Executive Summary

How do journalists view their roles and responsibilities in reporting on cross-partisan common ground and divisiveness? What do they believe would help to support developing different approaches to journalism that addresses those issues? To explore those questions, Public Agenda conducted in-depth confidential interviews with a snowball sample of 18 journalists in the fall of 2021.

Key Findings

  1. The journalists interviewed for this research generally did not view the media’s focus on partisan conflict as a problem. They assumed that stories about common ground had to be “positive” stories.
  2. Interviewees said that journalism focused on divisiveness reflects reality and that they have a responsibility to inform the public about partisan conflict.
  3. These journalists emphasized that institutional norms in the media encourage a focus on conflict. But they were divided over whether conflict-based stories
    actually drive business in the news industry.
  4. Interviewees said that in order to cover common ground and divisiveness differently, they need resources, namely time and skills to understand issues more deeply and to connect with communities. They emphasized that individual journalists cannot change institutional practices alone but need support from
    news organizations.

The report concludes with brief reflections on the findings. The Kettering Foundation served as a collaborator in this research.