Assessing Cross-Cultural Learning and the Effects of Personality and Negative Attitudes on Journalism Students' Knowledge

By Len-Ríos, María E.; Perry, Earnest L. | Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, Autumn 2009 | Go to article overview
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Assessing Cross-Cultural Learning and the Effects of Personality and Negative Attitudes on Journalism Students' Knowledge


Len-Ríos, María E., Perry, Earnest L., Journalism & Mass Communication Educator


This study uses a pre-test/post-test design to assess student learning of cross-cultural journalism principles and to determine if students with intolerant personality types (RWA and SDO) learn differently. Findings show that knowledge increased from Time 1 to Time 2. Personality type was associated with beliefs about diversity's importance to industry, but not to knowledge. As journalists set the tone for conversations about class, race, and gender, it is of consequence to understand how students enter these conversations.

U.S. Census data reports remind us that the U.S. population is changing, which behooves journalists and strategic communication students to think of their authences in new ways. The Pew Research Center projects that by the year 2050, nearly 29% of the U.S. population will report Hispanic ethnicity, while the proportion of Americans who are white will drop below 50%. 1 Demographic shifts include a decline in Protestantism and an increase in the religiously unaffiliated.2 Also, aging baby boomers have changed how we define U.S. households.3 All of these changes require renewed thinking about U.S. society and its institutions.

Little previous research takes a systematic approach to understanding the learning of cross-cultural concepts in journalism courses or whether learning about these issues is affected by personality factors. One recent study4 examined learning in a course with forty-one undergraduate students. Focus groups and discourse analysis were used as assessment tools. Results suggested difficulties in getting students to step outside of their comfort zones to consider alternative perspectives. The study reported in this article adds to the literature by using a pre-test/post-test quasi-experimental design to measure knowledge at conceptual and analytical levels, and by examining whether and how two personality factors, identified through more than a decade's worth of research in psychology, may be associated with cross-cultural learning. Previous studies provide rich accounts of learning yet fail to provide formal, measurable assessments and often concentrate on courses with small class sizes.

Literature Review

Journalism and Cross-Cultural Issues. Cross-cultural journalism in journalism education is important for historical reasons. Scholars point out5 that the 1947 Hutchins Commission and the 1968 Kerner Commission questioned whether news media adequately reflect society. Subsequently, professional news organizations, such as the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) and the Radio-Television News Directors Association (RTNDA), began to take stock of newsroom hiring with the idea that if more people of color were represented in the journalism work force, the content and perspective of news accounts and societal cohesion would improve. The impact of minority hiring on news content is inconclusive, and many believe the industry cannot rely on minorities alone to increase diversity in coverage.

Most recent figures show that recruitment of minorities by newspapers had been slow and steady for about two decades, but that the current economic downturn and a less than strong effort to retain experienced minorities has led to "stagnation." ASNE is concerned about the impact this will have on coverage of ethnic minority communities.6

RTNDA stated in 2008 that minorities make up a quarter of local television newsrooms, the second highest level since 2001. However, a National Association of Black Journalists survey contradicted those results. The two groups vowed to work together to get a more accurate accounting and continue to strive toward newsroom diversity.7

A host of factors is associated with poor retention of minorities in newsrooms that can affect content. Studies in the 1990s suggested that poor mentorship of minorities and lack of respect for cultural differences were contributing causes.8 Thus, it would seem that if newsroom culture is to change, aspiring journalists need to be more broadly educated to feel comfortable discussing issues related to "difference" in the newsroom.

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