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Agents of Change - Journalists with Aging Competence

Conference contribution
Authors Maria Edström
Published in IAGG-ER Conference 2019 May 23-25.
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Journalism, Media and Communication (JMG)
Centre for Ageing and Health (Agecap)
Language en
Keywords aging, ageism, journalism, ageing competence, ageing competence
Subject categories Older people and ageing, Media and Communications


Objectives: So far, the main pattern of aging in mainstream media is the absence of older people – or/and stereotyped images. Journalists play an important part in shaping public opinion about aging and older people. In that sense, they could both re-enforce or challenge stereotypes. Some journalists do have inclusive strategies and manage to interview older people in a non-stereotypical way and produce journalism on aging that reaches a large audience. The aim of this study is to investigate journalist strategies that avoid the stereotyped portrayal of older people. Theories and methods: The Capabilities Approach elaborated by philosopher Martha Nussbaum and theories on Journalism Ethics are the two main theories applied in this study. Nussbaum emphasizes institutional responsibility to guarantee citizens’ freedoms, in this case, the media is regarded as an institution. The empirical material consists of interviews with public service broadcasting journalists in Sweden who has dedicated their time to make television programs and tell stories about older people. The focus is on what strategies, experiences, and ethical skills they consider to be needed when including older persons, especially frail older persons. Results: The journalists interviewed all see a problem with the tendency of media professionals to consider older people as one homogenous group instead of looking at the variation within the group and the individual life stories. They are also concerned with the stereotyped images of older persons, some of them even consider it to be part of their public service mission to break those stereotypes. The journalists worked closely with aging researchers to improve their professional interview skills in order to handle more challenging situations such as talking to frail older persons. Conclusions: The main contribution of this study is the development of the concept of aging competence among journalists. Journalists with aging competence can be seen as possible agents of change to counter ageism.

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