The term media (the plural of medium) refers to the technically reproduced forms of representation and interaction that support communication across space and time, irrespective of the presence and number of participants, but it can also refer to the various media industries and actors. This entry discusses different ways to distinguish media, the different types and contents of media, and the various ways of studying media.
Ways to Distinguish Media
Media can be distinguished in a number of ways. The main categories of media tied to corporate reputation include interpersonal communication, corporate media (or “owned” media), advertising and promotional media (or “paid” media), news media, stakeholder media, and social media. Each of these media can be further distinguished by a number of characteristics, including the degree of the organization’s control over the content, key messages, or timing; whether the medium is “inside” or “outside” the organization; the size, type, interaction, and access of the audience; and the type of technical production involved in the media.
Organizational control refers to the organization’s ability to control the content, key messages, timing, and packaging, and the audiences’ access to messages. If the organization is able to control these aspects, then the media is referred to as a controlled medium. If a gatekeeper or third party controls these aspects, then the media is referred to as an uncontrolled medium. Uncontrolled media often have more credibility with organizations’ key audiences or stakeholders, because the symbolic material is subject to an editing process and thus, to some degree, a third-party endorsement of the messages contained therein. The extent of endorsement is sometimes contested by the third party and by the audience.
The medium may also be described as internal or external. Internal media means that the medium is designed for audiences “within” the organization. External media means that the medium is designed for audiences “outside” the organization. Just because a medium is consumed inside the organization, it does not mean that the organization has control over its content, although it is often presumed to be so. One form of empowerment and engagement is to let stakeholders within the organization produce their own content for which there is no organizational intervention in the process.
Media can also be distinguished by the size of the audience. If the medium is accessible to most people, the medium is referred to as an example of mass media. If the medium is accessible to only a niche of people (a stakeholder group or a more homogeneous audience selected for various psychographic or demographic characteristics), then it is referred to as an example of target media. Examples of target media include employee newsletters, information on retirement plans, and a company’s annual report or annual sustainability report.
The audience type may also be characterized by its demographic or psychographic characteristics. Trade media are media tied to a business, profession, or industry. Consumer media are tied to general information about products or services of interest to consumers or potential consumers. Other examples of niche media include specialty newsletters for audiences interested in emerging technologies or innovations.
Media can also be divided into one-way, two-way, and interactive media. One-way media refer to media where messages are sent to an audience and the audience cannot respond back with feedback through the medium. Two-way media refer to media where messages are sent to audiences and the audiences can respond back through the same medium. Interactive media refer to media where the source and receiver can interact with the media and so can third-party observers. An example of interactive media is a blog or a discussion forum on the Internet.
Media can also be distinguished by access. Public access means that everyone can access the media, provided they have the equipment (a radio, a TV, or a computer), with no additional fee or subscription service required. Traditional examples are public radio and televisions. Nonpublic media means the medium is more restricted in its coverage and availability, based on subscriptions usually.
Media can be distinguished by their technical production. Print media involve printed material such as newsletters, brochures, newspapers, and magazines. Electronic media include radio and television. Digital media refer to computer-based media, such as e-mail, websites, and mobile phones.
Types of Media
There are six different types of media: (1) interpersonal communication (which is supplemented by media), (2) corporate media (or owned media), (3) advertising and promotional media (or paid media), (4) news media (or earned media), (5) stakeholder media, and (6) social media.
Interpersonal communication is the primary channel used when there is no “material” involved and the primary message is face-to-face. Interpersonal communication may be augmented by speakers, microphones, and video cameras, but the primary channel is interpersonal. Nevertheless, messages using interpersonal communication may be recorded, archived, distributed, or even repurposed. To the degree that they are, various aspects of the interpersonal message are reclassified as one of the other types of media discussed. Personal communication may include personal involvement, exchanging information, or engaging in dialogue. It may also involve any number of special events, such as a historic commemoration. Personal involvement may be organizational-site involvement, where audiences come to the organization, or audience-site involvement, where organizational representatives meet audiences on their own territory. Information exchange may include educational gatherings, product exhibitions, stockholder meetings, public affairs meetings, guest lectures, debates, or participating in a speaker’s bureau.
Corporate media are owned by the organization. Corporate media means that the organization is responsible for the messages, timing, packaging, and distribution. These media are often “stand-alone,” which means companies only pay for them one time—distinct from advertising and promotional media, where the company pays each time they are used. Examples of corporate media include company newsletters, bulletins, or quarterly or annual reports. Direct mail includes anything mailed to the audience’s home or anywhere else they receive mail, such as the person’s office. Electronic media include audio, video, and digital media, such as telephones, videoconferences, e-mail, presentation slides, and the company website. Companies are also able to use some forms of social media, such as wikis, blogs, and social networking sites.
Advertising and promotional media are often thought of as “paid” media. Examples of advertising media include print advertising media, such as advertisements in magazines and directories; advertising in electronic media, such as television or radio; out-of-home advertising, such as billboards, aerial advertising, and yard signage; and promotional items, such as ball caps, T-shirts, and coffee mugs. A major drawback of advertising and promotional media is their cost. Advertising used to be thought of as a mass medium, but increasingly, it is thought of and used as targeted media.
Media visibility that organizations receive through the news media are often referred to as “earned” media. “Earned” media simply means that the organization did not pay for the news coverage and the organization or one of its agents did something or was associated with something that was newsworthy to the news media’s audience. This can be an event, a comment on a public issue, or assisting the media worker with a story he or she is reporting.
The news media refers to the trade and industry press, elite media, global media, national media, local media, and the business press. Moreover, the news media have a number of characteristics that differentiate them in terms of identity, whether radio, TV, the Internet, the daily or weekly newspaper, or the daily or weekly magazine. The primary ways in which they differ concern their deadlines and the amount of lead time it takes for organizations to work with them. Newspapers are usually better staffed than other media and are often the most important news outlet in their respective markets. Magazines cannot compete in the area of daily breaking news coverage, but they excel at longer features and more analytical reporting. Television is the most dramatic because of the sight and sound dynamics. Online and mobile media have worldwide reach and bring together elements of all media: pictures, video, sound, and text. Social and stakeholder media eliminate the traditional gatekeepers. The difference between social media and stakeholder media is that social media users talk about myriad topics on forums such as Facebook or LinkedIn whereas stakeholder media are focused on specific topics or issues, and these topics or issues are the major force that brings audiences together on blogs or forums.
The different types of news media also have different types of needs and abilities. For instance, newswires have the advantage of speed and accuracy. They provide information to all the news organizations that pay for their services. Daily newspapers require quick access to details for in-depth reporting of breaking news stories. They also require pictures and artwork to illustrate stories. Magazines are able to offer in-depth reporting and often spend more time on researching their stories. Their printing is of a higher quality, which in turn requires attention to artwork and design. Television requires tighter writing and sound bites. Moreover, TV news operations add sound effects and additional graphics to help tell their stories. On Twitter, the story must be told in 140 characters or less or in a series of tweets, or they must contain a URL directing users to a website.
Organizations often prepare information subsidies to gain the attention of media workers at these outlets for covering organizational events or simply for hearing the organization’s point of view. Information subsidies are information materials prepared for the news media, bloggers, or other third parties who prepare information for their own audiences, many of whom organizations may want to reach, but must succumb to the gatekeeping of this other medium, whether a news organization, blogger, or other source. Direct news materials include news fact sheets, event listings, or news releases. Indirect news material includes media advisories, story idea memos, or a query letter. These are often prepared for particular gatekeepers for eliciting their interest in organizational events or ideas. Opinion material includes position statements, white papers, letters to the editor, or invited guest columns for newspapers. Organizations also use interactive news opportunities such as interviews, a press conference, or satellite media tours.
Stakeholder media are similar to corporate media, but they are controlled by a particular stakeholder for other like-minded stakeholders. Examples of stakeholder media include brand community forums or websites for advocacy groups, whose audiences gather around some particular issue of importance, often tied to or of interest to an organization.
Social media, such as Facebook or LinkedIn, allow users to post their own personal content, or share links and information from any part of their lives, of which only some content is of concern to a focal organization. Social media are often regarded as more interactive, dialogic, authentic, and credible than traditional news media. They are able to reach large audiences and enable recipients to answer or comment on the perceived messages in a comfortable way. Blogs allow frequent publishing through a personal or human voice and can be used for quick responses to crisis situations. The same logic applies to Twitter, the microblogging service with much shorter messages (“tweets” with a maximum length of 140 characters). Tweets can be read, commented on, and easily forwarded by users following the Twitter communicator. Social media blur the boundary between interpersonal and mass communication more easily than classic media.
Ways of Studying Media
Corporate reputation research concerned with the role of media usually adopts at least one of these research traditions: media content, media production, media effects, or media audiences.
Media content typically refers to the messages of the content. However, there is considerable debate over where the meaning of the messages lies. Experimental psychologists treat media content as if the meaning resides within the media messages themselves, whereas cultural and interpretive scholars treat meaning as residing within the media’s audiences.
Media content research as a program of research within journalism and mass communication is often criticized because it is one of the mostly widely studied but the least developed. That is, there is little attention to media content itself as a general domain, and more attention is given to specific types of content applied to specific areas of interest, whether business, politics, or entertainment.
There are a number of aspects of media content that corporate researchers have examined. For example, research on companies’ names helps compute the volume of news reports about an organization. This measure of media attention provides a general indication of the organization’s newsworthiness, publicity, or public attention. An organization’s media favorability generally concerns itself with the sentiment of the organization’s media portrayal. The most common categories are positive and negative, where positive content refers to the content that reflects favorably on the organization and negative content to content that reflects unfavorably on the organization. In some cases, neutral or mixed sentiment is assessed. Reputation research has defined neutral content differently. Some studies have referred to neutral content as content that contains positive and negative content in a way that is “balanced.” Other studies have defined neutral content as the absence of both positive and negative content and mixed content as the presence of both positive and negative content. Company attributes are also often analyzed in media content. Some of these include media content about the organization’s executive leadership, employees, workplace performance, products and services, or corporate social performance. Others include stakeholder actions, which are explicitly oriented to a specific stakeholder group (e.g., customer support, employee relations, and investor relations); communication and branding to create awareness and certain meanings concerning the firm, such as promotional campaigns or sponsorship; or the organization’s stance toward its publics, whether accommodative or combative.
Media content is often operationalized in such a way that it can be connected to its production or its effects. One effort to address this concern is to focus on media salience, a general concept that can be applied. Five general forms of media salience identified are (1) volume, (2) tone, (3) topics, (4) ties, and (5) timing, now referred to as the VT4 framework of media salience. The framework was developed in the context of news about organizations, but it could just as easily be applied to any other topic category in politics, entertainment, sports, or culture, and so on. Volume refers to the number of media articles about a focal object. Tone refers to the sentiment of the object’s portrayal, whether positive, neutral, mixed, or negative (where neutral refers to the absence of positive or negative sentiment and mixed refers to the presence of both positive and negative content). Topics refer to the attribute or category in the context of the object, whereas ties refer to any other topic connected or linked to the focal topic, and both receive equal attention. That is, salience is directed toward the link between the two objects, and timing refers to sequence, whether horizontally (across time or media articles) or vertically (within an article, from beginning to end, or from introduction to conclusion).
There are a variety of structural influences on media content. These structural influences have been examined for their influences on the news media, on news about organizations, and on strategic communicators attempting to influence the news media. The five major influences are (1) ideology and media systems, (2) influences external to the media organization, (3) the media organization itself, (4) routines, and (5) the individual media workers. Listed from highest to lowest, meaning from the most powerful influences to the least powerful, it is widely accepted that the higher levels have more influence the farther away from the content they are. All these influences affect the news about organizations and consist of elements that organizations need to be aware of. However, it is in the category of influences external to the news organization that organizations have the most influence. This consists of a variety of elements such as interlocking boards between businesses and news organizations; the distance between the company’s headquarters and the news organization; the state of the economy; the use of marketing, public relations, advertising, and branding; and, even more influential, the use of agencies in these areas. Media access is one factor that should be considered a resource by organizations because not all organizations are treated equally. A number of organizational demographic characteristics have been shown to influence organizations’ media access, including their age, size, and degree of structural isomorphism (i.e., adoption of industry strategy). Other influences that shape organizations’ relationships with the news media concern the density of the media environment—that is, the number of competing media organizations available within the same market—and the size of the country.
Most corporate reputation studies about media focus on media effects and organizational efforts to influence media effects. The most commonly studied media effects are cognitive, attitudinal, beliefs, affect, conative or behavioral, and physiological. More recent efforts have begun focusing on sociological or institutional effects.
However, a number of important institutional media effects that have been identified are only just now beginning to be studied. These include social continuity, informing, legitimation and control, the messenger effect, the watchdog effect, political effects, and visibility. Social continuity as a media effect is what enables the status quo, the likelihood that little will change. People take the existing social order for granted and presume that it will continue. The media’s regularity perpetuates social continuity. Media also have an informing effect. Certainly, journalists seek information to report on that which will inform their audiences, but by the same token, people get to choose whether they will become audiences and which subjects they will avail themselves to.
One institutional effect commonly studied in business is the media’s legitimation and status-conferring role. By covering some organizations and not others, the media confer status at least as far as the perception and understanding goes that some organizations are more newsworthy than others. They exert control by mainstreaming these images of organizations, creating snapshots that are more salient at some periods of time while downgrading others. Similarly, this creates a visibility effect that provides organizations with a moment of fame. An example in the area of corporate social responsibility is that one media study uncovered that the four major dimensions of corporate social responsibility—namely, (1) economic, (2) legal, (3) ethical, and (4) philanthropic—each enjoyed a number of years where one of the four themes was more salient than each of the other three themes, yet each has had its period of salience of media attention. The media also have a gatekeeping effect. They exert control over the public’s opinions and activities by drawing attention to only a few of thousands of events that may otherwise go unnoticed by the public without the media’s exposure to them. The watchdog effect suggests that organizations alter their behavior because media exposure to their activities means that they must guard and protect their reputations. One study found that increased media exposure led to changes in companies’ corporate social responsibility performance. However, the effects found were only of one type. That is, in response to media attention, organizations increased their positive social environment (e.g., positive environmental performance, corporate philanthropy), but the media attention had no effect on their negative corporate social performance (e.g., pollution). Another study found that companies that invested in the defense industry altered and divested their investments in the industry in response to media attention, but when the media attention decreased, they resumed their investments.
The media also play a general political effect by helping shape the political climate or mood of a country. The electoral media effect works because the media provide information to the public that they need to hear in order to understand and evaluate candidates’ character. The media scapegoating effect refers to the media’s role in providing news that the public may not want to hear, where, in turn, the media are blamed for the introduction of values or social changes with which particular subgroups may disagree. This is complicated even further when the media are blamed by groups that are seeking to influence the media but are then unable to persuade their audiences. In other words, media have a tendency to be blamed, taking the spotlight off the central issue or the role of institutions and individuals who might otherwise be blamed. An example, as characterized by the 2015 movie Truth, was how Dan Rather and Mary Mapes were blamed for their use of one source who later claimed to have provided false evidence. Although, according to the movie’s version of the events, most of the elements in the news story they produced still held together and the event they covered was deemed to have merit, other news media outlets and critics shifted the focus to one element that led to the story being retracted, Mapes being fired and Rather stepping down as the Columbia Broadcasting System news anchor.
In the domain of corporate reputation, the media have a number of effects. They have been shown to effect public prominence, financial performance (return on performance), stock price, CEO hubris, positive corporate social performance (e.g., more positive behavior but no less negative a behavior), among others. One of the richest findings in corporate reputation research is that the early mixed findings on media effects is best explained by treating corporate reputation and media salience as global variables, instead of breaking them down into their multiple dimensions.
Media audiences have been studied in a number of ways. Organizational scholars who study media focus on media as businesses and focus on aspects such as marketing, budgets, ratings, and decision making in terms of financial implications. Sociologists focus on group memberships and shared characteristics of audience members. Media psychologists, the most prominent in media audience research, focus on individual characteristics and are more concerned with individual audience members’ information processing and the employment of frames and schemas guiding their interpretation. Little attention is given to audiences in the area of corporate reputation research. Some research has focused on active and passive audiences, with active audiences being audiences who follow the news about specific organizations and passive audiences becoming more familiar with certain organizations only when those organizations are a part of the day’s news cycle or the issues of the day. Some research has focused on how organizations manage their reputations differently with different types of media, guided by their knowledge of who the media’s audiences are and how those audiences relate to the organization. What is important to know about media audiences as opposed to constituents, publics, and stakeholders is that audiences are tied to media channels. Thus, when organizations want to reach these groups of people, they must play by the rules of the media to which those audiences are tied. That is, their relationships with these target groups are indirect and mediated through the media, and the audiences’ direct relationships are to that media, not directly to that organization. Not understanding this fundamental fact can lead organizations to misunderstand the nature of their relationships with these key groups, which leads to misunderstandings and missteps that create their own problems.
A particularly important concept for audiences is persuasion knowledge. The concept describes how people have more knowledge about certain marketing techniques than others. Right now, people have more knowledge about certain marketing techniques and recognize more subtle forms such as product placement as advertisements in the more traditional media. The effects of (new) advertisement techniques are stronger for people with little persuasion knowledge.
Following Marshall McLuhan’s dictum, “The medium is the message,” according to which technology has the potential to directly determine its usage and effects, an organization that uses social media to inform its stakeholders about an organizational crisis signals that it is eager to inform its stakeholders quickly and directly and that it is willing to engage in a dialogue with them. The medium has a larger influence on stakeholders than the content of the message.
Although established newspapers have high credibility, corporate communication via blogs has been shown to lead to higher organizational credibility and eventually to higher-rated reputation than communication via traditional media such as newspapers. A conversational human voice and communicated commitment on blogs correlate positively with relational outcomes such as trust, satisfaction, or commitment.
A study on social media has also shown that people were more likely to share links with newspaper articles through social media than articles created in social media. A study has also shown that people talked more about newspaper articles than about blogs or tweets, while Twitter users were more likely to share a message than blog users and nonusers of social media. Twitter users were also more likely to share the newspaper article than the blog post or tweet.
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