News sources and the audience: developing a psychological approach to source attributions

Jamie Matthews (Bournemouth University, UK)

The analysis of news sources has focused upon source-media relations through two dominant frameworks. The first articulates a macro or power-based approach, where sources’ access to the media correlates with their economic or political status within societies; the second emerges from a sociological or organisational perspective concerning the interaction between journalists, news organisations and news sources. However, what also needs to be considered is the potential for sources to influence the relationship between journalists and their audiences. More specifically, how may a seemingly benign professional decision taken by a journalist, to validate a piece of information by citing a particular source, have the potential to feed into audience interpretation and understanding of a news event? This paper outlines an experimental method that will be used to develop a psychological approach to sources and to explore how subtle variations in media content (source citations) may influence audience perceptions of a story. Previous research has employed an experimental method to test the effects of source attribution upon audience impressions of the news and to explore the relationship between news exposure and public opinion. The design of this research method seeks to combine these two methodologies and to test the effects of source attribution upon both perceptions of the veracity of the news and attitudes and opinions related to issues within the news.

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