Honors College faculty, students researching impact of economic anxiety on journalism

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – What influences a headline? Can economic pressures or job anxiety cause a journalist to write more negatively? Honors College Professor Dwaine Jengelley, Political Science Professor Aaron Hoffman and Psychological Sciences Professor Erin Hennes are leading an experiment to dig into the psyches and habits of news writers. Specifically, the researchers are investigating the factors that impact the tone of terroism and climate change coverage.

Honors College student researchers with journalist Jake Tapper

The trio is working with a group of Honors College students to conduct their research and has just returned from the Excellence in Journalism conference in Anaheim, California. The industry event draws about 1,000 journalists and proved quite fruitful for the Honors College team.

“It was successful beyond our wildest dreams,” Jengelley said. “We had 680 participants complete the study, that’s a better response rate than most mail-in surveys. I’m proud of how hard our team worked to get those numbers and pleased with the willing participation from the journalists.”

The Purdue researchers believe reminding reporters about either the precariousness of their jobs in the news industry or the weakness of the U.S. economy will change the way they write about terrorism or climate change, compared to journalists who are not reminded about these things.

“Social scientists argue journalists respond to economic pressure with more negative reporting because negativity helps sell the news,” Jengelley explained.  “Journalists often reject this idea, saying they rely on reporting standards that do not change in response to economic conditions.”

The Honors College team, including students Mikaela Meyer, Stefanie Walsh, Pablo Balcazar and Prateek Malik, tested this idea by providing journalists a survey and hypothetical story to write about. After some introductory questions, reporters were given basic facts and asked to craft a headline and story lead. The trip to California was funded by a Purdue Honors College Faculty Led UR Grant.

The research team is now beginning to analyze the data. Late next month, the researchers will launch the second phase of their project, an online study. It is set to examine specific effects of anxiety on news reporting. If you are interested in this line of inquiry, don’t hesitate to reach out to Jengelley, Hoffman or Hennes.

“We are always looking to work with and mentor students,” Jengelley said.  “All majors are welcome.”

Contact:

  • Dr. Dwaine Jengelley
    • djengell@purdue.edu (765) 496-0165
  • Dr. Aaron Hoffman
    • ahoffman@purdue.edu (765) 496-6775
  • Dr. Erin Hennes
    • ehennes@purdue.edu (765) 494-4833