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How trust and fear stimulate or hamper new ideas in the newsroom

Patricia Cruz

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The study “Trust and Fear in the Newsroom: How Emotions Drive the Exchange of Innovative Ideas” by Ornella Porcu and Liesbeth Hermans from Windesheim University of Applied Sciences and Marcel Broersma from University of Groningen looked at a topic under researched in journalism studies: what fosters the sharing and developing of new ideas?  

Innovation is crucial to the survival of legacy media amidst the new challenges. So are the social processes that stimulate the exchange of new ideas among people. Previous research by the same authors has found out that in the newsroom, “trust” and “fear” emerged as the key conditions for the sharing of ideas.

Newsrooms have been previously studied as places where news are constructed, but the research has often looked at management or tech while excluding the cultural context of the newsroom. Porcu (2017) introduced the concept of “innovative learning culture” (ILC) to fill this gap.

Crucial to the sharing of new ideas is people’s willingness to take risk to make mistakes, which in turn is highly influenced by a culture that triggers and fosters innovative behavior. In order for ideas to be developed in the entire organization, it is important that they reach the management. 

The work of a journalist is inherently a profession where risks are balanced on a daily basis, and the pressure to not make mistakes is present daily due to the taboo associated with mistakes in reporting and the potential damage they create. Thus, journalism is a risk-averse undertaking,

Fear in journalism manifests as fearing the “ultimate punishment” of being fired due to a mistake – even if such an event is unlikely, the fear is still present. These fears do not leave much room for creative undertaking.

Only in a high-trust environment does the exchange of new ideas occur. Trust generally occurs horizontally, that is, among peers in the same position in the organization. Vertical trust is rarer, but previous research by for example 

Carmely and Spreitzer (2009) has shown that if the management succeeds in reducing the employees fears idea sharing and vertical trust is increased. 

The study at hand was a qualitative multiple case study. To increase internal validity, established newsrooms that were presumably more likely to allocate resources for innovation were chosen. Multiple qualitative data-collection methods were used. The data is ethnographic and consists of observation on interactions and notes on open interviews. 103 days were spent on observation and there were 132 interviews. 

When it comes to the social hierarchy in the newsroom, there were five distinct groups identified belonging to two larger categories. The categories were newsroom elites and the larger newsroom. Among the elites, there were newsroom establishment, usual suspects and happy few, while among the larger newsroom there was silent majority and flex people. 

Regarding fear, only lack of it is perceived as conducive to the sharing of ideas. People who are not burdened by fear are the newsroom elites. The happy few, especially senior members among the group, generally lack fear as do middle managers. There are also individuals who lack fear who do something unique in the newsroom, and these are often incorporated into the formal hierarchy and treated as usual suspects. 

Fear was mainly felt vertically – the employees fearing management. Some had experienced humiliation form overly aggressive top-down communication, which then led to “freeze, fight or flight” reactions. Also, news about these incidents spread across the newsroom and often led particularly less privileged employees to utilize the strategy of staying away from the management. 

Fear can also be mutual – the larger newsroom fears the management and vice versa. For example, the management can be apprehensive about disrupting the status quo when work needs to be adapted. Journalists also fear genuine debate and feedback, as they find it difficult to criticize each other’s work. 

Trust is mainly experienced horizontally. People of the same social and formal hierarchical level particularly perceive trust among their own news desk or “island”. This trust often also extended to the news desk editor, or “chief”. The trust is reflected as people feeling comfortable and at ease in their work environment, shown in behavior like opting to go shoeless at work. 

To share the ideas beyond, there also needs to be a degree of vertical trust. Groups closer to management are “less vertical” and find it easier to trust the management. Newsroom elites may feel stimulated to share their ideas as they enjoy the management’s trust, appreciation and encouragement. 

One way for ideas to be shared was having people from different disciplines working together, such as marketing and journalists. However, it was quite hard for trust to be extended in the same level and there was some culture shock, as for example the marketing used terms like “target audience” or “customer journey” that the journalists were uncomfortable with. 

There were downsides to the high trust extended among one’s own “island”. It can lead to navel-gazing and unwillingness to accept ideas coming from outside. One other factor reducing particularly vertical trust was that the management and the larger newsroom do not know each other well. 

Amongst the category of flex people horizontal trust was experienced as a form of solidarity, but they did not experience the same robustness of trust their contracted colleagues did – they felt frustrated with their precarious position and were exluded from the friendly, familial atmosphere enjoyed by contracted workers in their own “islands”.

The authors conclude that in the context of ILC, when perceptions of trust outweighs the perceptions of fear, this stimulates the sharing of ideas, and vice versa. Newsroom elites, being closer to management, experienced vertical trust. Vertical trust only occurs when staff and management are close and “horizontal”. 

They also conclude that in order for ideas to reach the management, journalists need to experience both horizontal and vertical trust. For the larger newsroom, which does not experience vertical trust, story ideas are shared which is enough for daily operations but limits the widespread adoption of new ideas. 

A way, if difficult, to reduce vertical fear for the management is to organize time to connect with the larger newsroom. A safe feedback culture for all the staff is crucial not only for mental wellbeing but also for the culture of innovation. 

What is clear from the study is that newsrooms are not homogenous entities, but instead, are rather diverse in their social hierarchical positions. The staff and management perceive their culture and reality differently based on these positions. 

The study “Trust and Fear in the Newsroom: How Emotions Drive the Exchange of Innovative Ideas” by Ornella Porcu, Liesbeth Hermans and Marcel Broersma is in Journalism Studies. (open access).

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Journalism

Article: Trust and Journalistic Transparency Online

Patricia Cruz

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The study “Trust and Journalistic Transparency Online” by Michael Koliska from Georgetown University experimented on news consumers’ trust as brought on by transparency, and further, in the second experiment, explored the reasons for the findings in the first.

Transparency in journalism is defined as opening up the journalistic processes (production, decision making) to outsiders, i.e. making journalism more transparent. Karlsson (2010, 2020) further divides transparency into disclosure, participatory, and ambient transparency. 

Defining trust, on the other hand, in journalism has been tricky, as it has been associated with credibility. Kohring and Matthes (2007) define the four elements of trust: 1. trust in topic selectivity; 2. trust in fact selectivity; 3. trust in accuracy of descriptions, and 4. trust in journalistic assessment. 

This study recruited its participants from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk) platform. There were a total of 1092 participants. They were presented with a news story about nanoparticles – a topic that was unfamiliar to most and therefore had a low risk of partisan opinions. The article was presented in six different webpages that had differing transparency items in them.

There were 11 different trust items in the first experiment. Based on the results, the hypotheses were rejected. They were H1: A a) production transparency news item and a b) producer transparency news item will be trusted more than a non-transparent item. H2: A full transparency (both production and producer transparency) news item will be trusted more than a) a non-transparent article, b) a production transparency article, and c) a producer transparency article. And H3a: A full transparency news item will be trusted more than a full transparent article that includes biased information about the producer. H3b: A producer transparency news item with neutral personal information will be trusted more than a producer transparency article with biased information.

Nevertheless, the participants agreed that the journalist was trustworthy and that they sometimes trusted the news media. On results, it was speculated that the participants did not recognize the transparency features as cognitive heuristics and did not interact much with the transparency items. 

The second experiment was similar. There were a total of 379 participants, who were not the same as in the first one. They were assigned to read the same article as in the first about nanoparticles, placed again on five different webpages with varying transparency features.  

Further on, the participants were asked to recall the transparency features (such as hyperlinks, author bio, editorial explanations etc.) and to recall specific information from the article and the transparency features. 

The participants recalled items such as the photo (84% of the ones assigned to the webpage with a photo) only 34% could correctly identify the journalist. Similarly, 53% of those who had seen an editorial explanation recalled it, but only 26% could recall a detail from it. Participants also had trouble recalling the individual transparency features they were exposed to.

It was noted that the participants had better recall on items that were part of the actual story than the ‘digitally outsourced’ transparency items. It is possible that this information is not adequately processed or they failed to acknowledge the utility of this information. 

In conclusion, it still remains unclear how the link between transparency and audience’s trust is created. The question remains on whether news consumers recognize transparency features as markers of journalistic quality.

The article “Trust and Journalistic Transparency Online” by Michael Koliska is in Journalism Studies. (open access). 

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News ideology and media storms in France and Israel

Patricia Cruz

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The article “What Happens in the Eye of the Storm? News Ideology During Media Storms” by Doron Shultziner from Hadassah Academic College looked at the nexus of news ideology and media storms using two media storms to analyze the topic: the Yellow Vests Movement (2018) in France and the Occupy Movement (2011) in Israel.

Media storms are defined as events or topics that take up a substantial part of the coverage for a period of time. They typically peak after few weeks in the beginning and then begin to fade. They have been studied widely with various terms being applied to them like “media event” or “media hypes”.

In the past 15 years, there has been an increase in the amount of studies on media ideology. Measured against the hypothetical gold standard of pure objectivity, media bias can be seen when coverage varies from source to another in different weighings and so on, with professional considerations having been overtaken by ideological ones.

The ideology is often seen in framing – as in this case, left-wing media tends to frame the protests positively and right-wing negatively. This was one of the topics in this study.
There were two data sets for the study: the Israeli one and the French one. The Israeli dataset consisted of coverage from Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel Hayom, Maariv, Haaretz, Makor Rishon (a national-religious newspaper), and Yated Neeman (an ultra-religious newspaper). Israel Hayom, Makor Rishon, and Yated Neeman are right-wing, the rest are left wing.

The French dataset consisted of coverage from Le Figaro, Le Monde, Libération, and L’Obs – listed here from right to left ideologically. The articles from both datasets were coded either positive, negative, or neutral based on several criteria.

The results show that media storms are a multi-media phenomenon, affecting a number of newspapers at once. The findings also demonstrate a media bias: if professional considerations were the only thing that mattered, the coverage in left- and right-wing media would have resembled each other.

Instead, there was a trend of negative coverage in right-wing media and positive in left – and what is more, the lines of coverage moved to opposite directions, showing increased polarization. There were differences between the storms: in the Israel case the newspapers chose their sides early and there was no significant move, but in France the lines diverged as the media storm went on.

News ideology also operated through production bias mechanisms, such as sizing of articles or their placement in the newspaper (front page or somewhere else). Due to the differences of the two cases, the hypotheses regarding the decline stage of the storm were hard to assess.

The author notes that the study has implications for future research. It proposes that media storms may be high-risk events that even challenge the ideology and interests of the news organizations. As important, politically charged events become media storms, they may become political storms instead.

The article “What Happens in the Eye of the Storm? News Ideology During Media Storms” by Doron Shultziner is in International Journal of Communication. (free access).

Picture: Storm Approaching by Johannes Plenio @jplenio.
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Covering women’s sport: My sports journalism career highlights

Patricia Cruz

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There has never been a better time to work in women’s sport and for early-career sports reporters, the opportunities are endless.

Here, multimedia sports reporter Milly McEvoy shares how she has covered everything from the Olympics and Paralympics to international women’s cricket and football tournaments, only a year after finishing her sports journalism course.

In June 2021, fresh off finishing my Multimedia Sports Journalism qualification with in Manchester, I made the move down to London to join Sportsbeat as a reporter.

It feels like a lifetime ago, but what has come in between also feels like a blur – it has involved international rugby and football, the British Athletics Championships and domestic cricket and netball (and lots more) in person. 

I have also covered the Summer Olympics and Paralympics, Wimbledon, the Commonwealth Games, remotely and I have had the opportunity to interview sportspeople involved from the grassroots to the top of the game. 

On top of all that, I spent two months covering the Women’s Cricket World Cup in New Zealand. 

As I came to the end of my history degree in 2020, I already knew I wanted to be a sports journalist, but I started thinking about what form that would take. 

I quickly settled on women’s sport. 

I had always kept an eye on women’s sport, and proudly say the first sporting event I ever attended was a Women’s Euros football match in 2005, but my interest in sport came from what was easily available – and even two years ago most women’s sport wasn’t. 

2020 was a slippery slope to full-on obsession including listening to the 2020 Women’s T20 World Cup final on 8 March in the early morning on the radio. 

Even across the airwaves, the sound of 86,174 people packing into the MCG showed to me that there was plenty of appetite for women’s sport, people just need to be able to see it – and read about it. 

Fast forward two years and Australia were winning another World Cup, but this time, I was there to see it with my own eyes before heading to the press conference to speak with captain Meg Lanning. 

What had led to that point at around 9pm on 3 April 2022 was two months covering one of the most exciting tournaments cricket has ever seen, and I’m luckily not yet jaded enough to have cursed having to rewrite my match reports as momentum swung wildly in several games. 

I learnt so much from covering that World Cup producing over 120 previews, reports, reaction pieces and features, but my favourite one was the last thing I did in Aotearoa, speaking with a slightly hungover Grace Harris the day after she had won the World Cup. 

Having returned to the UK, I enjoyed a full circle moment in July as I covered the Women’s Euros, and just like the 2020 T20 World Cup, I watched from afar as 87,192 fans cheered the home team to victory. 

Except, this time I was writing the match report for the Lionesses and I couldn’t get into the Wembley press box because there were so many people eager to cover women’s sports. 

It feels like England’s win will be a turning point for women’s sport, one that is long overdue, and I am excited to be part of what is to come and grateful and proud to have been a small part of what has already been. 

You can find out more about our multimedia sports journalism course here.

For a taster of our award-winning journalism training, sign up for one of our free workshops here.

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