Journalist play an important role during organizational crises because of their ability to shift the conversation in one direction or another. They base the coverage of the events on the available information sources. So the question is how do they select these sources during crisis?
We can find the answer in the study “Disrupting gatekeeping practices: Journalists’ source selection in times of crisis” by van der Meer, Verhoeven, Beentjes and Vliegenthart (2016). It investigates why the journalists prefer to use information from either news agencies, organizations undergoing a crisis or the general public. The sources’ likelihood of being included in the news is evaluated by using five source characteristics: credibility, knowledge, willingness, timeliness, and the relationship with the journalist.
About the research method
The information in this study was gathered through an online survey of Dutch practicing and experienced journalists (launched on 1 October 2014, last response obtained on 1 December 2014). Email invitations were sent out via Dutch associations for journalists and an organization that links organizations with journalists. Only journalists that report on general news or write about topics that can relate to organizational crises received an invitation. At the end there were 214 respondents who had, at least once, reported about a crisis. The average age was 48.05 years, 28 percent were women, and on average they had 20.74 years professional experience.
News media as gatekeepers during crisis
During crisis, representatives of the news media have the responsibility to provide relevant and accurate information to the society. Depending on the perspectives they include in their messages, they have the power to heighten or diminish the magnitude of the crisis. As you can imagine the emergent nature of the crisis situations presents challenges to the journalists and alters their everyday practices. Thus it is important to understand what is the mechanism that impacts the source selection during crises.
Selection criteria of the sources
There are three important criteria that influence the likelihood of a source being included in the news during a crisis.
- Journalists evaluate key source qualities like credibility and knowledge.
- Journalists judge the sources’ activities, namely willingness to communicate and timeliness of the communication.
- The source–journalist relationship plays an important role as journalists rely more on sources with whom they have built up a relationship over time.
What are the findings?
When it comes to inclusion in the news during a crisis, news agencies are most likely to be chosen, followed by the public, and eventually the affected organization. Additionally, journalists prefer sources they are familiar with like news agencies. Likewise, journalists ignore sources with which they do not have a strong relationship like organizations or the public. A potential consequence of that is a biased representation in terms of the framing of the event and an imbalanced coverage.
Journalists’ judgment of the sources (credibility and knowledge) and sources’ activities (willingness and timely communication) were decisive in regards to the probability of them being included in the news. Moreover, the relationship between the journalist and its source is important: the better the relationship, the more positive the journalists’ judgment of the source and the more available the sources become for the journalists during a crisis.
It was also found that journalists use different heuristics for different source when deciding which source to include in the news. When it comes to news agencies they need to be seen as knowledgeable regarding the crisis and willing to provide information. Likewise, knowledge and credibility are the most important determinants for the inclusion of an organization as a source. For the general public, credibility and timeliness is decisive to become included in the news by the journalist.
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For more information check out the study online and get acquainted with the details of the research. For further information you may contact the corresponding author Toni G.L.A. van der Meer at G.L.A.vanderMeer@UvA.nl.