SOFT POWER OF INTERNATIONAL NEWS MEDIA: AMERICAN AUDIENCES’ PERCEPTIONS OF CHINA’S COUNTRY IMAGE MEDIATED BY TRUST IN NEWS
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This experimental study explores the concept of “soft power” in the context of international news management and concepts that may influence soft power, such as trust in news. Specifically, this study investigated how a news source (Chinese versus American) and the valence of a news story (positive versus negative news) affect an audience’s perception of a country’s image along with several dimensions. Theories on social categorization from psychology and image management theory from public relations were synthesized with branding and international politics in a cross-cultural communication context. Hypotheses predicted that positive images or “soft power” for a foreign country would be mediated by the audience’s perceived trust in news coverage. Results suggested that regardless of the source or valence of a news story, the aspects of China’s image in the contexts of responsibility and leadership - were enhanced significantly by mere exposure to news about China. However, positive news about China did not always work in favor of the country’s image. When comparing effects of source, negative news about China from a Chinese source enhanced Americans’ perceived image of China as a socially responsible country while the identical news story presented with a U.S. news source had little effect. American participants also perceived negative news stories to be more objective (regardless of its source). Finally, American participants perceived the American news source as more accurate and objective as compared to when the identical news story was presented with a Chinese media source.