Journalism Theses and Dissertations

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    (2022) Feigenblatt-Rojas, Hazel; Yaros, Ronald; Journalism; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    Past literature on religion and news media focused on whether secular news coverage is disadvantageous to religion but this dissertation explored the opposite approach: whether secular coverage of religion can favor religion (compared to coverage of the marginalized groups whose rights are often under attack by religious institutions) and amplify religious disinformation. This analysis also sought to determine how religious disinformation may spread through fact-based media and whether any differences surface between legacy and emerging outlets reporting. Coverage of a specific political process (issuance of a technical norm to guide the conditions under which abortion to save a patient’s life or health can be conducted) involving religious groups and a marginalized group (women) was chosen for analysis in a Latin American country (Costa Rica) known for a free press and stable democratic rule, but also a majority Christian population. A mixed-methods content analysis of the coverage was conducted based on newer approaches to media pluralism theory, which has been often invoked in the region to discuss unequal media access and its implications on the balance of power relations in a democratic arena. Results suggest religion coverage was a conduit for the spread of disinformation through fact-based news outlets and the spread of marginalizing narratives about women's rights. While not all disinformation came from religious sources, the majority did and the press repeated religious disinformation twice as often as non-religious disinformation. The majority of all the disinformation included in the news stories was not identified as such. In most cases, it was religious disinformation that many reporters failed to fact-check. Furthermore, they gave religious sources and their messages prominent positions in the articles, even when it included disinformation. Religious sources in the sample benefitted from a permissive coverage marked by a "silk glove" treatment by several news outlets, which enabled them to prominently spread disinformation and reaffirm exclusionary narratives. No relevant differences emerged in coverage by legacy and emerging news outlets in this regard. This dissertation contributes a case-based definition of religious disinformation and a new coding scheme that can be used to analyze media pluralism under newer theoretical conceptualizations that focus on the interaction of journalism with power asymmetries rather than measures of diversity.
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    (2022) Lee, Carole Caldwell; Oates, Sarah A; Journalism; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    Recent coverage of faith in the American political discourse has yielded a dominant image of American religion as increasingly polarized and defined by a few strident voices. In particular, the coverage of American political discourse in presidential campaigns fails to capture the diversity and depth of faith that pervades American life as well as misses an opportunity to elevate public debate. To analyze the extent to which presidential campaign news captures the varied expressions of faith represented in the United States, this study examines the coverage of candidate faith and religion as an issue in the two recent presidential elections of 2012 and 2016. Faith as expressed by the four final candidates in these elections differs in meaningful ways. Using content analysis of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, this study examines how the campaigns present candidates’ religious identities, how the candidates themselves portray issues of faith, and how religion emerges as an issue in campaign coverage. In addition, the study identifies and analyzes key frames used in news coverage of candidate faith in U.S. campaigns The analysis shows that political party plays a significant role in what little coverage a candidate’s faith receives. For Republicans, because candidate faith plays a more central role throughout the campaign and especially during the early primaries, the coverage reports extensively on candidates’ use of their religious identities to appeal to religious voters. In the coverage of Democrats, the discussion of religion more commonly emerges in relation to a news item, such as an approach to a contentious policy, that has a religious dimension. A common reality reflected in the coverage of both parties is that a candidate’s long-term authentic religious devotion does not translate into strong campaign strategy regardless of the party of the devout candidate. Overall, analysis of the coverage of faith in 2012 and 2016 reinforces the idea that religious expression and practice differ significantly along political party lines. By recasting campaign coverage to reflect more thoroughly on issues of faith, the media could improve voters’ understanding of religious pluralism as a founding American ideal and help raise levels of trust and interest across both party and religious lines. Deepened appreciation of religious pluralism could help revitalize the public forum to support competition among different ideas, value productive compromise, and reduce the determination of any single group to dominate.
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    Negotiating the “F word”– Croatian Women’s Movements and the News Media
    (2022) Ujcic, Gea; Vasudevan, Krishan; Journalism; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    By applying qualitative thematic analysis to mainstream media coverage of three hashtag (online) feminist initiatives in Croatia– Prekinimo šutnju, #spasime, and Nisam tražila, this thesis explored how initiatives addressing gender-based violence were covered in the Croatian news media. Findings indicated tabloidized approach to the coverage, various forms of symbolic annihilation of women, personalization of movements, and avoidance of terms "gender and feminism" in the coverage. This master thesis contributes to the scarce existing research on online feminist activism and its media portrayals in Croatia.
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    The Effects of Opinion Labels on News Source Credibility Online
    (2022) Otis, Andrew; Yaros, Ronald; Journalism; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    This dissertation seeks to answer the pressing question of whether labeling opinionated content online as opinion affects readers’ perceived credibility of news sources and trust in the news media. This research was motivated by the many search engines and social media sites that do not label opinionated content as such on their platforms. To answer this question, two studies explore the effects of ‘opinion labels’ on news previews (known as ‘story cards’) on readers’ perceived credibility. Story cards are employed because news consumers often interact with them instead of news websites. In study one, a 3 (news source) x 2 (headline opinion polarity) x 2 (presence of opinion labels) between-subjects design investigated the effects of opinion labels on the perceived credibility of news sources when participants (N = 389) were presented a feed containing biased and unbiased content from one news source. In study two, a mixed design with three levels (prominence of opinion labels) investigated the effects of opinion labels on readers’ perceived credibility of news sources when participants (N = 275) were presented a feed containing biased and unbiased content from multiple news sources. Study one found that labeling opinionated content as opinion significantly increased the perceived credibility of a news source (p < .01). Additionally, opinion labels significantly changed credibility perceptions even among political affiliates viewing oppositional content. Findings from study one suggest opinion labels increase perceived credibility because the labels increase perceived opinion segmentation – the distinctions between news and opinion and between author and source. Previous research indicated that heuristic cues need to be of sufficient visual prominence to affect perceived credibility. However, study two found that the prominence of the labels did not have an effect in a multiple source environment. Findings from study two therefore support the source blindness effect over the prominence-interpretation theory. This dissertation deepened knowledge of heuristics and credibility theory by examining how and why heuristic cues, specifically opinion labels, affect readers’ perceived credibility of news sources. The findings have broad socio-political implications as they indicate that design choices such as labeling content can significantly impact credibility and media trust.
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    (2021) Kobell, Rona Anne; Nelson, Deborah J; Journalism; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    Historians, journalists, and sociologists have documented how 20th century bankers, insurance agents, and city officials discriminated against Black Americans through a system known as redlining. This practice segregated Black residents into certain neighborhoods and reduced the value of their property, making it far more difficult to pass down generational wealth. A similar but less obvious phenomenon occurred in rural areas on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. After the Civil War, Black residents typically found themselves able to buy only the lowest land with the poorest soil. That, too, set up a cascade of events that imperiled Black Marylanders’ ability to pass down generational wealth. This thesis shows how laws, policies, and customs caused an Eastern Shore community to disappear, with a new generation unable to share in its ancestors’ investments. Those factors include the difficulty majority-Black towns had incorporating, which made it harder to receive funds for rebuilding and harder to maintain control of what goes on within their borders; a lack of investment in historic Black properties, in part because state agencies prefer to work with established non-profit historic societies, most of which are white; poor ditch management in lower lands; and an inability to attract state open-space funds to help preserve their lands. For the most part, journalists have not been covering this, because the story is happening slowly and without a major “news hook” to lure in traditional editors. This thesis uses Riley Roberts Road as a case study to examine the broader issue of Black towns, how we’ve lost them, why that history is crucial, and what we can do to make sure we don’t forget the ones that are still with us.