Journalists, Public Differ on Perception of Media Coverage

Article excerpt

Credibility studies have defined media perceptions in different ways, including believability, trust, reliability, fairness, accuracy and bias. (1) Most studies in this area have indicated that media use predicts media perceptions, but fewer have explored the growing gap between journalists' and the public's perceptions. (2) Specifically, some previous research has indicated that public perceptions of the news media are more negative and cynical than those of news professionals. (3) These differing evaluations, Weaver and Wilhoit contend, result partly from journalists' training and contact with other media professionals and sources. (4)

In the current study, we attempted to examine this potential divide. First, we examined whether the public's and journalists' perceptions of news coverage are different in terms of their similarity and consistency. (5) We also examined whether perceptions of news coverage are predicted by people's newspaper readership and whether they are journalists or members of the public. These two steps allowed us to attempt to answer several important questions. Do ordinary citizens' views of media differ from those of journalists? Are the views of readers and non-readers different? And, if so, how do they vary? And, finally, does media use predict these perceptions?

We sought answers by posing six news perception statements to three subgroups: 1) Los Angeles Times journalists; 2) members of the Los Angeles public who read the LA Times; and 3) members of the Los Angeles public who do not read the LA Times.

Predictors of Media Perceptions

A comparison of journalists' and public perceptions of news coverage can be theoretically based in previous consumer behavior research involving the lifestyle construct. This construct--which includes social class and occupational status--has been associated with media perceptions, media use and product purchase. (6) Related research has shown that public perceptions of the news media are more negative and cynical than those of news professionals. (7) Specifically, Johnson found that media workers were more likely than members of the public to defend reporters against charges that they had covered Iran/ Contra unfairly. (8) At the core of these lifestyle and journalist-public findings is social-psychological theory, which suggests that socialization and social happenings play an important role in shaping personality and subsequent attitudes and behaviors. (9)

Hypotheses

From these previous studies, we honed four hypotheses.

H1, 2, 3:

Hypothesis 1 holds that journalists will have more positive perceptions of news coverage than will members of the public, and Hypothesis 2 holds that journalists' perceptions of newspaper coverage will be more consistent thanwill those of the public. In addition, because the medium people prefer has been shown to be the one they will find most credible, (10) the LA Times readers among the public will have more positive perceptions of the newspaper's coverage than will non-readers (Hypothesis 3).

H4:

Similarly, Hypothesis 4 holds that LA Times readers will have more consistent media perceptions than will non-readers.

H5:

Finally, with support from previous research, (11) we predict in Hypothesis 5 that media perceptions will be positively associated with newspaper readership--even after controlling for demographics.

International News Coverage

Previous research has examined how journalists and members of the public perceive different types of news content, such as coverage of minorities and people with disabilities differently. (12) International news coverage presents another such forum, one that involves five criticisms of U.S. media coverage of other parts of the world. The first deals with the heavy focus of international news on crisis, conflict and disaster. …