Personally speaking: a large-scale analysis of journalistic ethos in personal journalism

In this paper, we present a large-scale analysis of journalistic self-representation in personal journalism. Lived experience and sincere self-expression have gained prominence as reliable sources of knowledge – an epistemological conception Van Zoonen (2012) has called ‘I-pistemology’. In journalism, this development is reflected in the growing popularity of personal journalism, in which reporters foreground their own subjectivity. Personal journalism deviates from what is commonly understood to be trustworthy journalism, which is supposed to be neutral and objective. It could therefore have far-reaching consequences, as it potentially changes what is considered to be trustworthy journalistic knowledge.

To understand the impact of the personalization of knowledge on journalism, we analyze the ethos construction of journalists in personal journalism. Ethos is defined as the strategic self-image the journalist creates in the text to persuade their audience (Amossy 2001). The ethos construction of journalists builds on and reworks culturally shared ideal types of trustworthy journalism. These ideal types are the result of journalistic epistemologies, i.e. the set of interrelated norms, practices, and textual conventions that prescribe what counts as reliable methods to produce and convey journalistic knowledge (Ekström & Westlund 2019).

We analyze the ethos construction of journalists in newspaper articles of three Dutch national newspapers between 1991 and 2021. Through automatic quote detection, we distinguish between first-person pronouns that refer to the journalist, and first-person pronouns in citations, that refer to their sources. We use a combination of syntactic parsing and collocation analysis to analyze which words are closely associated with the ‘I’ of the journalist and map the trends over time and between newspapers. Our analysis sheds light on emerging journalistic epistemologies that understand the subjectivity of the reporter as an inherent part of journalistic knowledge production.

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Digital Humanities Tilburg