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Title:"USA Today", its imitators, and its critics: An ethical and organizational analysis
Author(s):Gladney, George Albert
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Whitney, D.C.
Department / Program:Communication
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Mass Communications
Abstract:Critics point to several ethical concerns over USA Today's innovation in form and content of news. The paper: (1) emphasizes form over function, (2) takes brevity and shallowness to extremes, (3) contains too much trivia and fluff, not enough substance, and (4) is too optimistic and amusing. These points are subsumed under the broader charge that USA Today is overly concerned with profits and ignores the press's social responsibilities. The study thus hypothesized that (a) the more a paper adopts the controversial form and content, the more its staff will feel ethical discomfort, and (b) the more a paper adopts the form and content, the more its staff will say the adoption of the innovation was motivated primarily by the desire to boost profits. A third hypothesis, based on organizational theory, stated that, compared with non-imitator papers, imitator papers are more likely to face stress from the external environment. A fourth hypothesis, based on innovation diffusion research, posted that, compared with non-imitator papers, imitator papers are more likely to be mechanically structured. Ordinarily, innovation is positively related to organic structure, but because the innovation is controversial the author posited that the opposite structure would prevail.
The study involved a content analysis of the 230 largest U.S. daily newspapers (excluding USA Today) to identify the 20 heaviest imitators of the controversial form and content and the 20 lightest imitators (non-imitators). Then questionnaires were mailed to 10 staffers (5 reporters and 5 mid- and low-level editors) at each newspaper. The obtained sample (69.5 percent return rate) seemed representative of target populations.
Results indicated partial support for Hypothesis 1; overall, the researcher was surprised by the degree to which staffers at both types of papers valued the controversial form and content. However, soft news writers, editors, and older, more experienced staffers tended to value the controversial form and content more than hard news writers and younger, less experienced staffers. There was strong support for Hypothesis 2 suggesting that adoption of the controversial form and content is motivated primarily by profit. There was partial support for the related hypothesis that rate of adoption is related to degree of competition. There was little or no support for the final hypothesis.
Issue Date:1991
Rights Information:Copyright 1991 Gladney, George Albert
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-05-07
Identifier in Online Catalog:AAI9210814
OCLC Identifier:(UMI)AAI9210814

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