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Normative Theories of the Media

Journalism in Democratic Societies

Clifford G. Christians

Publication Year: 2009

Using Fred S. Siebert, Theodore Peterson, and Wilbur Schramm's classic Four Theories of the Press as their point of departure, the authors consider what the role of journalism ought to be in a democratic society. They examine the philosophical underpinnings and political realities of journalism, thereby identifying four distinct yet overlapping roles for the media: "monitorial," "facilitative," "radical," and "collaborative." Ultimately they show how these competing paradigms can affect the laws, policies, and public attitudes of a liberal society.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Series: The History of Communication


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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xi

The question of the role of journalism in a democratic society is so central that even students and practitioners of communication are used to taking it for granted. Yet, today, both journalism and democracy are challenged by great changes, ranging from...


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pp. 1-2

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1. Beyond Four Theories of the Press

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pp. 3-34

Since the 1960s a rich expansion of thought has taken place regarding normative theories of public communication, models of democracy, and the roles of journalism in democratic societies. The media world has become far more complicated, and the analysis...

Part One: Theory

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2. Evolution of Normative Traditions

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pp. 37-64

Where does a history of normative theory of public communication begin? Some historically based typologies of normative thinking about the media such as Four Theories are widely recognized as flawed in part because these typologies locate the beginning of...

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3. Characteristics of Normative Theory

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pp. 65-88

The historical review of the previous chapter shows that the clarification of normative theory is not a deterministic process of historical progression, but a continuous conversation among major social actors seeking to understand how public discourse should be carried...

Part Two: Democracy

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4. The Principles and Practice of Democracy

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pp. 91-113

Democracy means popular sovereignty. In whatever particular form it might take, a democratic community represents the triumph of the rule of the many over rule by the few. Unlike monarchies, where individuals or an individual family rules, or oligarchies...

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5. Roles of News Media in Democracy

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pp. 114-136

The first news media were newspapers, that is, regularly appearing written accounts of current events, mainly of a political, diplomatic, military, or commercial character. They claimed to offer reliable information, or at least to be an authoritative, official source...

Part Three: Roles

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6. The Monitorial Role

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pp. 139-157

Harold Lasswell (1948) gave the media’s monitorial role a theoretical basis, describing a basic function of all communication as surveillance. This idea has been generally adopted in communication theory to refer to the process of observing an extended environment...

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7. The Facilitative Role

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pp. 158-178

The facilitative role of the news media is rooted in the democratic tradition of civic republicanism (chapter 4). The media reflect the political order in which they are situated, and the logic and rationale for their facilitating public life is primarily that of civic...

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8. The Radical Role

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pp. 179-195

The radical role of the media and journalism insists on the absolute equality and freedom of all members of a democratic society in a completely uncompromising way. Too often, in societies based on the competitive market principle, great imbalances of wealth...

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9. The Collaborative Role

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pp. 196-218

Perhaps because the very idea of collaboration implies a relationship with the state or other centers of power that clashes with the libertarian ideal of a free and autonomous press, a collaborative role for journalism seldom receives the attention it deserves...


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10. Media Roles under Challenge

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pp. 221-242

We have outlined the underlying normative principles by which the media’s contribution to the democratic political process has typically been judged. We have also tried to describe the various journalistic roles that the media themselves choose to play in society...


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pp. 243-268


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pp. 269-275

E-ISBN-13: 9780252090837
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252034237

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: The History of Communication
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OCLC Number: 733775547
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Normative Theories of the Media

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Journalism -- Political aspects.
  • Journalism -- Social aspects.
  • Democracy.
  • Press and politics.
  • Freedom of the press.
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