Questions of judgment in the newsroom: A journalistic instrumental-value theory for media ethics

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mass Communications


Joan A. Deppa


Judgment, Newsroom, Journalistic, Instrumental-value, Media ethics

Subject Categories

Ethics and Political Philosophy | Journalism Studies | Social Psychology


Current media ethics theorizing remains preoccupied with building competing normative philosophical frameworks, yet does not often focus on the construction and operation of human value systems--which arguably are the engines that drive most ethical deliberations. This study draws from extensive social psychology research on value systems to construct a profile of journalistic values using a modified version of the Rokeach Value Survey. By examining the relationships between journalists' value rankings, the journalistic roles they embrace and how they rate different types of ethical questions in terms of difficulty, this study suggests an avenue for more useful theorizing about the process of ethical decision making among journalists.

A nationwide probability-sample survey of 600 newspaper journalists produced a response rate of 58 percent (N = 349). Results show a series of relationships between individual prioritized values and journalists' perceptions of the difficulty of different types of ethical issues. Results also show relationships between values and various roles that journalists play in society.

A series of personal, in-depth interviews with journalists also explores the ways in which journalists perceive the role of personal values and how those values manifest themselves in everyday decision-making.


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