Date of Award

Fall 1998

Degree Type

Thesis - Restricted

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Communication

First Advisor

Frederick, Ed.

Second Advisor

Slattery, Karen

Third Advisor

Wolburg, Joyce

Abstract

How do journalists make news decisions? This study started from this question. Surely they do not think in terms of "channels" and "information processing". But they are concerned with producing a professional journalistic product, usually within the constraints of a deadline. So they tend to follow the scenario that produces results with the least effort, within the least amount of time. Journalists know and feel they can trust the information received from a routine source; further checking of the information for accuracy is normally neither productive nor necessary. However, information from unfamiliar (and even controversial) sources must be verified. The same logic would seem to hold true for controversial vs. routine issues. Journalists covering a routine news event have little motivation to seek information beyond that available from routine sources. However, when confronted with a controversial issue, in order to satisfy professional requirements for fairness and balance, journalists must obtain and use additional information from as many sources as are appropriate in each case - even though doing so will require more time and effort. In other words, journalists are motivated to test their hypotheses more elaborately to reduce the confirmation error through journalists' conventions, and may, therefore, consider alternative interpretations. This study involved a re-analysis of data collected through questionnaires administered at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the University of Georgia, in an attempt to measure the relative importance of the journalists' mental state, and the impact of professional journalistic norms. Which of these factors is more powerful? Do professional norms override personal thinking when the news issue is controversial? Which factor is a better predictor of whether or not a news release will be used? To date, no studies have been conducted that bear on these questions directly or even provide much help in predicting the answers. Most studies have focused on how the working environment of the journalist impacts the journalist's work. Researchers have assumed that occupational norms have a significant impact, and have noted that the journalist's own values, confirmation bias, also affect how he or she works. Until now, no one has linked them together; the present study is an attempt to do so by asking: What is the relationship of journalists' confirmation bias and journalists' professional norms, in determining whether or not a journalist will adopt a frame provided by a specific news source (through a news release) about a controversial biotechnological issue?

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