Source credibility and journalism: Between visceral and discretional judgment

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations

Abstract

The extent to which information sources, that stand behind virtually all the news, are perceived by journalists as credible is a key determinant of the likelihood of their obtaining news access and public voice. The nature of source credibility judgment in journalism, however, is disputed between two major schools: while the “visceral” camp contends that it is highly subjective, intuitive and biased, the “discretional” camp perceives it as a far more reasonable and legitimate journalistic tool. The present study attempts to uncover evidence of both “visceral” and “discretional” judgment by studying the conceptual credibility (trustworthiness ratings) and practical credibility (practices indicating trust or skepticism, such as cross-checking and attribution) and the congruence between the two in a sample of 840 news items based on 1870 news sources. Findings were gleaned in face-to-face reconstruction interviews with reporters from nine leading Israeli news organizations, who reconstructed, source by source, the processes behind their items, shortly after their publication. Pro-discretional evidence shows that while journalists perceive their own experience as more credible than that of any other human agent, they do tend to stick with sources they perceive as more credible, the majority of which were relied on in the past, granting them more ready acceptance. Pro-visceral evidence, in turn, demonstrates that even the least credible sources receive substantial news space, some without any cross-checking. Furthermore, reporters ranked their sources' credibility even when they had no former record of trustworthiness. The paper suggests interpreting the composite of these findings as discretional logic with islands of visceral judgment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-67
Number of pages17
JournalJournalism Practice
Volume5
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2011

Keywords

  • Israel
  • Journalism
  • News production
  • Newsmaking
  • Source credibility
  • Trust

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication

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