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Communication Media Credibility
by
Yariv Tsfati

Introduction

Audience perceptions regarding the credibility of news media have been studied using several concepts, including “media credibility,” “trust in media,” “media skepticism,” and “media cynicism.” In general, researchers interested in the credibility concept are concerned with audience perceptions of news media, not with the actual credibility of journalists. Early research on media credibility conducted at Yale in the 1950s manipulated the credibility of communicators and measured the impact of this manipulation on audience persuasion. Only in the 1970s did scholars begin to treat it not as a static trait of the source but as a dynamic perception of the audience. A major line of research on media credibility has to do with a phenomenon called “hostile media perception,” which takes place when involved people with opposing opinions on an issue perceive the very same, seemingly objective coverage as biased against their respective points of view. Other lines of research have examined the factors underlying audience credibility perceptions and their consequences for various social phenomena. Recently, scholars have revisited early work on medium credibility to investigate audience perceptions of online versus traditional media.

Understanding Trust and its Relevance to Media Studies

The concept of media credibility is related to the more general concept of trust. If one views media credibility as audience trust applied to the news media, then one needs to better understand the concept of trust. The following are all landmark readings offering definitions, conceptualizations, and insights regarding what trust is, and what trust causes. Taken together, they demonstrate the variety of disciplines in which trust as a concept has been used: Coleman 1990 comes from a rational-choice sociological perspective, Putnam 1995 and Uslaner 2002 from political science, Seligman 1997 from religion and cultural studies, and Tschannen-Moran and Hoy 2000 from education research. Cappella 2002 and Silverstone 1999 also contribute to our understanding of the general concept of trust but situate their work in the context of communication research. Bakir and Barlow 2007 goes even further and argues that trust studies should play a more central role in communication studies.

  • Bakir, Vian, and David M. Barlow. 2007. Communication in the age of suspicion: Trust and the media. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230206243Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This collection includes several contributions explaining the relevance of the concept of trust to media studies. In particular, chapter 2 defines trust, reviews the emergence and growth of trust studies as a field of research, and calls for increased integration of trust studies and media studies.

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  • Cappella, Joseph N. 2002. Cynicism and social trust in the new media environment. Journal of Communication 52:229–241.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2002.tb02541.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Using many examples and references that would be meaningful for communication scholars, Cappella reviews the decline in social and institutional trust and ties it to the decline in participation in social life in the United States. Argues that mistrust spreads in a memetic manner in society, and that the media do not create mistrust, nor do they create the events upon which mistrust is based, but they do transmit and circulate stories of mistrust in a way that maximizes their selection and retention by the audience.

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  • Coleman, James S. 1990. Foundations of social theory. Cambridge, MA: Belknap.

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    Combining principles of rational choice with a social-psychological conception of collective action, the brilliantly written chapter 5 casts trust in a new light. Coleman defines trust as an interaction between trustor and a trustee: “If the trustee is trustworthy, the person who places trust is better off than if trust were not placed, whereas if the trustee is not trustworthy, the trustor is worse off than if trust were not placed” (p. 98).

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  • Fukuyama, Francis. 1995. Trust: The social virtues and the creation of prosperity. New York: Free Press.

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    A seminal text in the study of trust. Portrays trust as a secular and modern set of norms, and details its consequences for the creation of flourishing societies and economies. Secular norms, such as professional norms, are encompassed by the definition of trust, which helps us understand that trust in news media involves perceptions regarding the professionalism of journalists.

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  • Putnam, Robert. 1995. Tuning in, tuning out: The strange disappearance of social capital in America. PS: Political Science and Politics 28:664–683.

    DOI: 10.2307/420517Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this influential and widely cited political science piece, Putnam defines trust as a necessary component of the more general concept of social capital, presents data on the drop of social capital in the United States over past decades, and systematically explores possible consequences for American social life. The paper is essential for media students and scholars because it makes a compelling argument that television is responsible in part for the deterioration in US social capital.

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  • Seligman, Adam B. 1997. The problem of trust. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    Broad review representing cultural, critical, and linguistic approaches to the study of trust. Distinguishes between trust and related concepts such as confidence and faith. Unlike faith and confidence, Seligman argues, trust implies solidarity and unconditionality. The impossibility of confirming the intention or character of the other party is what trust shares with faith. On the other hand, trust and confidence both have to do with exchange systems, but confidence relates to “structurally determined situations,” and trust is an “unconditional principle of generalized exchange” (p. 171).

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  • Silverstone, Roger. 1999. Why study the media? London: SAGE.

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    Chapter 14 in Silverstone’s key text raises the importance of media for trust and ontological security. According to Silverstone, our trust in other people, necessary for the functioning of large-scale economies and societies, rests upon the constant presence of media in our lives. Excellent mix of economic and sociological perspectives on trust, combined with in-depth discussion of the relevance of trust to media contexts and the contribution of media to the creation of trust.

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  • Tschannen-Moran, Megan, and Wayne K. Hoy. 2000. A multi-disciplinary analysis of the nature, meaning and measurement of trust. Review of Educational Research 70:547–593.

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    One of the most comprehensive and useful reviews of conceptual and operational definitions of trust. Tschannen-Moran and Hoy review twenty definitions from various perspectives and extract the conceptual ingredients of trust: willing vulnerability, benevolence, reliability, competence, honesty, and openness.

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  • Uslaner, Eric M. 2002. The moral foundations of trust. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Uslaner distinguishes between strategic trust (including institutional trust), which is targeted to people we know and is heavily based on prior experiences, and moralistic trust, which is the belief that others in general share one’s fundamental moral values. Elegant combination of bright theoretical and conceptual reasoning, and sophisticated use of ample, publicly available data. The analysis of answers to think-aloud questions is the best evidence we have to date regarding what people have in mind when they answer questions about trust.

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Defining, Conceptualizing, and Measuring

What is media credibility? How should we conceptualize it? How can we measure it? These entries offer answers originating from different perspectives. As the comprehensive review in Self 2009 argues, the history of scholarly writing on the concept dates back to Aristotle. In the modern period, Hovland and his colleagues at Yale were the first to define credibility as composed of the speaker’s expertise and trustworthiness (Hovland, et al. 1969). As Berlo, et al. 1969 argues, the conceptualization of credibility evolved from a relatively static trait of the source into a perception by the audience encompassing various types of traits. By far the most widely used measurement tool gauging credibility perceptions is Meyer 1988, a revision of Gaziano and McGrath’s News Credibility scale (Gaziano and McGrath 1986), including items measuring the extent to which a media source is perceived as fair, unbiased, telling the whole story, accurate, and trustworthy. Metzger, et al. 2003 offers an in-depth review of the concepts of source credibility, media credibility, and message credibility. Kohring and Matthes 2007 offers a different conceptualization, applying the concept of trust in the context of audience attitudes to media.

  • Berlo, David K., James B. Lemert, and Robert J. Mertz. 1969. Dimensions for evaluating the acceptability of message sources. Public Opinion Quarterly 33.4: 563–576.

    DOI: 10.1086/267745Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Good example of early attempts to conceptualize and measure credibility. Reports two studies, one based on a student sample and the other on a sample of adults in Lansing, MI. Explicates the different components of credibility and provides an empirical basis for a discussion about what credibility is. Recommended for students with at least some training in research methods.

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  • Gaziano, Cecilie, and Kristin McGrath. 1986. Measuring the concept of credibility. Journalism Quarterly 63:451–462.

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    Creates an updated measure of perceived news credibility. The respondents (1,002 American adults) rated their daily newspapers and television news sources on five-point items. The analysis revealed two factors: credibility (with twelve items, such as biased/unbiased) and social concerns (with four items, such as moral/immoral). Most survey research on credibility to date is based on the authors’ work.

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  • Hovland, Carl I., Irving L. Janis, and Harold H. Kelly. 1953. Communication and persuasion. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

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    This seminal book introduced the concept of credibility into social psychology and communication research. Credibility was perceived as being composed of “trustworthiness” and “expertise,” a conceptualization that many scholars see as valid even today. The main finding is that messages from credible sources produced stronger attitude change, but different results emerged for message retention.

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  • Kohring, Matthias, and Jörg Matthes. 2007. Trust in news media: Development and validation of a multidimensional scale. Communication Research 34.2: 231–252.

    DOI: 10.1177/0093650206298071Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This piece, recommended for graduate-level students, offers an impressive review of previous measurement attempts accompanied by innovative conceptualization and sophisticated data analysis. The analysis examines the association between trust in media and audience perceptions of the selectivity of news topics, selectivity of facts, accuracy of depictions, and journalistic assessments.

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  • Metzger, Miriam J., Andrew J. Flanagin, Keren Eyal, Daisy R. Lemus, and Robert M. McCann. 2003. Credibility for the 21st century: Integrating perspectives on source, message, and media credibility in the contemporary media environment. Communication Yearbook 27:293–335.

    DOI: 10.1207/s15567419cy2701_10Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This comprehensive review differentiates among source, message, and medium credibility. The authors review, synthesize, and integrate literature on the conceptualization and measurement of credibility in various contexts and offer an agenda for credibility studies in the era of online media. They also offer strategies to empower online information users and providers. This section of the paper could provide an excellent basis for class discussions.

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  • Meyer, Philip. 1988. Defining and measuring credibility of newspapers: Developing an index. Journalism Quarterly 65:567–588.

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    Criticizes the Gaziano and McGrath News Credibility Index (Gaziano and McGrath 1986) and offers an abbreviated index containing items measuring the extent to which a media source is perceived as fair, unbiased, telling the whole story, accurate, and trustworthy. Good discussion regarding reliability and validity. Recommended for students with at least some training in research methods.

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  • Self, Charles. C. 2009. Credibility. In An integrated approach to communication theory and research. 2d ed. Edited by Michael B. Salwen and Don W. Stacks, 435–456. New York: Routledge.

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    One of the most comprehensive reviews of the concept of credibility in communication research, spanning the field from Aristotle’s early writings through more recent rhetorical studies to quantitative persuasion and media credibility studies. The central argument is that over the years, our understanding of the concept of credibility has become exceedingly complex. The author makes a compelling argument that the different theoretical and epistemological perspectives for studying credibility have shaped and created different understandings of what credibility is and how it should be studied.

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Credibility Perceptions

Why do people trust or mistrust the media? Three main answers were provided by the research literature: (1) media trust results from biases and misperceptions of the observer, (2) message or source qualities shape audience mistrust, and (3) the medium has an impact on audience credibility perceptions.

Observer Explanations

The following entries all explain audience trust in media using factors related to the observers or their interactions with the text. Gunther 1988 suggests that much of people’s trust or mistrust in media is explained by their own biases. The data reported by Jones 2004 and by Eveland and Shah 2003 demonstrate that distrusters in the United States tend to be conservatives who discuss politics with like-minded people. Watts, et al. 1999 argues that audience mistrust is the product of mounting coverage of the media by the media, which results in heightened audience awareness of journalistic blunders and scandals. According to Cappella and Jamieson 1997, people are cynical about the media because the political cynicism caused by media coverage eventually backfires on journalists. In a related manner, the explanation forwarded by Major and Atwood 1997 is that people mistrust the news media because sometimes the news media fail, although owing to psychological differences, media credibility does not always decline after such failures.

  • Cappella, Joseph N., and Kathleen Hall Jamieson. 1997. Spiral of cynicism: The press and the public good. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Chapter 10 of this award-winning book, titled “Contagious Cynicism,” argues that people are cynical about the news media because the news media are themselves cynical. The authors claim that general political cynicism (caused by journalists’ frequent use of strategic frames) eventually feeds back on journalists. The book is suitable for undergraduates as well as for graduate students, though chapter 10 requires some training in research methods.

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  • Eveland, William P., Jr., and Dhavan V. Shah. 2003. The impact of individual and interpersonal factors on perceived news media bias. Political Psychology 24.1: 101–117.

    DOI: 10.1111/0162-895X.00318Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Large-sample data are used to predict perceptions of news media bias. Results extend previous research by demonstrating that cues from the interpersonal environment are factored into credibility judgments. The analysis examines the possibility that conservatives who discuss politics with like-minded people are more likely to perceive the news media as biased.

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  • Gunther, Albert C. 1988. Attitude extremity and trust in media. Journalism Quarterly 65.2: 279–287.

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    A good example of how the combination of data analysis and logical argumentation can resolve a conflict between two psychological theories (social judgment theory and cognitive response theory). The author examines the possibility of a curvilinear association between extremity of attitudes toward an issue and trust in media coverage of the issue.

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  • Jones, David A. 2004. Why Americans don’t trust the media: A preliminary analysis. International Journal of Press/Politics 9.2: 60–77.

    DOI: 10.1177/1081180X04263461Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An easy-to-read piece that presents a simple yet solid statistical analysis of survey data in search of explanations for low trust in media among adult Americans. Examines the role of trust in government as a predictor of trust in media and the interaction of political ideology with other political variables predicting media trust.

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  • Kohut, Andrew, and Robert C. Toth. 1998. The central conundrum: How can people like what they distrust? Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics 3.1: 110–117.

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    Reads like a detective story and effectively presents puzzles regarding the love-hate relationship between the people and the press. The piece is rich in data but weaker on the theoretical front. Still, it is highly recommended for students as a thought-provoking piece.

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  • Major, Ann M., and L. Erwin Atwood. 1997. Changes in media credibility when a predicted disaster doesn’t happen. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 74.4: 797–813.

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    Is audience trust in media affected by the performance of the news media? This paper examines what happens to audience trust in media after an expected earthquake did not take place. Cognitive adaptation theory was used to better understand why some audience members increased their assessment of message credibility despite the fact that the predicted disaster did not occur. Interesting psychological research providing original insights. Suitable for students at all levels.

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  • Stamm, Keith, and Ric Dube. 1994. The relationship of attitudinal components to trust in media. Communication Research 21.1: 105–123.

    DOI: 10.1177/009365094021001006Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A well-argued presentation of sophisticated data analysis. The authors criticize Gunther 1988 as simplistic. The article demonstrates that attitude direction, intensity, closure, and involvement are all statistically related to trust in media, and that the associations are not always linear or curvilinear.

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  • Watts, Mark. D., David Domke, Dhavan V. Shah, and David P. Fan. 1999. Elite cues and media bias in presidential campaigns. Communication Research 26.2: 144–175.

    DOI: 10.1177/009365099026002003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Sophisticated combination of computerized content analysis data with poll results. The authors demonstrate an increase of negative references to media in elite discourse in news-media campaign coverage over the years. This increase in media criticism could not be explained by an increase in news bias, as the computerized content analysis demonstrates. The authors hypothesize that elite cues containing media criticism may explain public attitudes, over and above any real evidence of bias in news.

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Message and Source Explanations

These entries tie audience trust in media to some feature of the text. McCrosky and Jenson 1975 examines the association between credibility perceptions and perceptions of the sociability and character of the journalist. Factors such as race, age, and gender of the newscaster are also tested as predictors of audience trust by Balon, et al. 1978 and Weibel, et al. 2008. Sundar 1998 asks whether journalists’ professional practices are related to the perceived trustworthiness of the news story. Austin and Dong 1994 demonstrates that source variables should be separated from message variables when one examines their effects on credibility perceptions. The quality of the message, the language used by the communicator, and even factors like the speed in which the message is read may all be related to credibility perceptions. The knowledge resulting from these research endeavors may be used by journalists and editors in the selection of newscasters and in writing news stories.

  • Austin, Erica W., and Qingwen Dong. 1994. Source versus content on judgments of believability. Journalism Quarterly 71:973–983.

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    This paper underscores the importance of separating the credibility of the source from the believability and the realism of the message. Are innocuous news messages judged more credible than sensational news messages? Does the reputation of the source affect the perceived credibility of the message? An experimental design was set up to answer these questions.

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  • Balon, Robert E., Joseph C. Philport, and Charles F. Beadle. 1978. How gender and race affect perceptions of newscasters. Journalism Quarterly 55:160–164.

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    Pioneering work on the effects of race and gender of the newscaster on credibility perceptions. Are males perceived as more trustworthy newscasters than females? Is race related to the perceived credibility of male and female newscasters? These questions are experimentally tested.

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  • Burrell, Nancy A., and Randal J. Koper. 1998. The efficacy of powerful/powerless language on attitudes and source credibility. In Persuasion: Advances through meta analysis. Edited by Mike Allen and Raymond W. Preiss, 203–215. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton.

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    Sixteen studies of the effects of the use of powerful/powerless language on source credibility judgments were subjected to a meta-analysis. Results show that speakers using powerless language (abundance of hedges, hesitation forms, polite forms, and questioning intonations) are perceived as less credible than those using powerful language. Solid example of meta-analysis in credibility research. Suitable for advanced students.

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  • McCroskey, James C., and Thomas A. Jenson. 1975. Images of news media sources. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media 19.2: 169–179.

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    This methodological and technical piece, recommended to advanced undergraduate and graduate students, seeks to develop a measure of credibility for news sources, but finds that perceived sociability (friendly/unfriendly) and character (cruel/kind), in addition to competence, play an important part in shaping credibility perceptions.

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  • Slater, Michael D., and Donna Rouner. 1997. How message evaluation and source attributes may influence credibility assessments and belief change. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 73:974–991.

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    The main argument is that “although source credibility is supposed to influence perceptions about the message, in fact, messages also have an influence concerning the credibility of the source” (p. 975). The article provides a challenging investigation of the role of perceptions of message quality in shaping perceived credibility.

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  • Sundar, S. Shyam. 1998. Effects of source attribution on perception of online news stories. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 75.1: 55–68.

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    This clean and well-conducted experiment demonstrates how the credibility of online news stories can be influenced by quoting (or not quoting) a source in the story’s headline. This provides perhaps the most compelling evidence to date that journalistic practices affect credibility perceptions.

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  • Weibel, David, Bartholomäus Wissmath, and Rudolf Groner. 2008. How gender and age affect newscasters’ credibility. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media 52.3: 466–484.

    DOI: 10.1080/08838150802205801Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This piece extends the generalization of credibility research to a European context, provides a thorough review of the literature on source and message credibility, and presents a well-conducted experiment with interesting findings. The interaction between gender and age as they shape perceptions of news credibility and source credibility is tested.

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Medium Explanations

Since the late 1950s, the Roper Organization has been asking respondents which medium they would perceive as most credible in a case where newspapers, television, and radio transmitted conflicting information. At first, newspapers were perceived as more credible than television and radio, but since the early 1960s scholars were astonished to discover that television enjoyed more credibility than any other news medium. The most widely cited explanation for the higher credibility of television earlier on was its visual component, as argued by Westley and Severin 1964, but later Gantz 1981 demonstrated that methodological reasons may account for the superiority of television news. Newhagen and Nass 1989 argues that people use different criteria when assessing television and newspaper credibility, and Mulder 1980 demonstrates that the motivation underlying news exposure shapes perceptions of medium credibility. With the growth of the Internet in the 1990s, scholars began exploring the credibility of news over this new medium, with inconsistent results: while Johnson and Kaye 1998 finds the Internet to be perceived as more credible than traditional media, Flanagin and Metzger 2000 and Kiousis 2001 find that newspapers are perceived as more credible. The literature speculates that many of the characteristics of the Internet, especially connectivity and boundlessness, work to erode rather than enhance the authority (and thus the perceived credibility) of news texts. Most important, as Flanagin and Metzger 2000 maintains, most information posted online does not go through the strict processes of factual verification that characterize traditional media.

  • Flanagin, Andrew J., and Miriam Metzger. 2000. Perceptions of internet information credibility. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 77:515–540.

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    Respondents considered online news sources to be as credible as television and radio news, but not as credible as newspaper information. Presents in-depth analysis of the role of audience Internet experience and information verification practices in credibility judgments.

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  • Gantz, Walter. 1981. The influence of researcher methods on television and newspaper news credibility. Journal of Broadcasting 25:155–169.

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    Reviews earlier findings and discusses methodological reasons for differences between studies documenting greater or smaller credibility gaps in favor of television. The main methodological explanation concerns how the Roper question dealt with situations in which newspaper reports conflict with those of television. Indeed, results demonstrated that when such a conflict was not mentioned, the gap between newspapers and television was significantly attenuated.

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  • Johnson, Thomas J., and Barbara Kaye. 1998. Cruising is believing? Comparing Internet and traditional sources on media credibility measures. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 75.2: 325–340.

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    This pioneering study was among the first to compare news credibility on the web to that of traditional media, and found that online media were judged more credible than newspapers and magazines. However, the results are based on a sample of politically interested web users, and all news media received relatively low evaluations.

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  • Kiousis, Spiro. 2001. Public trust or mistrust? Perceptions of media credibility in the information age. Mass Communication and Society 4.4: 381–403.

    DOI: 10.1207/S15327825MCS0404_4Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This study factors in news use and political discussion as predictors of medium credibility and challenges some of the earlier findings on medium credibility. While it is clearly written and presents interesting findings, the study could be used by teachers to exemplify the strengths and weaknesses of correlational analysis.

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  • Mulder, Ronald. 1980. Media credibility: A use-gratifications approach. Journalism Quarterly 57:474–477.

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    Does the pattern of gratification sought by the news audience influence audience members’ perceptions of credibility? For example, do respondents who actively seek news information perceive newspapers as the most credible medium? Do respondents who passively receive news tend to perceive television as the most credible medium? Nice implementation of the influential “uses and gratification” approach in the context of medium credibility.

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  • Newhagen, John, and Clifford Nass. 1989. Differential criteria for evaluating credibility of newspapers and TV news. Journalism Quarterly 66:277–284.

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    This paper examines whether, when assessing the credibility of newspapers, people rely on their perceptions of the credibility of the individual newscaster, and whether, when assessing newspaper credibility, people rely on their perception of the newspaper as an institution.

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  • Westley, Bruce H., and Werner J. Severin. 1964. Some correlates of media credibility. Journalism Quarterly 41:325–335.

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    A classic publication, one of the very first to document that television news was perceived as more credible than newspapers and to speculate that this finding is explained by the more vivid nature of television news presentation. Demonstrates that demographic variables are related to credibility perceptions. Surprisingly, finds that people did not always rank the more credible sources as their preferred sources for news.

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Hostile Media Perception

A major line of research on audience perceptions of media has been dubbed the “hostile media phenomenon” (HMP). This phenomenon, first documented by Vallone, et al. 1985, arises when partisans on opposing sides of an issue evaluate the very same, seemingly neutral news coverage as biased against their respective sides of the issue. Subsequent research in Giner-Sorolla and Chaiken 1994 probed the cognitive mechanisms that may underlie the phenomenon: selective recall of more negative information by the partisans; different standards used by the partisans, such that the mere inclusion of the opposing arguments being interpreted as bias; and selective categorization of the information as negative or positive. The mechanisms underlying the HMP were further explored in a set of experiments by Gunther and colleagues (Gunther and Chia 2001, Gunther and Schmitt 2004, Gunther and Liebhart 2006). More recently, Arpan and Peterson 2008 examines source and audience factors that moderate the perception that a news story is hostile to one’s side of a conflict. Finally, Tsfati and Cohen 2005 attempts to document the consequences of the HMP for democratic life.

  • Arpan, Laura M., and Erik M. Peterson. 2008. Influence of source liking and personality traits on perceptions of bias and future news source selection. Media Psychology 11:310–329.

    DOI: 10.1080/15213260802077546Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Illuminates the role of argumentativeness as an audience personality characteristic moderating the HMP: are argumentative respondents more or less likely to perceive media as hostile to their side of the story? Attitudes toward the source were also examined.

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  • Choi, Jounghwa, Myengja Yang, and Jeongheon J. C. Chang. 2009. Elaboration of the hostile media phenomenon: The roles of involvement, media skepticism, congruency of perceived media influence, and perceived opinion climate. Communication Research 36.1: 54–75.

    DOI: 10.1177/0093650208326462Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This correlational study explores HMP research in the Korean context, offers an in-depth exploration of the type of involvement underlying the HMP, and tests for the association between HMP and related constructs. The authors separate value involvement from outcome involvement and ask which one is the critical predictor of the HMP.

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  • Giner-Sorolla, Roger, and Shelly Chaiken. 1994. The causes of hostile media judgments. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 30.2: 165–180.

    DOI: 10.1006/jesp.1994.1008Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Why do people perceive media as hostile toward their point of view? This paper provides the first attempt to examine the cognitive mechanisms underlying the HMP. Is it previous attitudes or biased processing (selectivity of recall of opposing information) that shape the HMP? Good example of methodological rigor combined with logical psychological argumentation.

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  • Gunther, Albert C., and Stella C. Chia. 2001. Predicting pluralistic ignorance: The hostile media effect and its consequences. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 78.4: 689–701.

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    The study was the first to demonstrate a relative hostile media effect: both supporters and opponents of the use of primates in research thought that media coverage was against such use, but opponents saw the coverage as even more hostile than supporters did. The authors propose a “persuasive press inference” hypothesis that argues that HMPs affect public judgments regarding the opinion climate, creating pluralistic ignorance.

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  • Gunther, Albert C., and Janice L. Liebhart. 2006. Broad reach or biased source? Decomposing the hostile media effect. Journal of Communication 56.3: 449–466.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2006.00295.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This study attempts to explain the results reported in Gunther and Schmitt 2004. To discover why an article was judged as slanted when presented as a newspaper story but not when presented as a student essay, the authors creatively manipulated both the source of the message (news versus student essay) and the reach of the message (will or will not be published).

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  • Gunther, Albert C., and Kathleen Schmitt. 2004. Mapping boundaries of the hostile media effect. Journal of Communication 54.1: 55–70.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2004.tb02613.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This award-winning article made a brilliant experimental move and presented to different partisans the very same text as a newspaper article or a student essay. The hostile media perception was documented only when respondents were told they were reading a newspaper article.

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  • Perloff, Richard M. 1989. Ego-involvement and the third person effect of televised news coverage. Communication Research 16.2: 236–262.

    DOI: 10.1177/009365089016002004Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Demonstrates that involved respondents not only believed news coverage to be biased against them, but also believed that neutral audiences would be persuaded by this hostile coverage to support the opposing position. Study 2 shows that neutral observers did not in fact change their attitudes following exposure to the materials, and thus there was no basis for the partisans’ biased suspicions.

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  • Tsfati, Yariv, and Jonathan Cohen. 2005. Democratic consequences of hostile media perceptions: The case of Gaza settlers. Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics 10.4: 28–51.

    DOI: 10.1177/1081180X05280776Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Situated in the dramatic context of Israel’s 2005 evacuation of right-wing settlers from their homes in the Gaza Strip, this paper examines the empirical associations between HMPs and trust in media, and explores the severe implications of the HMP for democratic life. Did perceptions of biased coverage and feelings of hostility toward an essential democratic institution cause the settlers to lose faith in Israeli democracy, and as a result to consider violent means of resistance to their evacuation?

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  • Vallone, Robert. P., Lee Ross, and Mark P. Lepper. 1985. The hostile media phenomenon: Biased perception and perceptions of media bias in coverage of the Beirut massacre. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 49.3: 577–585.

    DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.49.3.577Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This landmark article was the first to document the hostile media phenomenon. In Study 2, the authors present several news segments about the 1982 Beirut massacre to pro-Arab, pro-Israeli, and neutral Stanford students. As expected, each group saw the coverage as on the whole less sympathetic to their side, more sympathetic to the opposing side, and generally hostile to their point of view.

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Consequences

Early research on the consequences of audience trust focused on the source’s perceived credibility and examined its impact in persuasion contexts. Later work shifted attention toward broader contexts and examined what happens when people do not in general trust the news media as an institution. Do news media have potential influence even on mistrusting audiences? Indeed, do people watch news they do not trust? And if they do not, what are the economic implications for media institutions?

Persuasion and Opinion Change

The pioneering work by Hovland, conducted at Yale, set the stage for the persuasion tradition in social psychology. Credibility was perceived as a major variable affecting persuasion, according to this tradition. Stemming from these landmark studies, the following entries all examine the role of the credibility of the communicator in attitude change. With the exception of Andreoli and Worchel 1978, they do not relate particularly to media contexts, but many of the manipulations in this subfield involved mass media sources as high- and low-credibility sources (for example, New England Journal of Biology and Medicine versus Pravda in Hovland and Weiss 1951). O’Keefe 1987 focuses on the timing of the introduction of the communicator, while Wilson and Sherrell 1993 highlights the role of the expertise of the communicator, and Sternthal, et al. 1978 elaborates on the factors moderating the credibility effect. More recently, Petty and Cacioppo’s elaboration likelihood model (Petty and Cacioppo 1981) describes credibility as a cue affecting persuasion only under the condition of low audience involvement. Chaiken and Durairaj 1994 offers several amendments to their model.

  • Andreoli, Virginia, and Stephen Worchel. 1978. Effects of media, communicator, and position of message and attitude change. Public Opinion Quarterly 42:59–70.

    DOI: 10.1086/268429Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This connects persuasion research on credibility to mass media studies. The experiment not only demonstrates that credible communicators are more persuasive, it also shows that the effects of credibility are stronger when the communication is delivered via television. According to the authors, the “live” televised presentation is more involving to audiences, in a way that helps them notice the source characteristics.

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  • Chaiken, Shelly, and Durairaj Maheswaran. 1994. Heuristic processing can bias systematic processing: Effects of source credibility, argument ambiguity, and task importance on attitude judgment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 66:460–473.

    DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.66.3.460Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Offers an important amendment to Petty and Cacioppo’s elaboration likelihood model (see Petty and Cacioppo 1981): credibility, viewed by the elaboration likelihood model as a peripheral cue activating heuristic processing, also affects systematic (central route) processing when the information is ambiguous. This restores some of the power of credibility in persuasion subtracted by the elaboration likelihood model.

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  • Hovland, Carl I., and Walter Weiss. 1951. The influence of source credibility on communication effectiveness. Public Opinion Quarterly 15.4: 635–650.

    DOI: 10.1086/266350Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This seminal piece has had an immense impact on social psychology, public opinion research, and communication research. The authors documented that credible communicators are more persuasive than noncredible communicators. Four weeks after the preliminary experiment, however, the effect disappeared and the opinions of subjects exposed to the noncredible communicator were slightly more accepting of the message, a finding called “the sleeper effect.”

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  • O’Keefe, Daniel J. 1987. The persuasive effects of delaying identification of high- and low-credibility communicators: A meta-analytic review. Central States Speech Journal 38:63–72.

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    Focusing on the timing of identifying the communicator in credibility research, this meta-analysis demonstrates that “delaying communication identification until after the message has been presented will tend to minimize the effects associated with variations in communication credibility” (p. 68). The article offers an excellent discussion of why this finding matters for our understanding of credibility effects.

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  • Petty, Richard E., and John T. Cacioppo. 1981. Attitudes and persuasion: Classic and contemporary approaches. Dubuque, IA: W. C. Brown.

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    Petty and Cacioppo’s influential Elaboration Likelihood Model (presented in chapter 9) argues that source credibility operates as a peripheral cue under low-involvement conditions in persuasion. Chapter 3 provides a clear, effective, and useful review of the role of credibility in persuasion studies (pp. 62–65). Recommended to students at all levels.

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  • Sternthal, Brian, Lynn W. Phillips, and Ruby Dholakia. 1978. The persuasive effect of source credibility: A situational analysis. Public Opinion Quarterly 42.3: 285–314.

    DOI: 10.1086/268454Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This is one of the most detailed reviews of the factors moderating the credibility effect. The effect of credibility is strong when the message is threatening, when the message is discrepant with the position of the listener, and when the source is characterized as a person who has maintained his or her views over time; incongruence between the message and the communicator’s best interest and the use of evidence does not enhance the persuasiveness of credible sources, but may help when the source is not credible.

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  • Wilson, Elizabeth J., and Daniel L. Sherrell. 1993. Source effects in communication and persuasion research: A meta-analysis of effect size. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science 21.2: 101–112.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF02894421Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This meta-analysis summarizes 114 studies of source effects. Results enable us to compare the relative strength of credibility with other source factors such as physical attractiveness and ideological similarity. Expertise (a component of credibility, according to the Yale school) emerges as the factor with the strongest effect on persuasion.

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Public Opinion and Media Effects

With the progress in media effects research from the early stimulus-response persuasion studies to the more complicated studies of limited but powerful effects of the 1970s onward, credibility remained an important moderator of opinion change and media effects, as pointed out by Oliver and Krakowiak 2008. The following sources all examine the role of perceived credibility in different media effects and in opinion formation and estimation processes. For example, Wanta and Hu 1994 demonstrates that agenda setting—the media’s influence on people’s estimations regarding the most important problem—is moderated by perceived media credibility. The same pattern is documented by Tsfati 2003 with regard to the spiral-of-silence effects—relating first and foremost to news media effects not directly on opinions but on audience perceptions and estimations regarding public opinion. Druckman 2001 demonstrates a similar pattern with regard to framing effects, relating to the power of minor changes in media presentation of issues to shape how people think about these issues. Ladd 2005 demonstrates that mistrust in media may be an important contributor to the growing polarization of the American political system; Liebes and Ribak 1991 likewise point to the democratic consequences of mistrust in media. These findings echo claims by reception theorists such as Livingstone 1998 regarding the role of audience activity and attitudes toward the media in mitigating some of the media’s supposed effects on the audience.

  • Druckman, James. 2001. On the limits of framing: Who can frame? Journal of Politics 63:1041–1066.

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    Excellent presentation of framing effects; good argumentation about why credibility should matter in framing effects. Two clean experiments test whether framing effects occur when the frames are presented by a credible (trustworthy and knowledgeable) source and/or a noncredible source. It should be noted that the manipulations compare media sources with nonmedia sources.

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  • Ladd, Jonathan M. 2005. Attitudes toward the news media and voting behavior. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago.

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    This paper examines whether the increase in audience distrust of the news media over the past forty years has been an important contributor to the growing polarization of the American political system. Another good example of the democratic consequences of mistrust in media.

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  • Liebes, Tamar, and Rivka Ribak. 1991. Democracy at risk: The reflection of political alienation in attitudes toward the media. Communication Theory 1.3: 239–252.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2885.1991.tb00017.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This Israeli study originally combines quantitative and qualitative data to demonstrate that mistrust in news media may eventually promote democratic alienation. Simple yet thought-provoking analysis suitable for introductory and advanced classes alike.

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  • Livingstone, Sonia M. 1998. Making sense of television: The psychology of audience interpretation. 2d ed. London: Routledge.

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    The author effectively argues, especially in chapter 2, that credibility studies in fact converge with the claims of reception theory, in abandoning the notion of stimulus-response effects and demonstrating the active role audiences play in resisting the not-so-powerful media.

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  • Miller, Joanne M., and Jon A. Krosnick. 2000. News media impact on the ingredients of presidential evaluations: Politically knowledgeable citizens are guided by a trusted source. American Journal of Political Science 44.2: 301–315.

    DOI: 10.2307/2669312Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Does audience trust in media moderate priming effects? The answer to this question depends on the political knowledge of the audience. Sophisticated statistical analysis appropriate for graduate students.

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  • Oliver, Mary Beth, and K. Maja Krakowiak. 2008. Individual differences in media effects. In Media effects: Advances in theory and research. Edited by Jennings Bryant and Mary Beth Oliver, 517–531. New York: Routledge.

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    While not focused on trust in media per se, this thorough review of individual differences in media effects may explain why credibility matters in this domain. Trust studies are covered under “selective perception,” but processes such as enjoyment, selective exposure, and interpretation may also underlie some of the moderating effects of credibility reviewed in this section.

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  • Tsfati, Yariv. 2003. Media skepticism and climate of opinion perception. International Journal of Public Opinion Research 15.1: 65–82.

    DOI: 10.1093/ijpor/15.1.65Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article uses longitudinal data from the 2000 US presidential elections and demonstrates that, compared to media skeptics, audiences who trusted the news media were more likely to consistently adopt the opinion climate presented by the media with regard to the likely election winner. The paper demonstrates that news media trust plays a role in spiral-of-silence processes.

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  • Wanta, Wayne, and Yu-Wei Hu. 1994. The effects of credibility, reliance, and exposure on media agenda setting: A path analysis model. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 71:90–98.

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    This article marks the beginning of scholarly thinking about media credibility as a moderator in media effects other than persuasion. The authors show that audiences who trust the news media are more likely to concur (compared to those mistrusting the media) with the news media on the most important social problems. They also examine the role of media reliance and exposure in this association.

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Media Exposure and the Media Market

If audiences are at least somewhat rational, then their trust in media should be related to their media exposure. The following entries indeed document positive associations between news media trust and mainstream news exposure. However, the associations in all cases are weak, which raises the question of why so many people watch news they do not trust. The discussion section in Tsfati and Cappella 2003 and chapter 7 of Dautrich and Hartley 1999 try to provide explanations. Another question lingering in all papers has to do with causal direction: does trust lead to exposure (as Tsfati and Cappella argue), or exposure lead to trust (as suggested by Moy and Pfau 1999)? If mistrust in media reduces exposure to mainstream media, do distrusters seek alternative sources in non-mainstream and alternative outlets? This is yet another possibility discussed in some of the studies, in particular by Tsfati and Peri 2006. Is the decrease in trust in media registered in the United States in the last couple of decades associated with a parallel decrease in circulation and profitability? This question is addressed by Meyer 2003, and the implication of the answer for the financial instability of the news media is discussed. From a legal perspective, the growing mistrust in media also threatens the financial stability of American news institutions owing to court rulings, increasing liability for the press, according to Sanford 1999.

  • Dautrich, Kenneth, and Thomas H. Hartley. 1999. How the news media fail American voters: Causes, consequences, and remedies. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    Provides an in-depth assessment of news-media political coverage from the perspective of the audience. Audience criticism of media is only weakly related to their campaign news consumption, and overall media use habits are what drives the audience to continue watching despite the fact that they distrust the news.

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  • Meyer, Philip, and Bob Hester. 2003. Trust and the value of advertising: A test of the influence model. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, Nashville, TN.

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    Argues that decreased newspaper credibility decreases the value newspapers get for advertising, even after controlling for circulation, penetration, and the county’s effective buying power. Innovative ideas and interesting analysis.

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  • Meyer, Philip, and Yuan Zhang. 2002. Anatomy of a death spiral: Newspapers and their credibility. Paper presented to the Media Management and Economics Division, Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, Miami Beach, FL.

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    This conference paper presents an innovative model connecting credibility perception of newspapers, their social influence, their circulation, and their profitability. The data do not allow for an examination of the full scope of the model, but offer an intriguing example of the economic implications of the decreased exposure fostered by the drop in media trust.

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  • Moy, Patricia, Michael Pfau, and LeeAnn Kahlor. 1999. Media use and public confidence in democratic institutions. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media 43.2: 137–158.

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    Does exposure to different news media such as entertainment television, television news, and talk radio increase or decrease confidence in media? This question is examined, among similar questions relating to other democratic institutions, using survey data. The answer is complicated and depends on many factors. Rigorous analysis and interesting findings that advance our understanding of the connection between media trust and media exposure.

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  • Moy, Patricia, and Michael Pfau. 2000. With malice toward all: The media and public confidence in democratic institutions. Westport, CT: Praeger.

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    One of the most comprehensive examinations of the contribution of media exposure to political mistrust. While focused on political trust in general, the book presents ample evidence regarding the complex direct and indirect associations between news media exposure and confidence in the news media. The book nicely supplements the survey data with content analysis data about the presentation of media and other institutions in different media outlets.

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  • Rimmer, Tony, and David Weaver. 1987. Different questions, different answers? Media use and media credibility. Journalism Quarterly 64:28–36.

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    The first exploration of the association between media credibility and media exposure resulted in very weak correlations. Stronger correlations were found between perceived credibility and media choice or preference.

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  • Sanford, Bruce. 1999. Don’t shoot the messenger: How growing hatred of the media threatens free speech for all of us. New York: Free Press.

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    In this important book, Bruce Sanford, an accomplished American press lawyer, gives a lively description of the causes and consequence of audience mistrust of news media in America. The book provides ample anecdotes and quotations documenting the reaction of the journalistic community to the shrinking trust and the drop in exposure it entails. As the title suggests, the most important implication of news media mistrust in the United States is an increase in the legal liability of the news media and a corresponding threat to free speech. A must-read volume for anyone interested in media trust.

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  • Tsfati, Yariv, and Joseph N. Cappella. 2003. Do people watch what they do not trust? Exploring the association between news media skepticism and exposure. Communication Research 30.5: 504–529.

    DOI: 10.1177/0093650203253371Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Analysis of four separate large-sample data sets explores whether trust in mainstream media is associated with exposure to mainstream news media, and whether mistrust in media is associated with exposure to nonmainstream news media. The discussion section presents an in-depth analysis of some of the difficulties facing correlational studies in this domain.

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  • Tsfati, Yariv, and Yoram Peri. 2006. Mainstream media skepticism and exposure to extra-national and sectorial news media: The case of Israel. Mass Communication and Society 9.2: 165–187.

    DOI: 10.1207/s15327825mcs0902_3Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Extends research on the association between media trust and media exposure to the Israeli context. The paper elaborates on the definition of mainstream media, brings the literature on the public sphere into the debate about media trust and media exposure, and demonstrates that while media skepticism is indeed associated with lower mainstream news exposure, it was not associated with exclusive exposure to nonmainstream channels.

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LAST MODIFIED: 02/23/2011

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199756841-0080

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