The Convergence Newsletter
The Convergence Newsletter

From The Newsplex at the University of South Carolina

Vol. IX No. 1 (February 2012)

Measuring the value of our words for others

By Chris Frear

One description of research is a conversation – with the participants in research, with other researchers, and with professionals who apply the research. In this issue, the featured researchers look in very different ways at the meaning and effect of words on others. Both have important implications for how journalists operate in a world where understanding the conversation is critical.

Doctoral student Yan Yan introduces her work at the University of Alabama in assessing the effect of comments, even anonymous ones, on reader perception of online news articles. Looking beyond positive and negative comments, she included rational and emotional appeals for a four-by-four study design that yields interesting insights.

Barbara Selvin of Stony Brook University sparked an extensive, sometimes heated, and occasionally international discussion of the use of video on news websites. The debate hits several important issues: experimentation versus productivity, timeliness versus production value, specialization versus cross-training.

The Convergence Newsletter welcomes articles and feedback on any topic related to digital convergence.

The newsletter is a perfect place for a description of front-line issues or for gestating ideas that have not advanced to being ready for peer review. It also is perfect for those aspects of research that are compelling but that, for whatever reason, do not make it into your journal article or had to be so abbreviated that they deserve fuller treatment.

We are especially interested in work by graduate students.

Please e-mail articles or suggestions to us at You can comment on all articles at The Convergence Newsletter blog. View past newsletters at The Convergence Newsletter Archive.


Featured Articles

How online comments prime readers' perceptions of negative news

Don't touch my website video: What I learned from a photographer's fury


Quick Glance Calendar (Details)

Feb. 22-23: Digital Age and Society: Issues, Challenges and Opportunities Conference, Muscat, Oman

April 1: Deadline for submissions to Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication conference.

May 9-11: International Conference on Communication, Media, Technology and Design, Istanbul, Turkey

May 12-28: International Communication Association conference, Phoenix

May 17-19: International Association for Literary Journalism Studies Seventh International Conference, Toronto, Canada

May 30-June 2: 11th Annual Hawaii International Conference on Social Sciences, Honolulu, Hawaii

June 10-13: International Symposium on Language and Communication, Izmir, Turkey

Aug. 9-12: Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication conference, Chicago


Featured articles

How online comments prime readers' perceptions of negative news

Yan Yan
University of Alabama

Since the 1980s, a handful of studies have reported the power of news content in priming readers to view an issue a certain way[1]. With online journalism, however, news is more than the staff-created content but a package with multiple elements, including website formats, advertisements, links, and user comments. The question follows, how, or if, user comments affect people's immediate perceptions of news.

Using an experimental design, we asked participants to read the same news stories with different comments that varied in terms of valence (positive vs. negative) and appeals (rational vs. emotional) and asked them to write down their own comments and perceptions of both the products and the companies. Based on the fundamental assumption of priming theory, we hypothesized that people who read positive comments, even on a story about a product recall, will have a more positive attitude toward, evaluation of, likelihood to recommend, and overall perception of both the product and the company. We wondered whether there would be any interaction effect between comment valence and a rational or emotional appeal on the same attitudinal constructs toward the product and company. Further, we wondered if the priming effects of comment valence and appeals, if any, would be different for the types of tasks being performed: rating and writing comments.

A total of 207 undergraduate students were recruited and asked to read two pieces of news of product recall about two imaginary brands: the Voglshof car and Petspace dog food. In each test condition, every story was followed by three comments consistent in valence and appeal. To provide a baseline for the measurements, a control condition was added, with only news and no comments. Participants were randomly assigned to one of the five test conditions (positive rational, positive emotional, negative rational, negative emotional, and no comments), and were asked to perform two types of tasks:

  • A simple task of reporting their attitude toward, evaluation of, likelihood to recommend, and overall perception of the brand through a seven-point self-report scale, ranging from "definitely not" to "definitely."
  • An intense task of writing down their own comments about the product recall events.

A one-way ANOVA analysis confirmed our first hypothesis: participants who read positive comments reported more favorable perceptions than those who read the negative comments in terms of attitude, evaluation, and recommendation [2]. Particularly interesting was the power of positive comments, which biased people's perception of the typically negative events to the positive view.

A further series of UNIANOVA tests [3] showed that the emotional argument had a stronger effect. Emotional positive comments were associated with a more positive perception than rational positive comments and emotional negative comments were related to a more negative perception than rational negative comments. This indicated people were more likely to be influenced by emotional words than rational arguments, especially in cases of their immediate reaction toward a minor issue.

However, the emotional priority in priming effects was reversed for more intense tasks. Participants' own comments were re-coded into five categories matching the five test conditions, and only those in the rational groups were consistent with the comments they read in both valence and appeals. In the control group, without the influence of online comments, the majority of participants rated the product recall news as negative event. [4] This indicated that when information processing was involved in more intense tasks, it tended to be influenced by rational arguments.

A further examination of the content of participants' comments confirmed the power of message priming even on deliberately immediate response. Many participants used the same or similar words, phrases, or arguments as in the comments posted. In the Voglshof car recall article, the tested comments of the rational positive condition referred to the recall problem (brake fluid) as a "small issue," and said the Voglshof company "immediately responded" and was "concerned with their consumers." Correspondingly, nearly 50 percent participants in this test condition wrote that brake fluid was "not a big problem," regarded the response as "quick," "responsible," "good," or "immediate," and called the company "straightforward and upfront." One said this showed they "really care about their customers." In contrast, participants in the rational negative group tended to view the brake fluid as "serious" and "not typical" and that the recalls "decrease Volgshof's credibility." In terms of appeal, participants in emotional appeal group used "I think," "I feel," or "I believe" more frequently than those in the rational appeal groups.

The study observed three main findings of priming effects:

  • Contextual priming [5] in which online comments biased the perceptions of participants more than did the news content.
  • Affective priming [6] in which not only the content but also the valence of the content influenced subsequent judgments and perceptions.
  • Appeal priming that interacted with task intensity. That is, emotional words were more likely to influence judgments in less intense tasks, whereas rational statements showed a greater influence on the more intense task of writing a comment.

Contextual priming: The short, anonymous, contextualized comments influenced participants more than news contents, which were longer, more professional, and more detailed. It seems that alternative resources and multiple opinions online are challenging the previously dominant roles of media professionals and organizations in influencing the public. Individual readers still prefer to get information from news outlet [7] but now are influenced by the opinions of individuals, even anonymous ones. This might be a signal of the age of media segmentation that the function of mass media is being narrowed to that of information provider while the role of opinion leader is shifting to alternative sources and formats.

Affective priming: Not only the information content but also the information valence primed immediate responses. Participants who read the positive comments tended to have a more favorable view of the events, products, and companies than those who read negative comments. The results are even more interesting when we consider that people who read positive comments tended to regard product recall, typically a negative event, as positive. It seems that although participants were aware of the negative attributes of the product recall event, they were still strongly influenced by anonymous comments.

Appeal priming: This functioned interactively with the task intensity. For the less intense judgment tasks, emotional comments demonstrated a stronger priming effect than did rational comments. Particularly in the negative valence groups, participants exposed to emotional-negative comments were more likely to adopt negative views than those in the groups presented rational-negative comments. It seems people were less cautious in making negative conclusions, relying more on emotions than reason. For the more demanding task of writing comments, which required more comprehensive thinking and evaluating, participants were more likely to be influenced by the rational arguments. This, however, revealed a paradox of information processing: People followed the rational arguments for the more demanding writing task, yet their own "rational" evaluation was still a product of the priming rather than an independent, comprehensive estimation of the whole event.

The result might seem frustrating for news agencies, whose balanced coverage and professional, neutral viewpoints might be less influential than other Internet users' subjective comments on other users. The isolated public, although connected by the Internet, is far from being rational, at least in the short-time, immediate response level.

The study shows that journalists and editors should be aware of the possible influence of reader comments in both tone and appeal. For readers, the study suggests they consider carefully whom to trust and how to make judgments when reading comments. Yan Yan is a doctoral student at the University of Alabama.

[1] Higgins, E. T., & King, G. (1981). Accessibility of social constructs: Information-processing consequences of individual and contextual variability. In N. C. J. F. Kihlstrom (Ed.), Personality, cognition and social interaction (pp. 69-121). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. Iyengar, S., Kinder, D. R., Peters, M. D., & Krosnick, J. A. (1984). The Evening News and Presidential Evaluations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46(4), 778-787. Iyengar, S., & Kinder. D. R. (1987). News that matters. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Iyengar, S., & Simon, A. (1993). News coverage of the Gulf crisis and public opinion: A study of agenda-setting, priming, and framing. Communication Research, 20(3), 365-383. (Return)

[2] Hypothesis one assumed that comment valence would bias the immediate perception toward corresponding directions. A one-way ANOVA analysis confirmed this affective-priming effect on all dependent variables except the overall brand perception. Participants who read the positive comments reported more favorable perceptions than those who read the negative comments in terms of attitude (Fatt. product (2, 204)=4.87, p<.01, Fatt. company (2, 204) = 5.56, p<.01), evaluation (Feva. product (2, 204)=5.72, p<.01, Feva. company=10.38, p<.001), and recommendation likelihood ( Frec. product (2, 204)=14.59, p<.001, Frec. company=15.82, p<.01). (Return)

[3] A series of UNIANOVA tests reported significant interactive effects between comment valence and appeals on three of the seven outcome variables: the company evaluation ( F (4, 200)=5.89, p=.015, η²=.028), the recommendation likelihood ( F( 4, 200)=3.87, p=.05, η²=.018), and the overall brand perception ( F (4, 200)=4.02, p=.046, η²=.018). (Return)

[4] 78.6 percent of participants in the rational positive group and 68.5 percent of those in the rational negative group made comments consistent with the conditions they were assigned, whereas the consistency proportion was 40.8 percent for those in the emotional positive group and 26.5 percent for the emotional negative group. (Return)

[5] Yi, Y. (1990). The effects of contextual priming in print advertisements. Journal of Consumer Research, 17(September), 215-222. (Return)

[6] Balmas. M., & Sheafer, T. (2010). Candidate image in election campaigns: Attribute agenda setting, affective priming, and voting intentions. Journal of Public Opinion Research, 22(2), 204-229. (Return)

[7] Pew Research Center for the People & the Press (2008), Audience segments in a changing news environment: Key news audiences now blend online and traditional sources, Pew Research Center Biennial News Consumption Survey, Retrieved from (Return)

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Don't touch my website video: What I learned from a photographer's fury

By Barbara Selvin
Stony Brook University

Want to make a newspaper photographer furious? Suggest that newspapers cut down on the amount of video they put on their websites.

When I titled a recent blog post "Newspapers should jettison (most of) their web video efforts," [1] I had no idea I was sparking a firestorm. Or that my blog was about to have its biggest day ever, with 1,600 hits. Or that the post would be picked up on sites from Florida to Finland [2], argued over, vilified, and praised.

My argument was simple. A recent study at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism had reported that videos on newspaper websites get very little traffic [3].

Before reading the report, I thought my aversion to video links reflected a personal quirk or, perhaps, a generational blind spot. But when I polled the 45 journalism majors and minors in a class I teach every semester on the changing news industry, I found that few of these undergraduates, many of them YouTube devotees, watched video on newspaper sites, either [4].

Even Andrew Heyward, a former president of CBS News, a friend of our journalism program and a regular visitor to my news-industry class, said he felt the same way, a point he made during his visit to the class last spring [5]. We speculated that Web users might dislike giving up control over their time. Watching a video is a linear activity, unlike reading or looking at a photo gallery. When reading, you can skim or jump around. When viewing a photo gallery, you can move through the pictures as quickly or slowly as you want. But a video requires a commitment, a surrender, or it's barely worth getting started.

In my post, I said most newspapers should rethink policies that require reporters to put up video with every story, policies like the every-reporter-gets-an-iPhone plan Gannett announced a few weeks after my post went up [6]. (I guess the Gannett brass don't read my blog.) Putting up decent video takes equipment, training, and time – i.e., money. Why, I asked, should newspapers, already stretched thin by corporate downsizing, waste precious resources creating material that few readers view? Wouldn't newspapers be better served by focusing their staff and budgets on doing what newspapers have always done best: writing stories and taking pictures?

I specifically excluded from my argument papers like The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal that have made smart, sophisticated investments in video. I focused on small and regional newspapers. And I never argued, as some readers seemed determined to think, that newspapers should give up video entirely.

The brickbats came thick and fast. Chuck Fadely, a veteran and award-winning Miami Herald photographer who has reinvented himself as a videographer, was among the most aggressive critics [7]. In linking to the post from his newspaper video online group, he called me a "misguided pundit." In comments on my blog, he said I exhibited "the mindset that video and new media ... (are) a sideshow to the real deal of journalism," that I "appear to be in the category of news execs and out-of-touch educators who don't get it."

"If you're teaching your students with this mindset," he wrote, "you're committing malpractice" [8]. Even after two more posts in which I attempted to clarify my point, Fadely remained convinced that I see video as a lesser form of storytelling [9]. There was an equal outpouring of support for my view. Christopher Zajac, a young multimedia editor at the Record-Journal in Meriden, Conn., a 20,000-circulation, family-owned daily, embraced my argument. The Record-Journal is just the kind of paper at which I was aiming my critique.

"As a multimedia editor, I struggle every day with convincing the upper editors that the time for fewer good videos is worth it," Zajac wrote in an email after reading my post. "I get frustrated when, as I see it, the editors just want a high quantity of videos. When we sit in news meetings, the editors will see every story as having iPhone video potential. With the limited resources of our small newsroom, I believe that the time reporters spend using the iPhone to shoot video could be better used."

The paper has 15 reporters and two photographers. A third photographer left recently and won't be replaced, Zajac said.

Zajac categorizes the site's video in three ways:

  • Reporters' iPhone "companion pieces" that run with text stories and couldn't stand alone, such as a recent clip of a kid skating in a story about a skate park.
  • Stand-alone video features shot by photographers, like the series of 9/11 interviews that ran in September.
  • Breaking news, shot by whoever gets there first, a reporter with an iPhone or one of the photographers.

The breaking news videos and the video features get traffic, Zajac said, but the companion pieces – some of which are edited and some of which go up raw – get few hits. One recent companion clip got 11 hits over 11 days; Zajac figured at least six hits came from inside the newsroom.

Ideally, he said, he'd like to "very carefully pick and choose what we want to use video with and have the editors understand I have to give the photographer time to do it right."

"I'm not talking about weeks," he wrote. But if he asks for eight hours for a photographer to work on a feature and his editor offers six, "I can do that. But you can't do it in two." He said he'd like to see the paper put up just a few well-produced videos each week, along with breaking news, and have the site develop a reputation, a brand, for excellent video. He worries that the weak videos with little traffic might be hurting the paper's brand.

The most important thing I learned from all those who joined in the discussion was the value consumers place on videos of breaking news. Some are just deadly to watch in terms of framing, lighting, editing – even content: The backs of firefighters standing by an extinguished blaze, the media rep droning, the pan across parked cars. None of this makes for interesting viewing in and of itself, yet if it's a breaking story, people are hungry for whatever scraps they can get.

So I would modify my original argument to say that newspapers should stop running video just because they can. Limit the video posts to breaking news and carefully crafted features, and give all a newspaper's journalists, visual and otherwise, more time to produce the stories readers need and want.

Barbara Selvin is an assistant professor of journalism at Stony Brook University in New York.

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[3] The report authors note that "video often doesn't get enough traffic to attract substantial revenue," citing the low percentage of site visitors who watch video: The Miami Herald, 3.3 percent; New The Huffington Post, 5 percent; Dallas Morning News, 2 percent, (Return)

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Conferences, Training, and Calls for Papers (Return to top)

Digital Age and Society: Issues, Challenges and Opportunities
Bayan College, Muscat, Oman
February 22-23, 2012


Reconnecting Political Disconnection: When new and old forms of journalism,
media, cultural, and political practice converge in national upheavals
JOMEC Journal
Deadline to submit paper: Feb. 29, 2012


Joint Journalism and Communication History Conference
American Journalism Historians Association and the AEJMC History Division
New York
March 10, 2012


ACES Award for Research on Editing
Newspaper Division, Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
Deadline to submit paper: April 1, 2012


International Conference on Communication, Media, Technology and Design
May 9-11, 2012


International Association for Literary Journalism Studies 7th International Conference
May 17-19, 2012


International Communication Association conference
May 24-28, 2012


11th Annual Hawaii International Conference on Social Sciences
May 30-June 2, 2012


International Symposium on Language and Communication
Izmir, Turkey
June 10-13, 2012


11th Annual Convergence and Society Conference: Advancing Business Journalism and Convergence
University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C.
Deadline to submit research papers: June 15, 2012


Annual Conference, Association of Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Chicago
August 9-12, 2012


Job Openings

Visual Communications, academic- or professional-track candidates
University of South Carolina, Columbia

Assistant Professor, broadcasting, tenure-track position
Winthrop University, Rock Hill, S.C.
Review will continue until position is filled for Aug. 13, 2012, start.

Assistant or Associate Professor of Journalism
Utica College


Publisher and Editorial Staff

The Convergence Newsletter is free and published by The College of Mass Communications and Information Studies at the University of South Carolina.

Executive Editor: Doug Fisher

Editor: Christopher Frear

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The Convergence Newsletter provides an editorially neutral forum for discussion of the theoretical and professional meaning of media convergence in all forms including technological, organizational, operational, psychological, and sociological. We welcome articles of all sorts and encourage those addressing the subject in new ways and with new perspectives. We also accept news briefs, book reviews, calls for papers and conference announcements. Our audience is both academic and professional; the publication style is AP for copy and APA for citations.

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