Changed priorities ahead: Journalists’ shifting role perceptions when covering public health crises

Celine Klemm*, Enny Das, Tilo Hartmann

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Journalistic role perceptions have been extensively studied in general contexts, but little is known as to how roles – or role prioritization – may shift across contexts, and professional characteristics. The aim of this study was gaining an understanding of journalists’ changing role perceptions in health crisis coverage, and moreover to examine potential differences between general and specialist reporters. We conducted 22 in-depth interviews with reporters with experience in health crisis reporting in Germany and Finland. Findings suggest that journalists’ roles shift when covering health crises (versus non-crises), towards a role as public mobilizers, towards classifying risks and from a watchdog to a more co-operative role. Furthermore, professional characteristics matter in journalists’ understanding and performance of their roles. Specialist reporters appear better equipped to deal with the challenges of health crisis coverage, such as balancing remaining critical with co-operation with authorities in their efforts to contain crises. Specialist reporters are also less likely to get swayed by the panic often accompanying health crises than general reporters are.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1223-1241
Number of pages19
Issue number9
Early online date1 Feb 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2019


We would like to thank the journalists for their time and participation in this study, as well as the anonymous reviewers for providing valuable comments on earlier versions of this paper. The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: The research leading to these results has received funding from the Commission of the European Communities Seventh Framework Programme under grant agreement no. 278763. The study does not necessarily reflect the Commission?s views and in no way anticipates the Commission?s future policy in this area.

FundersFunder number
Seventh Framework Programme278763
Seventh Framework Programme


    • Crisis coverage
    • epidemic
    • expert interview
    • health emergency
    • health journalism
    • public health
    • role perceptions


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