The Consequences of Mistrust in the News Media: Media Skepticism as a Moderator in Media Effects and as a Factor Influencing News Media Exposure

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Tsfati, Yariv

Survey data show that audience trust in the institutions of the news media is fading. Most research to date has focused on the reasons for this decline in audience trust and ignored its outcomes. This dissertation seeks to explore the consequences of audience skepticism toward media institutions. Specifically, it hypothesizes that mistrust in the media serves as a moderator for media effects and as a factor influencing media exposure selections. Both propositions were tested on five separate large sample data sets, including the National Election Study of 19%, General Social Survey, and three additional studies conducted at the Anneberg School for Communication during the 19% and 2000 election years. The first proposition was tested in relation to news media agenda setting, spiral of silence, cultivation and priming effects. Findings show that media skepticism indeed moderated agenda setting and spiral of silence processes. Hypotheses about the moderating role of media skepticism in cultivation and priming were not supported. Tests of the second proposition regarding the influence of media skepticism on news exposure selections showed skepticism to be negatively related to exposure to iv mainstream news channels, but positively related to exposure to non-mainstream channels like Political Talk Radio and Internet news sources. Also, media skepticism interacted with need for cognition in their effects on mainstream media exposure, so that the effects of skepticism were stronger when need for cognition was low. Implications of the findings for media scholars, for journalists and for media literacy programs are discussed.

Joseph N. Cappella
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