TRANSPARENCY AND TRUST IN JOURNALISM: AN EXAMINATION OF VALUES, PRACTICES AND EFFECTS
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Journalism scholars and practitioners have repeatedly argued that transparency is crucial to generate trust in the news media, which, over the years, has faced continues decline in public trust. As news organizations have been encouraged to implement transparency in their daily work, transparency has increasingly gained the status of a professional norm in journalism. However, very little is actually known about how journalists think and apply transparency in their everyday practices or how news organizations in the United States implement transparency. Similarly, normative assumptions about the trust-generating effects of transparency have not been consistently shown to exist. This dissertation examined to what extent journalists at 12 national news outlets embraced transparency on a day-to-day basis and how these news organizations implement transparency online at the news item level. Moreover, this dissertation tested whether existing features of transparency (hyperlinks, editorial explanations, corrections, staff biographies etc.) impact audiences’ trust perception of a news story. The results of the mixed method approach showed that transparency in journalism is far from being a professional norm, which guides journalists’ news production processes. An analysis of 27 in-depth interviews found that journalists rarely consider transparency in their work. Journalists agreed that the notion of transparency has value. They repeatedly suggested that the news outlets they work for utilize transparency as a promotional tool to engage audiences and to appear transparent, rather than significantly disclosing information about the inner workings of their news organization. The results of the content analysis supported this claim as the findings show that the transparency features news organizations currently use provide little information for audiences to learn about how journalism is done. Meanwhile, the results of two experiments indicate that participants may not recognize the intended meanings of the varied transparency features, as participants’ trust perception did not vary across different transparency conditions. The findings of this dissertation suggest that transparency in journalism is still a goal rather than reality. News organizations have not opened up to the extent that they may be understood as transparent organizations; instead their efforts to pull back the curtain so that audiences may see the inner workings of newsrooms can be considered translucent at best.