Eike Mark Rinke
Justificatory news: Investigating the contextual antecedents of justification in the news

2013, Mannheim, University of Mannheim. (Dissertation)

Several major contemporary theories of liberal democracy consider the health of a democracy to depend on the availability of public justification. But public justification has remained curiously underappreciated as an object of inquiry for political communication researchers. The purpose of this study was to address this gap and examine the conditions under which news journalism is capable of fulfilling a justification-presenting function in democracy and apt to produce justificatory news. The study conceptualized the presence of justification in the news (JIN) as a product of its societal and communicative contexts. It identified key characteristics of its transnational, national, organizational, substantive, and temporal contexts that operate as its antecedents. Hypotheses regarding each of these contextual effects were tested using multilevel analyses of data from a large-scale analysis of television news content from Germany, Russia, and the United States. Results indicate that distinct national news cultures persist in terms of opinion and justification presentation in the news. They also indicate that democratically constrained political adversarialism (United States) may have a stimulating effect on levels and probability of JIN, and that a defective-authoritarian system characterized by a non-competitive, monopolistic political process and tight state control of the mass media (Russia) may still produce JIN at levels comparable to an established consensus democracy (Germany) by crafting an “authoritarian mediated deliberation.” Findings also indicated that private and public nonprofit media tend to produce considerably more JIN than for-profit media organizations. Regarding associations of JIN with other features of news content, the investigation revealed that no substantial deliberative trade-offs exist regarding associations of various indicators of deliberative news with JIN. Dialogical news elements (i.e., interview segments, substantive responses among speakers) tended to enhance the justificatory performance of television news. Finally, results revealed that available time to speak is an important prerequisite of JIN; speaking time budgets affect justification practices of non-journalist speakers more than those of journalists, and shrinking sound bites were identified as the likely cause of a drastic decline of justification in German and U.S. television news in recent decades.