TV news anchor" most often (30%), followed
by "TV sports anchor" (15%). Students who selected "other" (14%)
frequently named jobs such as "entertainment reporter," "vee-jay," and
"talk show host." Other most desired jobs included "TV news reporter"
(7%), "TV sports reporter" (6%), "radio sports anchor" (4%), "radio news
anchor" (3%), "TV news producer" (3%), "TV sports producer" (3%), "radio
news reporter" (3%), and "radio sports reporter (2%). Finally, 12% said
they were "not sure" what job they wanted.
Items in this project were measured using a questionnaire comprised
primarily of closed-ended items, designed to measure students' media
exposure, their perceptions and expectations of the broadcast journalism
profession, and their experience level.
Measures of media exposure were broken into three areas: exposure to real
television journalists, exposure to fictional journalists on television
programs and exposure to fictional journalists in films.
Exposure to Real Broadcast Journalists
Students were asked to rate how often they watch the following news
programs, on a five-point scale (1 = never to 5 = frequently): national
evening newscasts, national morning newscasts, news magazine programs, news
analysis programs, 24-hour news channels, and local newscasts. Under each
item, three example programs were listed in order to aid recall and
increase understanding of the information being sought. The six items
were averaged to create an index of news exposure.
In a separate measure, students were asked to indicate how many hours they
watch television news programs in a typical week.
Exposure to Fictional Broadcast Journalists on Television
For exposure to fictional broadcast journalists, students were asked to
rate on a five-point scale (1 = never to 5 = frequently) how often they
watch or used to watch six television series: SportsNight, Lateline,
NewsRadio, Murphy Brown, WKRP in Cincinnati and The Mary Tyler Moore
Show. These six were selected because they each featured a newsroom, a
television station or a radio station as their main setting, and because
the majority of the characters on the programs were employed in
broadcasting. Soap operas and primetime programs which had characters
working as journalists were not included because broadcasting was not the
main setting. The six programs selected represent a range of time periods,
with two programs from the 1970's (which current students have presumably
seen in syndication), two from the late 1980's to early 1990's, and two
from the late 1990's. Scores on the six programs were averaged to form an
index of fictional television exposure.
In a separate measure, students were asked to indicate on a five-point
scale (1 = never to 5 = frequently) how often they have watched TV shows
that feature fictional broadcast journalists.
Exposure to Fictional Broadcast Journalists in Films
Students were asked to indicate (yes/no) which of the following six movies
they had seen: Network, Broadcast News, Switching Channels, To Die For, Up
Close and Personal and The Insider. These six were selected in part
because they represented various time periods, from 1976's Network to The
Insider, released in 1999. The six films featured main characters employed
as broadcast journalists, with television networks or stations as their
main settings. The films also feature a mix of positive and negative
portrayals of broadcast journalists. The number of films seen was counted,
in order to form an index of fictional film exposure.
In a separate measure, students were asked to indicate on a five-point
scale (1 = never to 5 = frequently) how often they have watched movies that
feature fictional broadcast journalists.
Perceptions and Expectations of Broadcast Journalism
Perceptions of the profession of broadcast journalism and their
expectations of a job in broadcast journalism were measured by having
students rate their level of agreement with a number of statements (1 =
strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree).
Perceptions of Broadcast Journalism
Six statements addressed perceptions of broadcast journalism as a
profession. Five of the six (interesting work, useful in society,
financially rewarding, prestige and opportunity for good family life) were
taken from Dodd et al. (1990), who used them to survey students attending a
press convention. They were previously used in a similar way in the 1950s
and 1960s. To these six, one item was added: journalism is an ethical
profession. These six items were analyzed separately.
Expectations of Broadcast Journalism
Twenty-three statements addressed expectations of what it would be like to
work in broadcast journalism. Of these, 21 were used to form seven
subscales. The items on each subscale were averaged. Four subscales were
adapted from previous research: status (2 items, alpha = .53) and easy
work (4 items, alpha =.65) (adapted from Signorielli, 1993), extrinsic
rewards (3 items, alpha =.67) and intrinsic rewards (3 items, alpha =.59)
(adapted from Ryu & Mortimer, 1996). Three subscales were created for this
project: social aspect of the work (3 items, alpha =.57), usefulness to
society (3 items, alpha =.79) and aggression (3 items, alpha =.55). One
item, "I expect that a job in broadcast journalism will allow me to make my
own decisions," was eliminated from the analysis because the alpha of the
subscale (intrinsic values) on which it was included was extremely low. A
final item, "I will be expected to behave unethically in a job in broadcast
journalism," was analyzed separately.
Finally, an index of the respondents' experience level was created by
adding four items: internship; the number of courses they had taken that
involved skills such as reporting, writing, editing, production;
memberships in student/professional organizations; and journalism
experience (high school, college, or professional).
After receiving Institutional Review Board approval, the researcher
contacted seven instructors at four universities and asked them to
distribute surveys to students in mass communication and broadcast
journalism courses. Surveys were self-administered, with some completed
during class time; some returned to the instructor later. 300 surveys were
distributed; 191 usable surveys were returned, for a response rate of 64
All statistical calculations were made using the standard
statistical procedures in the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences
(SPSS), a set of computer programs created for the analysis of social
Research Question 1
Research question 1 asked how exposure to fictional and real broadcast
journalists would relate to students' perceptions of the profession. The
index of exposure to real broadcast journalists was significantly
correlated with perceptions of journalism as a prestigious profession (r =
.23, p < .001) and with perceptions that journalism offers interesting work
(r = .19, p < .01) and is useful in society (r = .19, p = .01). No
significant correlations were found with any other measures of media
Research Question 2
The correlation of students' experience level and perceptions provided two
significant findings. Experience level was negatively correlated with
perceptions that journalism is financially rewarding (r = -.27, p < .001)
and that journalism provides an opportunity for good family life (r = -.25,
p < .001).
Hypotheses 1 - 8
The hypotheses in this project addressed students' expectations of a job in
broadcast journalism. Hypotheses 1 and 2 predicted exposure to fictional
TV broadcast journalists would be correlated with expectations of easy work
and sociability. According to the results displayed in Table 1, those
relationships were not significant. Hypothesis 3 stated that exposure to
fictional film broadcast journalists would be correlated with expectations
of being useful to society. That relationship was not
significant. However, significant results were obtained in Hypotheses 4, 5
and 6, involving exposure to real broadcast journalists. Exposure to real
journalists positively correlated with expectations of intrinsic rewards (r
= .21, p < .005), as predicted. Exposure to real broadcast journalists
also positively correlated with expectations of being useful to society (r
= .26, p < .001). Hypothesis 7, regarding expectations of aggression, was
supported, with significant results on both the exposure index (r = .21, p
< .001) and the single-item exposure measure (r = .19, p < .01). There was
no support for Hypothesis 8, the prediction of a correlation between
aggression and film exposure.
Correlations Among Media Exposure and Expectations of Broadcast Journalism
Easywork Social Useful Intrinsic Extrinsic
Index -.03 -.06 -.05 -.03
-.03 .06 .14
1-Item -.04 -.02 .03 .09
.02 -.01 -.02
Index .09 .00 -.01 -.06
.11 .06 .08
1-Item -.11 .01 .08 .12
.07 .01 -.00
Index -.06 -.03 .26*** .21** .04
1-Item .01 -.13 .09 -.01 .07
*p < .01, ** p < .005, *** p < .001
Note. 1-tailed tests were used for directional hypotheses; 2-tailed tests
were used for all other correlations. Film Index = Index of exposure 6
films, Film 1-Item = self-reported film exposure, TV Index = Index of
exposure to 6 situation comedies, TV 1-Item = self-reported fictional TV
exposure, News Index = Index of exposure to 6 types of TV news programs,
News 1-Item = self-reported TV news exposure
Summary of Findings
Attempts to build support for cultivation theory were somewhat successful,
utilizing the content-specific approach espoused by several researchers
(Pfau, Mullen, Diedrich, et al., 1995; Potter, 1990; Reep & Dambrot,
1994). Exposure to real broadcast journalists was correlated with
perceptions that the field has status, useful in society, and offers
interesting work. News exposure was also correlated with expectations that
a job in broadcast journalism would fulfill intrinsic needs and would be
useful to society. These findings mirror previous surveys on perceptions
of journalism students (Dodd et al., 1990, Endres & Wearden, 1990; Mann et
al., 1987), but they extend that work by tying those perceptions to media
exposure. Another significant finding involved a previously unresearched
perception: whether the job will require aggressive and confrontational
behavior. Students with higher levels of news exposure were more likely to
believe that it will.
With the exception of the aggression item, the significant results resulted
from positive perceptions, which make sense considering that respondents
are obviously attracted to the profession. This may also indicate an
explanation tied to the uses and gratifications perspective: students
attracted to this career seek career models and focus on the attractive and
positive aspects. Even aggressive behavior may be perceived as attractive
and positive to students attracted to this career. Still, cultivation
theorists contend that evidence of even a slight effect is very important
to their work (Morgan & Signorielli, 1990).
Exposure to fictional characters did not provide any significant
correlations with career perceptions or expectations. Overall, the
attempts to measure exposure to fictional journalists were unsuccessful,
because the TV programs and films presented in the survey were not
frequently watched by most respondents. However, through the single-item
measures, respondents indicated they have seen fictional broadcast
journalists, so future research may be warranted in this area. Due to these
results regarding fictional portrayals, it is difficult to generalize to
fictional portrayals of any other occupations.
Findings regarding the experience level of respondents, which contradict
previous work (Griffin & Sen, 1989; Huston et al., 1997; Wright, et al.,
1995; Wroblewski & Huston, 1987), make sense in the realm of media-related
careers. Typically, young people with little occupational experience rely
more heavily on TV as a source of occupational information and inspiration,
often leading to unrealistic perceptions. However, students who have
chosen a TV career apparently turn to the media to gain more information,
even as their own knowledge and experience grows.
It may be possible to generalize to larger populations of students, because
these results highlight the expanding role of media in the lives of young
people during the time they are making important career and educational
decisions. However, the primary intent of this project was to provide
needed information about the specific population of aspiring broadcast
journalists, by approaching their situation with a theoretical approach
that had not yet been utilized.
The primary limitations of this study are those typical to survey
research. Questionnaire length may have limited or compromised accuracy of
responses. Self-reports of media exposure may not have been accurate since
individuals generally under-report television viewing, and due to the
potential ambiguity of two items: "How often have you watched television
programs that feature fictional broadcast journalists?" and "How often have
you watched films that feature fictional broadcast journalists?" Because
'fictional broadcast journalist' was not defined, and no examples were
given, respondents likely formed their own conceptions of that term.
Another limitation, as with any media effects research, is the inability
to determine causality. Media exposure may have led the students to
develop certain perceptions and expectations of the broadcast journalism
profession. However, it is also possible that their already-existing
perceptions and expectations were reinforced by subsequent media exposure.
This study suffered from the lack of a focused and objective analysis of
the media portrayals being measured, instead relying on a variety of
analyses and reports. Ideally, a content analysis should be done before
undertaking a study in the cultivation tradition (Morgan & Signorielli,
1990). Better information about the occupational portrayals being studied
could lead to the construction of a more effective scale for measuring
occupational perceptions and expectations.
Directions for Future Research
Future research regarding the career decisions of aspiring broadcast
journalists should focus on the specific models to which these students are
exposed and attracted. A previous study (Trendle Polus, 2002) indicated
that music television, entertainment television and sports programming
appear to be significant sources of career information. Future work could
examine the characteristics of such programs and the broadcasters on them,
and attempt to correlate those with students' perceptions and expectations
of the profession.
Primetime television portrayals not addressed in the present study could
be included in future work. For example, a recent episode of ER featured a
news reporter who spent the day in the emergency room, used questionable
newsgathering tactics and wrote an inflammatory and unfavorable
story. Because ER is watched each week by millions of viewers, there is
the potential for far-reaching impact. Other portrayals, in both primetime
and daytime television, may be of significance to college-age individuals.
Previous work on the concept of parasocial interaction could be integrated
into future research in this area. Studies have shown that viewers who
develop a high degree of liking for a particular character often want to be
like that character (Hoffner, 1996; Rubin & Perse, 1989). That emulation
may extend to being interested in the career in which the character is
employed. The concept can be further extended to parasocial interaction
with newscasters, as it relates specifically to the development of career
Another avenue of future research could include students who considered,
but rejected, a career in broadcast journalism, or who never considered it
at all. Were these students affected by the negative portrayals of
fictional broadcast journalists which have been documented by many authors
(e.g., Gersh, 1991; Hanson, 1996; Mahon, 1994; Saltzman, 1993)? Or were
they affected by the criticisms that many authors, analysts and pundits
have leveled against real broadcast journalists over the last decade
(Effron, 1997; Trigoboff, 1997; Witcover, 1998)?
In conclusion, it appears that the majority of prior research on journalism
influences is quickly growing outdated, especially in the specific area of
broadcast journalism. The current findings indicate that students
perceptions and expectations of the profession are most closely tied to
exposure to real broadcast journalists, rather than fictional ones. The
findings also indicate what could be categorized as positive perceptions:
broadcast journalism is useful to society and offers interesting work, as
well as realistic perceptions about the financial rewards and the
opportunity for good family life. Recognizing and understanding what
influences and motivates broadcast journalism students and what perceptions
and expectations they hold as a result should be of critical importance to
educators and professionals in this field.
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