Andreas Eickelkamp: Service Journalism

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The daily newspaper reports on product tests of washing machines; the computer magazine shows in a step-by-step guide how to set up the multi purpose device; the docu-soap opera watches a family with children with behavioral problems and monitors the professional therapy – media have always supported their audiences with advice, tips and hints on their everyday life. Over the past decades, service journalism – as a generic term for “news to use”, consumer or user journalism – has adopted a variety of formats and presentation styles. Yet its function in the context of the journalistic role and its functionality in the audience’s eye remained scientifically unclear.

Considering the background of increasing influences of industry and commerce through public relations, this study examines the functionality of service journalism for recipients as well as for social communication processes. It analyses professional roles, frameworks and the functionality of service journalism and defines it as a distinct type from other journalism genres. Based on this, an integrative research approach explores communicator intentions, media content and the use for and effect in, the recipient. The study on the one hand determines specific functions that are linked to the journalistic product (appeal, problem diagnosis, problem-solving and warning). On the other, a normatively based, quality-criteria driven professional role is established that attributes an integral function to service journalism as a genre (counseling, consumer protection, surveillance and service).

The research is embedded in a theoretical discussion. In the course of this discussion, models of media impact and findings from media psychology are evaluated and transferred into a new functional concept with which the specific feature of usability in journalism is substantiated and explained.