Impartiality (Journalistic Reporting Styles)


  • Miriam Steiner



objectivity, subjectivity, opinion, commentary, professional standards


Impartiality is a journalistic norm that requires journalists to not express their opinions within factual-based news stories and to report fairly and balanced on opinions and viewpoints from others (e.g., Bentele, 1988; Donsbach & Klett, 1993; Hackett, 2008). Based on the impartiality standard, journalists should only express their own opinions in news formats that are intended for this purpose and appropriately labelled (e.g., commentaries).


Field of application/theoretical foundation:

The journalistic norm of impartiality is often analysed in the context of studies on media performance (e.g., Fahr, 2001; Maurer, 2005; Seethaler, 2015). Here, elite media outlets are often compared with popular media outlets. An increasing convergence between these types of media may also be a sign of an increasing tabloidization of elite media. However, increasingly opinionated news stories can also be regarded as an indicator of a more interpretive journalism (see Salgado & Strömbäck, 2012 for an overview of interpretive journalism).


References/combination with other methods of data collection:

Content analyses can be combined with survey data on the editorial policy/ ideological orientation of the respective media outlets (e.g., see Kepplinger, 2011 with his research on instrumental actualization).


Example study:

Seethaler, 2015


Information on Seethaler, 2015

Author: Josef Seethaler

Research question: The study is a cross-media analysis of media performance in Austria. Furthermore, media performance indicators are evaluated from the standpoint of different models of democracy (representative liberal, deliberative, participatory).

Object of analysis: 1) newspapers (paid press: Standard, Presse, Kleine Zeitung, Kronen Zeitung, Kurier, Oberösterreichische Nachrichten, Salzburger Nachrichten, Tiroler Tageszeitung, Vorarlberger Nachrichten); 2) newspapers (free dailies: Heute, Österreich); 3) public service/commercial and national/regional radio stations (Ö1, Ö3, FM4, KRONEHIT, ORF – Radio Niederösterreich, Radio Oberösterreich, Radio Steiermark, Radio Wien, 88.6 Wien, Antenne Steiermark, Life Radio Oberösterreich, Radio Arabella Wien, Radio Energy Wien); 4) national public service (ORF eins, ORF 2, ORF III) and commercial (ATV I, ATV II, PULS 4, ServusTV) TV stations; 5) online (,,,,

Time frame of analysis: four artificial weeks (without Sundays) in 2014  


Info about variable

The degree of the appearance of the journalist’s point of view (in factual news formats) is evaluated on a 5-point-scale ranging from “explicitly personal” (1) to “purely distanced-impartial” (5).

Variable name: Unparteilichkeit [Impartiality]

Level of analysis: article

Values (in German): 1) explizit persönlich gefärbt; 2) eher persönlich gefärbt; 3) sowohl persönlich gefärbt als auch distanziert-unparteiisch; 4) eher distanziert-unparteiisch; 5) ausschließlich distanziert-unparteiisch

Level of measurement: ordinal

Reliability: six coders, Fleiss’ Kappa: 0.97

Codebook (in German) available under:

see also DFG-Project “Media Performance and Democracy” (



Bentele, G. (1988). Wie objektiv können Journalisten sein? [How objective can journalists be?]. In L. Erbring, S. Ruß-Mohl, B. Seewald & B. Sösemann (Eds.), Medien ohne Moral. Variationen über Journalismus und Ethik (pp. 196–225). Berlin: Argon.

Donsbach, W., & Klett, B. (1993). Subjective objectivity: How journalists in four countries define a key term of their profession. Gazette, 51(1), 53–83.

Fahr, A. (2001). Katastrophale Nachrichten? Eine Analyse der Qualität von Fernsehnachrichten [Disastrous news? An analysis of the quality of television news]. München: R. Fischer.

Hackett, R. A. (2008). Objectivity in reporting. In W. Donsbach (Ed.), The International Encyclopedia of Communication (pp. 3345–3350). Malden et al.: Blackwell.

Kepplinger, H. M. (2011). Journalismus als Beruf  [Journalism as a profession]. Wiesbaden: VS.

Maurer, T. (2005). Fernsehnachrichten und Nachrichtenqualität: Eine Längsschnittstudie zur Nachrichtenentwicklung in Deutschland [Television news and news quality: A longitudinal study on the development of news in Germany]. München: R. Fischer.

Salgado, S., & Strömbäck, J. (2012). Interpretive journalism: A review of concepts, operationalizations and key findings. Journalism: Theory, Practice & Criticism, 13(2), 144–161.

Seethaler, J. (2015). Qualität des tagesaktuellen Informationsangebots in den österreichischen Medien. Eine crossmediale Untersuchung [News media quality in Austria: A crossmedia analysis]. Rundfunk und Telekom Regulierungs-GmbH. Retrieved from



How to Cite

Steiner, M. (2021). Impartiality (Journalistic Reporting Styles). DOCA - Database of Variables for Content Analysis.



News/Journalism: Variables for Content Analysis