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Ethnographic Fieldwork: Studying Journalists at Work

By: Published: 2014 | Product: SAGE Research Methods Cases Part 1
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I had been working as a journalist for almost 10 years when I began questioning the way we journalists worked. Having a degree in anthropology, I began to think of the newsroom as a place that one could study. To me, it seemed that methods of ethnographic fieldwork derived from anthropology would be very fruitful for exploring the everyday routines and practices of journalists at work today. In 2007, I embarked on a PhD study to examine the everyday routines of TV news journalists in the United Kingdom and Denmark. For 18 months, I conducted fieldwork inside the TV newsrooms of BBC News and Independent Television (ITV) News (in the United Kingdom), Direct Response Television (DR TV) Avisen and TV2 Nyhederne (in Denmark). In order to explore the everyday working routines, I chose to conduct a participant observation study. The fact that I had myself been a journalist was useful because I was able to participate in some of the newsroom work by taking part in discussions, holding a camera or helping journalists with practical tasks. My previous work in journalism gave me unique access to the people whom I studied. However, the fact that I had been a part of the group studied could also mean that my research was biased – a fact that I reflected on both during and after fieldwork. This case study is an account of how I used ethnographic methods such as participant observation to study the everyday work of journalists. It presents the uses of ethnographic fieldwork as well as some of the obstacles and challenges of this particular method for studying journalists specifically. This case focuses particularly on the challenges of limiting the field of research and of studying a group to which the researcher already belongs.

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