The relationship between the education of journalists and their perception of autonomy. Preliminary results of the Worlds of Journalism Project (WJS) in Latin America
AUTHORS (alphabetic order)
Adriana Amado, National University of Matanza (Argentina)
Claudia Mellado, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso (Chile)
Jesús Arroyave, Universidad del Norte (Colombia)
José Luis Benítez, Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas, UCA (El Salvador)
Martín Oller, Universidad de las Américas (Ecuador)
Mireya Márquez, Universidad Iberoamericana (México)
Sallie Hughes, University of Miami (México)
Sonia Virginia Moreira, Rio de Janeiro State University (Brazil)
Little comparative research has been undertaken in Latin America about the relationship between the training of journalists and their perceptions of autonomy. Furthermore, these studies do not take into account the context and its influences. This decontextualized perspective has been, and is being, much criticized for its reductionism, partiality, and homogeneity. Hence, as Mellado (2009: 10) states, “the research topics have been more oriented towards the receiver, the media or the message, not to the journalist as subject influenced and conditioned by a contextual and professional reality”.
Up until now journalism education in Latin America is based on the standards and normative values from the model of journalism taken from Western countries. There are hardly any educational concepts adapted to regional problems and characteristics. Additionally, a process of professionalization of journalism has begun in this region only a few years ago, forcing journalists to improve their competences by subjecting themselves to professional training at universities or colleges. This having direct consequences on the level of autonomy of journalists, as professionalization of journalism is being directly linked this concept. Hallin and Mancini (2004) confirmed, although formal training is not essential to the practice of journalism, there is a strong correlation between professional autonomy and formal training.
This paper analyses the journalistic culture of Latin America based on the relationship between the training in journalism and the perception of autonomy of journalists. We have selected seven countries: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador and Colombia (South America) and El Salvador and Mexico (Central and North America); all of which can be defined as Intermediate Journalistic Cultures (Oller y Barredo, 2013).
The research questions are: Which issues are currently debated in these countries about the importance of journalistic training? What relationship exists between journalism training and the perception of autonomy of journalists? How do the contextual factors influence in these perceptions? And, what differences and similarities can be found between countries in this region?
The preliminary results of the Worlds of Journalism Studies (WJS) project show that the media systems in this region tend towards either economic concentration in right wing countries (Chile, Colombia and Mexico) or interventionism of governments in left wing countries (Ecuador, Argentina, Brazil and El Salvador). These are the main reasons that explain the type of journalisms exercise in these countries, as they influence not only the level of education of journalists, but also the degree of autonomy.
Interestingly, in both groups a tendency can be detected to create a professional group of journalists who graduated from university: Today more than 60% of journalists in every country have a university degree, which signifies a drastic change in recent years. Additionally journalists with an academic degree (bachelor, master or doctorate) perceive a higher level of autonomy in the selection of stories and the participation in editorial coordination.
 We speak about the concept of intermediate journalistic cultures (Oller and Barredo, 2013) in Latin America, where “global media standards are reinterpreted based on the local political structure and cultures are combined with ‘indigenous’ practices” (Hallin and Mancini, 2012: 285). As Oller and Barredo (2013: 20) claim, in order to understand the intermediate journalistic cultures in Latin America it is necessary: 1) “to define journalists as symbolic producers, able to conceptualize, build and transmit meanings of cultural forms; but also to articulate and disseminate the ideologies that identify a nation” and 2) to emphasize the importance of these symbolic managers because in these countries (postcolonial, developing or under undemocratic regimes) they are the major producers of strategic meanings ordering reality (Mahon, 2000).