Skip to content

Weber’s sociology of the press and journalism: continuities in contemporary sociologies of journalists and the media


Roger Dickinson

For Max Weber the goal of social science was to improve our knowledge of cultural problems. The newspaper industry at the turn of the 19th century was for him one of the ‘great cultural problems of the present’ (Weber 1998: 111). When he presented his plan for a sociological investigation of the press to the German Sociological Society in 1910, the newspaper industry in Europe was emerging from over a half-century of change that was at least as profound in its social and political implications as those resulting from the changes taking place in the global news industries of today. By 1910 the processes of rationalization were beginning to raise questions about journalistic practices and the role of the press in the formation and orchestration of public opinion. The importance of journalists and the news industry as research topics must have been as obvious to Weber and his colleagues at that time as it is to contemporary media scholars. This paper discusses Weber’s plan and the continuities that can be traced from it through media sociology’s various attempts to address the issue of public opinion and the practice of journalism.

Roger Dickinson is Senior Lecturer and Academic Programme Director at the Department of Media and Communication, University of Leicester, United Kingdom. A sociologist by training, he is interested in the socially-situated nature of social action. In recent work he has studied the occupational sphere, focussing on journalists and their place in the news world. His most recent publications have centred on journalists in Pakistan and recent changes in journalistic practice in Europe. His co-edited collection on the Arab news media (with Barrie Gunter) and a co-edited special issue of the International Communication Gazette were both published in 2013.

1 Alexander, J.C. 1987. ‘The centrality of the classics’. In Social Theory Today, ed. A. Giddens and J. Turner, 11-57. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

2 Benson, R. 2004. ‘Bringing the sociology of media back in’. Political Communication 21: 275-92. [Crossref]

3 Benson, R. 2009. ‘Shaping the public sphere: Habermas and beyond’. The American Sociologist 40: 175-97. [Crossref]

4 Benson, R., and E. Neveu, eds. 2005. Bourdieu and the journalistic field. Cambridge: Polity Press.

5 Conboy, M. 2004. Journalism: A critical history. London: Sage Publications.

6 Conboy, M. 2013. Journalism Studies: the basics. Abingdon: Routledge.

7 Cottle, S. 2000. ‘New(s) times: towards a “second Wave” of news ethnography’. Communications: the European Journal of Communication Research 25.1: 19-41. [Crossref]

8 Curran, J., and J. Seaton. 2010. Power without responsibility. Press, broadcasting and the internet in Britain. Abingdon: Routledge.

9 Dickinson, R. 2007. ‘Accomplishing journalism: towards a revived sociology of a media occupation’. Cultural Sociology 1.2: 189-208. [Crossref]

10 Dickinson, R. 2008. ‘Studying the Sociology of journalists: the journalistic field and the news world’. Sociology Compass 2.5: 1383-399. [Crossref]

11 Dickinson, R., J. Matthews and K. Saltzis. 2013. ‘Studying journalists in changing times: understanding news work as socially-situated practice’. International Communication Gazette 75.1: 3-18. [Crossref]

12 Escott, T. 1908. ‘John Delane and modern journalism’. The Quarterly Review 209: 524-48.

13 Esser, F. 1998. ‘Editorial structures and work principles in British and German newsrooms’. European Journal of Communication 13.3: 375-405. [Crossref]

14 Fishman, M. 1980. Manufacturing News. Austin: University of Texas Press.

15 Gans, H. 1979. Deciding What’s News. New York: Pantheon.

16 Golding, P., and P. Elliott. 1979. Making the news. London: Longman. [Crossref]

17 Hampton, M. 2004. Visions of the Press in Britain 1850–1950. Urbana, IL and Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

18 Hampton, M. 2005. ‘Defining journalists in late-nineteenth century Britain’. Critical Studies in Media Communication 22.2: 138-55. [Crossref]

19 Hampton, M. 2008. ‘The “objectivity” ideal and its limitatons in 20th century British journalism’. Journalism Studies 9.4: 477-93. [Crossref]

20 Habermas, J. 1974. ‘The public sphere: an encyclopedia article (1964)’. New German Critique 3: 49-55.

21 Habermas, J. [1962] 1989. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a category of Bourgeois society. Cambridge: Polity Press.

22 Hanitzsch, T., and C. Mellado. 2011. ‘What Shapes the News around the World? How journalists in 18 countries perceive influences on their work’. International Journal of Press/Politics 16.3: 404-426. [Crossref]

23 Hardt, H. 1979. Social Theories of the Press: Early German and American Perspectives. Boston: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.

24 Hennis, W. 1998. ‘The media as a cultural problem: Max Weber’s sociology of the press’. History of the Human Sciences 11.2: 107-110. [Crossref]

25 Jacobs, R.N. 2009. ‘Culture, the Public Sphere, and Media Sociology: A Search for a Classical Founder in the Work of Robert Park’. The American Sociologist 40: 149-66. [Crossref]

26 Katz, E., and P. Lazarsfeld. 1955. Personal influence. Glencoe, IL: The Free Press.

27 Lazarsfeld, P., B. Berelson and H. Gaudet. 1948. The people’s choice. How the voter makes up his mind in a presidential campaign. New York: Columbia University Press.

28 Leveson, The Right Honourable Lord Justice. 2012. An inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press (The Leveson Report). Available at: (accessed: 22 August 2013).

29 Lunt, P., and S. Livingstone. 2013. ‘Media studies’ fascination with the concept of the public sphere: critical reflections and emerging debates’. Media, Culture and Society, 35.1: 87-96. [Crossref]

30 McQuail, D. 2013. Journalism and Society. London: Sage Publications.

31 Park, R. 1940. ‘News as a form of knowledge: a chapter in the sociology of knowledge’. American Journal of Sociology 45.5: 669-86. [Crossref]

32 Park, R. 1941a. ‘News and the power of the press’. American Journal of Sociology 47.1: 1-11.

33 Park, R. 1941b. ‘Morale and the news’. American Journal of Sociology 47.3: 360-77.

34 Pooley, J., and E. Katz. 2008. ‘Further notes on why American sociology abandoned mass communication research’. Journal of Communication 58.4: 767-86. [Crossref]

35 Schlesinger, P. 1978. Putting ‘Reality’ Together: BBC News. London: Constable.

36 Schudson, M. 2010. ‘Four approaches to the sociology of news revisited’. In Media and Society, ed. J. Curran. London: Bloomsbury Academic (5th edn).

37 Tuchman, G. 1978. Making News: A Study in the Construction of Reality. New York: Free Press.

38 Tunstall, J. 1971. Journalists at Work. London: Constable.

39 Weaver, D.H., and L. Willnat, eds. 2012. The Global Journalist in the 21st Century. London: Routledge.

40 Weber, M. [1909] 1998. ‘Preliminary report on a proposed survey for a sociology of the press’. History of the Human Sciences 11.2: 111-20. [Crossref]

41 Weber, M. 2007. Max Weber’s Complete Writings on Academic and Political Vocations. New York: Algora Publishing.

42 Wiener, J.H. 2011. The Americanization of the British Press, 1830s–1914. London: Palgrave Macmillan. [Crossref]

43 Zelizer, B. 2004. Taking journalism seriously. News and the academy. London: Sage Publications. [Crossref]


Export Citation