Prof. Gerald M. Kosicki from Ohio State University and Dr. Tudor Vlad between sessions.

“News Philosophy” Impacts Generation of Story Ideas, Report by Cox Center Research Team Shows

Representatives of the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research at the University of Georgia and representatives of the Faculty of Political Sciences at the University of Belgrade plotted out a three-year plan of academic exchange in a meeting in Belgrade in November.

The group agreed that two representatives of the Belgrade program should visit the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, of which the Cox Center is a part, early in 2005 and that the two units should collaborate on a workshop in Belgrade in early spring of 2005.

The group tentatively agreed that the topic of the workshop should be on the logic of teaching journalism in the university setting.

Representing the University of Belgrade were Dean Milan Podunavac, Vice Dean Vukasin Pavlovic, Prof. Miroljub Radojkovic, head of the Department of Journalism and Communication Science, and Prof. Snjezana Milivojevic, journalism faculty member who is in charge of the exchange project.

Representing the University of Georgia were Dr. Lee B. Becker and Dr. Tudor Vlad, director and assistant director of the Cox Center.

The four days of planning marked the launch of a three-year project funded by a grant of $195,000 to the University of Georgia from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State. Total cost of the three-year project, including the contributions of the two universities, is more than $300,000.

The awarding of the competitive contract was announced in late September of 2004.

The Department of Mass Media Arts at Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta also is a partner in the project, which will involve faculty exchanges in each of the three years of the project as well as a workshop on some phase of journalism education or journalism practice each year. Clark Atlanta faculty will be involved in every phase of the project.

During the visit in November, the participants reviewed the journalism curricula of the University of Belgrade and of the Grady College at the University of Georgia. The faculty members discussed ways each can learn from the experiences of the other.

In addition, those present discussed possible research projects focusing on journalism practice that might be the basis of collaboration over the next three years and beyond.

The journalism department at the University of Belgrade is one of four units within the Faculty (or College) of Political Sciences at the University of Belgrade. The other units are the Department of Political Science, the Department for Social Policy and Social Work, and the Department for International Relations.

While at the University of Belgrade, Dr. Becker gave a lecture to journalism students on the recently completed U.S. presidential elections. Dr. Becker told the students that while President George W. Bush won an uncontested second term, the election showed the country to be sharply divided in several ways.

Dr. Becker noted that the popular vote was 51% in favor of Bush and 48% in favor of Democratic Senator John Kerry. Elections in the U.S. are organized at the state level, he noted, and many of the states Bush carried have small populations. At the same time, most of the states Bush carried were strongly in favor of him, while the gap in favor of Kerry in states he carried was much smaller. Becker said the election also showed a strong divide between urban voters, who mostly supported Kerry, and suburban and rural voters, who mostly supported Bush.

U.S. public opinion also is strongly divided on one of the key issues in the campaign, the war in Iraq, Dr. Becker said, with only about half of the population at present thinking the decision to go to war in Iraq was a good one.

Many observers have argued that the media in the U.S. have become more partisan, Dr. Becker said, and media coverage of the campaign was an issue in the election. “We don’t know what to expect in the future in terms of the partisan nature of the U.S. media,” he said.

Following the meetings at the University of Belgrade, Dr. Milivojevic and Dr. Becker paid a courtesy visit to Allen Docal, public affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy. Mr. Docal pledged his support to the project as it evolves. Journalists understand that their organizations have strategic approaches to the coverage of news, and these approaches, called “news philosophies” by the journalists, have impact on the story ideas that the journalists generate and on the structures and techniques used to tell those stories.

That was the conclusion reached by a research team from the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research at the University of Georgia and contained in a research presentation the team made in Chicago in late November at the annual conference of the Midwest Association for Public Opinion Research (MAPOR).

The team consisted of Drs. Lee B. Becker and Tudor Vlad, director and assistant director of the Cox Cener, and four doctoral students in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. The Cox Center is a unit of the Grady College.

Rob Daves was named MAPOR Fellow.

Two of the doctoral students, Amy Jo Coffey and Nancy Nusser, are research assistants in the Cox Center. The other two doctoral students on the team were Lisa Hebert and Noah Arceneaux.

The team studied news decision-making in a single city in the southeast of the United States on one day in the Spring of 2004. The team visited the city magazine, the daily newspaper, a weekly newspaper, a radio station and three television stations on that day and interviewed 35 journalists.

The interviews provided “strong empirical support for the concept of news philosophy,” Dr. Becker told the audience members at the Chicago meeting. He said that journalists understood their organization had a general approach to news and that this approach was used to differentiate the organization’s product from others in the market.

The journalists also were able to talk meaningfully about story ideation, or the process of generating story ideas that could become stories. “They also understood that they could tell stories in different ways, and that they could use different elements, such as drama, scene setting and character development, in telling stories,” Dr. Becker said.

What was most important, according to the research team, was the finding that the techniques used to generate story ideas were different for media organizations based on the news philosophy they operated under. In addition, the news philosophy shaped story narrative structure and the selection of narrative techniques.

The city magazine, for example, had a philosophy of providing “entertaining” accounts of events in the community “from a positive angle,” an editor of the magazine was quoted in the report as saying. As a result, the magazine relied on an extensive network of correspondents who were expected to “pitch” story ideas to the editors on a regular basis. Another editor said she writes in ways that “readers can understand a little bit and feel like they kind of know” the people in the story.

Approximately 130 researchers attended the conference, held Nov. 19 and 20 in Chicago. Research focused on survey research methodology and findings of public opinion studies on a variety of topics, including the just-completed 2004 U.S. presidential elections.

At the business meeting at the end of the MAPOR conference, Dr. Vlad was elected to the executive board of the organization. MAPOR is a regional chapter of the American Association for Public Opinion Research.

At the luncheon meeting on the first day of the conference, Rob Daves, polling expert at the Minneapolis newspaper, the Star-Tribune, received the the 2004 MAPOR Fellow award. The award recognizes individuals who have had made a significant contribution to MAPOR and to public opinion research.

Daves was a participant in a Cox Center workshop in Romania in May of 2004, where he explained the importance of public opinion research in the coverage of elections in the U.S.

Dr. Becker was designated MAPOR Fellow in 1996.