Date of Award

Fall 12-2016

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Communications Media

First Advisor

Zachary Stiegler

Second Advisor

Mary Beth Leidman

Third Advisor

Michele Papakie

Abstract

There is often great interest in the way journalists convey information about divisive issues. This phenomenological study is any attempt to understand why and how articles on a controversial topic were constructed, specifically in terms of what sources were used. This investigation into the pre-publication activity of journalists is situated within agenda building theory and is intended to produce a better understanding of the lived experience of sourcing practices of journalists, specifically Pennsylvania newspaper reporters who cover the Marcellus shale. In particular, this study continues to expand research into the sourcing decision making process of journalists, which play a significant role in determining the shape of the finished article as part of the media agenda. Understanding the process by which sources are included in a story and why they are included allows insight into the final shape of the article, as sources to shape the tenor and tone of the article. The study investigated the following areas of inquiry. 1) What is the process by which Pennsylvania newspaper journalists say they make sourcing decisions when covering the Marcellus shale industry? 2) What internal factors influence Pennsylvania newspaper journalists when they make their sourcing practice decisions when covering the Marcellus shale industry? 3) What external factors influence Pennsylvania newspaper journalists when they make their sourcing practice decisions when covering the Marcellus shale industry? Interviews with seven journalists revealed a number of commonalities – despite their differing backgrounds, education, geographic location, and size of outlet – that shed light on how and why sources are selected for Marcellus shale stories. When considering what influenced their sourcing, respondents experiences were organized into five themes: the impact of unique characteristics of the Marcellus shale beat, considerations borne out of perceptions of the three categories of sources, and expectations for source credibility, as well as external forces and respondents’ internal worldview and biases. Despite commitment to producing objective and balanced stories, respondents’ experience in sourcing the Marcellus shale was an amalgamation of forces and influences.

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