Citizens as Sources: How Similarity and Credibility Affect Information Processing, Evaluations, and Attitude Formation

TitleCitizens as Sources: How Similarity and Credibility Affect Information Processing, Evaluations, and Attitude Formation
Publication TypeConference Paper
Author(s)Hermans, L., G. Schaap, and M. Kleemans
Affiliation (1st Author)Windesheim University of Applied Sciences Zwolle Radboud University Nijmegen
Section or WGJournalism Research and Education Section
DateThurs 27 June
Slot CodeJRE T1a
Slot Code (Keyword)JRE T1a
Time of Session9:00-10:30
RoomHG23
Session TitleJournalism Ethics: Practices and Challenges Theme V: Generic Studies of Journalism
Submission ID5949
Abstract

Study Objectives An important function of journalism is to get citizens involved in society. Based on this premise, many scholars and journalists see the use of citizen as news sources as a prominent means to face the professional, social, and economic challenges of contemporary journalism. It is therefore no surprise that the use of citizen sources in the news increases (cf. Hendriks Vettehen, Beentjes, Nuijten, & Peeters, 2011). However, not much is known about audience perceptions of citizen sources, and even less about the intended and unintended effects that the use of various kinds of citizens as news sources may have on the audience (Lefevere, De Swert, & Walgrave, 2012; Miller & Kurpius, 2010). This study therefore investigates 1) the relationship between the perceived similarity and perceived credibility of (citizen) sources, and 2) the effect of similarity and credibility on information processing, message evaluations, and attitudes.   Theory Prior research has studied source credibility primarily using a dichotomy of sources, i.e., elite (e.g. experts) versus non-elite (e.g., citizens) sources (cf. Kunelius & Renvall, 2010; Lefevere, et al., 2012; Miller & Kurpius, 2010). This ignores the fact that there are different types of citizen sources which may be perceived as varying in credibility. Research on persuasive messages has shown that perceived source similarity may be an important predictor of perceived credibility (Pornpitakpan, 2004). Therefore, this study examines whether different citizen sources are perceived as varying in similarity, and as a consequence, in credibility. This is important as similarity and credibility may have great audience effects. ‘Vividness theory’ (Nisbett & Ross, 1980) and ‘Exemplification theory’ (Zillmann & Brosius, 2000) explain that non-elite sources are more emotionally interesting, concrete, and proximate. As a consequence, such sources are able to attract the attention of the audience and affect subsequent information processing. In addition, such sources are supposed to have an influence on message evaluations (cf. Zillmann & Brosius, 2000). Finally, the higher a source’s credibility, the greater its persuasive effects (Pornpitakpan, 2004). The current study aims to assess the possibly differential effects of citizen sources with varying degrees of similarity and credibility on information processing, evaluations, and attitudes.   Method This study uses an experiment, in which student participants are confronted with news messages that are equal in content, but vary in terms of source attribution. Stimulus materials consist of newspaper articles, each with a different source in terms of expected similarity with the participants, ranging from least similar (expert/politician) to somewhat similar (average citizen) to very similar (student). The study consists of two parts: First, participants rate the perceived similarity and perceived credibility of sources in the news messages. Second, the effects of perceived similarity and credibility on information processing (attention/arousal, recollection, comprehension), evaluations of the message (like/dislike), and attitudes (agree/disagree) are measured. The results are discussed both in terms of their theoretical contribution and in terms of their usefulness for journalists, i.e., how they should deal with the use of citizen sources that may have intended and unintended effects.

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