New Study: Sexism, Stereotypes and the Credibility of Journalists
In a study published in the renowned journal “Journalism” at the end of December 2021, two researchers from Leipzig University examined the effects of gender on journalists’ credibility in German-speaking countries.
Junior professor Mario Haim from the University’s Institute of Communication and Media Studies and Kim Maurus, a student enrolled on the Journalism master’s programme, devoted their study to questions about gender roles and stereotypes in journalism. They analysed whether it makes a difference to readers whether a journalistic article about a stereotypically male topic such as men’s football or a stereotypically female topic such as films aimed at women was written by a woman or a man.
Previous studies on gender roles and stereotypes have suggested that credibility is sometimes strongly influenced by who communicates content. Some findings even suggest a “backlash effect”, whereby women’s credibility declines more when they write about stereotypically male topics than when men write about stereotypically female topics. In addition, comments from users sometimes have a strong influence on the credibility of journalistic reporting and on the journalists behind it.
Against this background, Mario Haim and Kim Maurus investigated how much the credibility of journalists depends on the topic they write about, whether they are female or male, and whether neutral or sexist comments by users appear underneath an article. With regard to the approach of her work, Kim Maurus explained: “The combinatory study of the effect of gender, stereotypical topic and sexist user comments on the credibility of journalists is the central interest of the paper.”
In June 2020, invitations were sent to 2000 potential panellists from Austria, Germany and Switzerland. From this, 417 participants from German-speaking countries were recruited for an online experiment. In total, 219 participants were female (53 per cent) and 195 male. The mean age of subjects was approximately 47 years. The online survey was conducted in late June and early July 2020.
The results, however, do not suggest such a “backlash effect”. Rather, they show that there is no significant difference in the credibility of male and female journalists. Slight differences between stereotypical and non-stereotypical topics were observed equally for both genders.
However, it was clearer that sexist comments underneath an article did influence the credibility of both that article and its author: it is interesting to note that sexist comments were associated with a slight increase in credibility. “One reason for this could be that people engage more with content when it is accompanied by sexism,” pointed out Mario Haim.
The study is the result of Kim Maurus’s final thesis. It has been published under the original title “Stereotypes and sexism? Effects of gender, topic, and user comments on journalists’ credibility”.
Juniorprof. Dr. Mario Haim
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“Stereotypes and sexism? Effects of gender, topic, and user comments on journalists” credibility”,