Transparency is the most recently established ethical principle for professional journalists, even though its roots stretch back almost a century. The emergence of transparency as a core journalistic ethic and value has been fueled mainly by three distinct yet interdependent developments. First, sociocultural advances in society have gradually increased the availability and demand for more information, including in areas such as politics and business. This development instilled an expectation of the “right to know,” also impacting the journalistic institution. Second, the introduction of digital media technologies has provided more means to disclose information, interact with journalists, and witness news production. Third, ethical and normative discussions by journalists and scholars have promoted more openness about journalism. Transparency has frequently been advocated as an effective way to combat the ongoing decline of trust and credibility in the news media. A central rationale supporting information disclosure and providing direct access to journalists and news organizations is that the audience will be able to ascertain which journalism it can trust to be true or which journalism may be superior. Specifically, in times when the news media is being labeled as fake or lying to the public, transparency may indeed be an important mechanism for the audience to hold journalism accountable. Yet, while the promise of transparency is an enticing prospect for the journalistic institution, empirical research has not quite been able to support all the claims that transparency will indeed improve credibility and trust in the news media. However, transparency is a nascent ethic and practice in journalism, and has only recently been officially recognized. Journalists and news organizations are still in the process of finding new ways to openly engage with the public, showing them the journalistic production process and building relationships with their communities. After all, building trust takes time and may only be achieved in a continuous effort to engage in an open, honest, and personal dialogue with the people.
Questions of media trust and credibility are widely discussed; numerous studies over the past 30 years show a decline in trust in media as well as institutions and experts. The subject has been discussed—and researched—since the period between World Wars I and II and is often returned to as new forms of technology and news consumption are developed. However, trust levels, and what people trust, differ in different countries. Part of the reason that trust in the media has received such extensive attention is the widespread view shared by communications scholars and media development practitioners that a well-functioning media is essential to democracy. But the solutions discussion is further complicated because the academic research on media trust—before and since the advent of online media—is fragmented, contradictory, and inconclusive. Further, it is not clear to what extent digital technology –and the loss of traditional signals of credibility—has confused audiences and damaged trust in media and to what extent trust in media is related to worries about globalization, job losses, and economic inequality. Nor is it clear whether trust in one journalist or outlet can be generalized. This makes it difficult to know how to rebuild trust in the media, and although there are many efforts to do so, it is not clear which will work—or whether any will.
Fake news is not new, but the American presidential election in 2016 placed the phenomenon squarely onto the international agenda. Manipulation, disinformation, falseness, rumors, conspiracy theories—actions and behaviors that are frequently associated with the term—have existed as long as humans have communicated. Nevertheless, new communication technologies have allowed for new ways to produce, distribute, and consume fake news, which makes it harder to differentiate what information to trust. Fake news has typically been studied along four lines: Characterization, creation, circulation, and countering. How to characterize fake news has been a major concern in the research literature, as the definition of the term is disputed. By differentiating between intention and facticity, researchers have attempted to study different types of false information. Creation concerns the production of fake news, often produced with either a financial, political, or social motivation. The circulation of fake news refers to the different ways false information has been disseminated and amplified, often through communication technologies such as social media and search engines. Lastly, countering fake news addresses the multitude of approaches to detect and combat fake news on different levels, from legal, financial, and technical aspects to individuals’ media and information literacy and new fact-checking services.
Native advertising has become an increasingly important revenue component for many online journalism publications. Because Web consumers engage in advertising avoidance strategies when using the Web, advertisers have gradually come to rely increasingly on paid advertising that resembles in format, appearance, and content non-advertising content on websites. On news websites, native advertising forms include sponsored content, sponsored homepage links, and sponsored article-referral links. The spread of native advertising news content has led to concern that news consumers fail to recognize it as advertising, and questions about whether it is unethical or deceptive. Contemporary native advertising is not the first content delivered alongside news that blurs the boundaries between editorial and paid promotional content. Print advertorials, which took root in newspapers and magazines in the mid-20th century, are a direct analogue, but host-read ads on radio and television programs, text-based search engine result advertising, and newspaper special advertising sections can all be seen as advertising content designed to feel like non-paid content. However, because contemporary native advertising takes so many different forms, and because practices of disclosure to the user are so varied, there has been a rise in public concern and academic inquiry into the prevalence and effects of native advertising. Native advertising on online news sites has generated a number of ethical concerns from practitioners, media critics, and consumers. On the production side, scholars and practitioners worry that the creation of content on behalf of, or in partnership with, advertisers may erode norms of editorial independence that have governed media organizations’ practices for over half a century. Others are concerned that as consumers become accustomed to seeing articles produced with advertiser input, the credibility of news organizations and trust in their non-advertising content will decrease. Perhaps most prominent have been concerns that native advertising deliberately disables consumers’ ability to recognize advertising elements on a website, rendering advertiser and publisher liable for deceiving consumers. Research on native advertising has focused primarily on understanding how consumers detect and perceive native advertising, with additional streams focused on descriptive analyses of native advertising content and practitioner perspectives. Empirical studies show that many consumers do not recognize native advertising, and that there are substantial differences in how the content is received and trusted between those who recognize it and those who do not. Scholars have also identified characteristics of content, disclosure practices, and individual characteristics that influence the likelihood of advertising recognition.
Kristin Page Hocevar, Miriam Metzger, and Andrew J. Flanagin
Our understanding and perceptions of source credibility significantly drive how we process health and risk messages, and may also influence relevant behaviors. Source credibility is believed to be impacted by both perceptions of source trustworthiness and expertise, and the effect of credibility on changes in attitudes and behavior has been studied for decades in the persuasion literature. However, how we understand and define source credibility—particularly the dimension of expertise—has changed dramatically as social media and other online platforms are increasingly used to design and disseminate health messages. While earlier definitions of source credibility relied heavily on the source’s credentials as indicators of expertise on a given topic, more recent conceptualizations must also account for expertise held by laypeople who have experience with a health concern. This shifting conceptualization of source credibility may then impact both why and when people select, as well as how they perceive, process, and judge, health messaging across both novel and more traditional communication contexts.
Maggie J. Pitts
A researcher’s methodological approach is guided by his or her orientation toward three major philosophical assumptions: epistemological assumptions (i.e., what the nature of truth or knowledge is and how it can be pursued), ontological assumptions (i.e., what the nature of reality is and how it can be understood), and axiological assumptions (i.e., what the researcher’s position in the world is and responsibilities to it). Qualitative inquiry is largely guided by methodological beliefs that hold truth and reality as socially constructed, that value subjectivity over objectivity, that explore questions of “how” or “why” over questions of “what,” and that value participants’ voices and experiences. Broadly, qualitative inquiry seeks to describe the world as it is experienced and lived in by the participants under study. With respect to intergroup communication, qualitative inquiry takes an in-depth approach to understanding how members of a community or culture enact the behaviors of everyday life relevant to their group. Qualitative inquiry comprises several methodologies or methodological approaches including ethnography, autoethnography, and ethnography of communication; narrative paradigm and narrative theory; grounded theory; phenomenology; and case studies. Each methodology employs one method or a combination of methods to collect qualitative data. Methods refer to the tools used to collect data for the purposes of informing research and answering research questions. Qualitative methods include tools for the collection of descriptive, largely non-numeric data, including several types of interviews, observations, and interactions, and the collection of meaningful texts, documents, and objects. The collection of qualitative data often requires the researcher to establish a trusting relationship (rapport) with participants and gain an insider’s (emic) perspective of the context for study. In many cases, this is established through prolonged engagement in the field and carefully crafting interview questions that encourage detailed disclosures. Qualitative data are analyzed through a process of dissection, up-close examination, contrast, and comparison between units of data and then putting pieces back together in a synergetic way that represents data holistically. Most qualitative data analysis involves some form of coding: a process of identifying units of data that are relevant to the research questions, assigning them a short label or code, then clustering similar codes into increasingly abstract thematic categories. Researchers establish trustworthiness in qualitative reports through descriptive writing that preserves the voices of the participants, that reflects the social realities of the participants, and that contextualizes results within broader scholarly discourse by tying findings to previous theory or research. Qualitative research reports can take many forms that range from creative forms of writing and representation including poetry and photographs to more conventional forms of writing that fit expectations of social scientific academic journals. When applied to intergroup contexts, qualitative inquiry can make evident the language and communication patterns and social behaviors that distinguish one group from another. Field observations can reveal identity performance and group behavior. Interviews can solicit information from participants about in-group or out-group perceptions and experiences. And the collection and analysis of texts and documents can establish the means through which group identity is preserved and transferred.