Searching for Meaning: Multi-Level Cognitive Processing of News Decision Making Among U.S. and Chinese Journalists
Newhagen, John E
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This dissertation is an experiment exploring how journalists make news decisions. Its theoretical framework draws upon three intellectual traditions--media effects research, cognitive psychology and decision making theory. It investigates both U.S. and Chinese journalists' selection processes of psychologically, culturally and ideologically salient information. Unlike some previous studies on news creation focus on cultural or ideological content without an explicit discussion of psychologically salient information, this research goes directly to investigate the working of journalists' thought processes during news decision making. A total of 120 working journalists (60 U.S. journalists and 60 Chinese journalists) were recruited for this experiment. They were asked to write a news story based on the stimulus materials containing psychologically, culturally and ideologically salient news elements. Then they filled in a Web-based survey on their news decisions. A self-designed software program used for the survey also recorded latency data, the time spent answering each online question. Latency is a standard measure of the mental efforts involved in making those decisions. More similarities than differences were discovered between U.S. and Chinese journalists. Results show that both U.S. and Chinese journalists processed psychologically, culturally and ideologically salient news elements differently. Social power distance, reflecting a news sources' social status, also becomes a vital criterion for both groups of journalists when assessing the sources. Regardless of their nationalities, the journalists use more psychologically salient news elements in their stories than those at cultural or ideological level. They also spent most time in processing psychologically salient information, suggesting more mental efforts were involved. The main effects and interactions for cognitive processing and social power distance were so pronounced that they suggest the emergence of a transcultural trend in journalism. In this view, this dissertation not only enhances the understanding of Eastern and Western journalists' cognitive processing of decision making, but also builds a transcultural model for exploring journalism practice in an age of mass media globalization.