The formation of Korean journalists’ occupational identity as a “salaryman” and their moral judgment

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2016-05

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Abstract

Two studies that employed semi-structured in-depth interviews with 22 South Korean journalists found that significant changes have recently occurred in the occupational perspectives, behaviors, and moral reasoning among these journalists in accordance with changes in several contexts that influence their coverage and reporting activities. The first study focuses on Korean journalists’ occupational identity and structural conditions that have affected their attitudes toward the profession. Influenced by professional groups that in the past strongly advocated editorial independence and fair news reporting, many Korean journalists have continued to share these ideal values and goals that support their role as professionals who serve the public. However, recently some Korean journalists’ occupational self-identity has changed to that of a “salaryman,” defined as an employee whose main goal is to work for a living with little or no professional identity. The current study, designed to develop a substantive theory using an inductive approach, finds that formation of Korean journalists’ occupational identity as a “salaryman” is the product of three structural conditions that influence their work. These findings touch upon two major topics of discussion in journalism studies: a comparative approach for analysis of practices of the press in certain countries and the long-held question of whether journalism is a profession. The second study, using an adaptation of Kohlberg’s Moral Judgment Interview that was developed to identify participants’ moral justification for their choice in dilemmatic situations, explores the characteristics of Korean journalists’ moral reasoning and situational conditions that affect their decision-making in ethical dilemmas they encounter in the workplace. Findings show that the level of Korean journalists’ moral development is fairly low, considered to be the outcome of their adoption in recent years of an occupational self-identification as a “salaryman” rather than as a professional. Current workplace practices in South Korean media companies appear to have eroded Korean journalists’ professional autonomy. Especially, the weakening of Korean journalists’ long-held collective resistance to editorial interference along with the failure of their massive strikes has resulted in their feelings of demoralization, powerlessness, and fear of being disadvantaged, thereby affecting their occupational moral judgment.

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