Journalists Taking the Offensive: Paradigm Repair and the Daily Ethics Scandal


  • Raymond McCaffrey University of Arkansas



This study examined how journalists defended their profession as a stream of journalistic ethics breaches have spawned an onslaught of criticism online and via social media. A textual analysis of more than 500 stories about journalism ethics violations in 2014 revealed that journalists are employing a broad-based discursive strategy reflective of so-called “second-order paradigm repair.” When confronted with a major scandal such as the uproar involving the disputed Rolling Stone story about an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia, journalists can still respond in a manner consistent with traditional paradigm repair, which involves more elaborate strategies such as shifting the blame to rogue journalists and emphasizing corrective action by media outlets to reaffirm core values such as objectivity. Yet in response to the more commonplace journalism scandals, journalists have employed second-order paradigm repair, which allows members of the media to advance a competing narrative that enhances and supports a sense of professional identity. This identity is one in which journalists are portrayed as defending the profession from outside threats, such as challenges to press freedoms by governments entities as well as ethical compromises by media owners pandering to advertisers and business interests. This narrative can serve to deflect criticism of journalists, as seen in stories about media coverage of racially-charged protests in Ferguson, MO, which focused on challenges to press freedoms instead of criticism about the insensitivity of reporters. At the same time, journalists have utilized a quick-strike response to ethical lapses that often shifts the blame to the disruptive forces of new technology.


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