WHAT'S IN A NAME
FOREIGN NAMES AND THEIR INFLUENCE
ON PERCEIVED REPORTER CREDIBILITY
Charles M. Mayo, Ph.D.
Manship School of Mass Communication
Louisiana State University
Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70803
E-mail: [log in to unmask]
Submitted to the Mass Media and Society Division
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
FOREIGN BYLINES AND THEIR INFLUENCE
ON PERCEIVED REPORTER CREDIBILITY
This study examines whether the presence of a foreign-sounding byline on a
newspaper story influences readers' perceptions of the reporter. An experiment
using a student sample (N=103) was conducted to test American and foreign
bylines on local and international stories. Items measuring source credibility
were adapted from previous byline research and form McCroskey's (1975) Source
Credibility Scale. Results indicate that foreign-sounding bylines have very
little adverse effect on perceived reporter credibility. No interaction
between the byline and the story was found either. Respondents rating high on
an ethnocentric item also indicated little influence by the presence of a
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
FOREIGN BYLINES AND THEIR INFLUENCE
ON PERCEIVED REPORTER CREDIBILITY
Bylines, those printed lines usually appearing between the headline and text of
news stories that provide the reporter's name and title, are an important part
of many news stories certainly from the reporter's point of view and arguably
from the readers' viewpoints. From the reporters' perspectives, bylines are
often the most important graphic element in the newspaper. They give credit for
the often difficult task of investigating and assembling a news story, and
suggest an implied importance both for the story and for the reporter (Moen
1995; Harrower 1995). Although some would aurgue that readers pay little
attention to bylines, for readers bylines provide authenticity for the facts
contained in stories, are cues for the importance of news stories, and give
credit for well-researched and well-written articles or place blame for poorly
executed stories. Since according to this perspective bylines serve as message
cues, researchers have investigated their influence on readers' evaluations of
This research evolved from the persuasion studies conducted by Hovland and his
colleagues in the 1950s which suggested that characteristics of the source
(bylined reporter) influences attitude change (Hovland and Weiss, 1951) .
Subsequent research has investigated such influence factors as placement of
bylines (Greenberg and Tannenbaum 1961) and gender and race of reporters (Bolan
et al. 1978l ; Shaw et al. 1981). No research has investigated the influence of
bylines with foreign sounding names on perceived credibility.
Enrollment of foreign students in America's universities and colleges is
soaring. With nearly half a million students from other countries taking
undergraduate and graduate level courses, the chances that at least some of them
land jobs in the communication field is
What's In A
significant. Ten years ago the Columbia Jouralism Review called attention to
the growing number of foreign students receiving training in the United States
and becoming foreign correspondents (Shuster 1988). Adding to this is an
emphasis on diversification in America's newsrooms, although by most standards
the media industry has a long way to go in reflecting the diversity of America's
communities in their newsrooms (Radolf 1989; Jurgensen 1993). News
organizations are facing a future in which Caucasion Americans will soon be a
minority and more and more families in America will speak a language other than
English in their homes. Research has indicated that newspaper coverage of a
community's cultural diversity closely matches the cultural diversity found in
the newsroom (Gist 1990). In other words, a newsroom dominated by white males
will likely neglect or downplay the rich cultural diversity found in the
community it covers. News organizations are responding by sending reporters and
editors to diversity workshops and adopting hiring policies that are likely to
produce a diverse workforce (Jurgensen 1993).
Cultural diversity in the newsroom influences the public's perceptions about
the credibility of the press which impacts readership and press rights and
privileges. One aspect of newspaper credibility is the distance readers feel
between themselves and their newspapers (ASNE 1985). Gaziano and McGrath (1987)
found that newspaper journalists' demographic and attitudinal characteristics
contribute to the feeling of distance between themselves and the public they
serve and this is "directly related to the public's perceptions of newspaper
credibility" (p. 325). However, that people tend to read their own political
leanings into media content and often cannot discern a specific point of view in
the media is widely known. While the public perceives journalists as
well-trained and professional, they also believe that reporters' personal biases
creep into news (Gaziano 1988; Schneider & Lewis 1985).
Social pychology research has demonstrated that expectations and stereotypes
bias the way people interpret evidence and recall events (Darley & Gross 1983;
Snyder & Uranowitz 1978). Information may be reinterpreted by means of the
atttibution process so that it becomes more consistent with existing beliefs and
stereotypes about people or groups (Duncan 1976; Sagar & Schofield 1980). For
example, American students tend to make value-guided attributions about content
based on strong ethnocentric views regardless of the evidence (Sande, et al.
The question here is how might views of the bylined reporter affect views of
the story he or she writes? Will a story written by a reporter with a
distinctly foreign-sounding name be evaluated the same as the same story written
by a reporter with a more "American-sounding" name? Do readers have different
expectations for coverage of local news and international news depending on
whether the reporter is viewed as "American" or foreign?
The objective of this study is to explore the effects a byline with a
distinctly foreign-sounding name has on evaluations of the accompanying stories.
Evaluation of the stories will focus on perceived credibility. Influence will
be determined for both local and international stories.
Persuasion research suggests that characteristics of the source influence
communication outcomes. Hovland and Weiss (1951) found that when a persuasive
message is attributed to a source viewed as "trustworthy" by receivers, a
greater shift in attitude change in the direction of the persuasive message
occurs than when the source is viewed as "untrustworthy." Tannebaum (1956)
found that attitudes toward the source as well as the subject influence attitude
change, both independently and interactively. Location of a byline is also
important: Greenberg and Tannebaum (1961) tested bylines at the beginning, in
the middle and at the end of messages, as well as communication with no byline
at all. Messages with bylines at the beginning and in the middle produce
greater shifts in attitude than when the byline is at the end or when no byline
Receiver characteristics also influence how bylines are perceived. Culbertson
and Somerick (1976) conducted personal interviews with 283 Ohioans to assess
their use and views of bylines and found that 70 percent of the respondents said
they notice bylines. The higher the level of public affairs knowledge among
receivers, the more likely they notice bylines. Two-thirds said a byline is a
cue for a reporter's reputation and 78 percent said bylines indicate a
willingness for the reporter to be accountable for the story. Only 39 percent
said bylines indicate for them story importance. However, less educated readers
are more likely to use bylines as a cue for story importance than more educated
In their evaluations of bylines and the accompanying stories audiences may
carry with them the baggage of preconceived notions based on stereotypes. Balon
et al. (1978) tested the influence of white male and female and African-American
male and female newscasters on evaluations of newscaster credibility. In this
study the African-American male newscaster was perceived by viewers as being
less qualified, more introverted, less cheerful, and more sympathetic than the
other three newscasters. The researchers concluded that white audiences tend to
apply a "pychological blackness" rather than a "physiological
blackness"evaluation on African-American male newscasters. Sex of the bylined
reporter influences perceptions of newspaper readers also, especially when
connected to a story traditionally written by the opposite sex (Shaw et al
1981). For example, fashion stories with female bylines are likely to be viewed
as more interesting and clearer than identical stories with male bylines.
Sports stories with male bylines are likely to be evaluated as more interesting,
dramatic and active, than the same story with a female byline. In another
study, Goldberg (1968) found that scholarly articles were evaluated as more
valuable and the author more competetent if the author was listed as male. In
other words, judgements of the audience evolve from a wide variety of issues.
It should be pointed out, however, that other researchers have found that
bylines matter little in how content is evaluated. Noting that earlier
persuasion research used well-known sources or attributed the article to
experts, Kowalski (1967) clearly identified bylined persons as experts, and
McAllister (1965) used unknown names. Both studies found little or no effect on
story credibility. Stone (1974) and Whitaker and Whitaker (1976) found no
differences in audience perceptions of male and female newscasters, and
Greenburg (1972) and Tate and Surlin (1976) found ambiguous reactions to
African-America media figures in broadcast entertainment programs.
Given the fact that source, message and receiver characteristics influence
perceptions of the message, three research questions are posed:
1. Does the presence of a foreign-sounding byline influence the perceived
2. Is there an interactive effect of foreign byline with story type?
3. Do the ethnocentric views of receivers influence perceptions of stories
With the exception of the Culbertson and Somerick study, previous research
examining bylines have used student samples. This study also uses students.
To assure that stories used in this investigation would be interesting and
pertinent to the subjects used in this study, students in an upper-level mass
communication class in a southeastern university were provided two lists of
story topics and asked to rank order them from most likely to read to least
likely to read. The two lists included story topics of a local nature and
international story topics (see Exhibit 1). Students in another upper-level
mass communication class were provided a list of names. Names on this list were
taken from a telephone book from a city approximately 500 miles from the
university (see Exhibit 2). The names included domestic and foreign names.
Students were asked to rank order these names from "most-American sounding" to
"least-American sounding." Results of the story topic invesigation indicated
that local crime and international war were the local and international story
topics most likely to evoke interest. Thomas E. Smith and Chin-Yin Lien were
the names selected as most American sounding and least American sounding,
respectively, from the list of names.
For the main study, students in a large lower-level mass communication class (N
= 103) at a southeastern university were randomly assigned to one of four
groups. Each group was given two stories, one local and one international, and
told that a local publisher had asked that the stories be evaluated for style of
writing. To control for content, two local topics (crime and legislation) and
two international topics (war and international relations) were used (see
Exhibit 3). Stories were taken from a newspaper from the same city from where
the telephone book came, and slightly edited to reflect the host city. Group
one read a local legislation story with a foreign byline and an international
war story with a domestic byline. Group two read the local legislation story
with a domestic byline and the international relations story with a foreign
byline. Group three read the local crime story with a foreign byline and the
international relations story with a domestic byline. Group four read the local
crime story with a domestic byline and the international relations story with a
foreign byline. After approximately 20 minutes these stories were collected
from the subjects and a survey instrument distributed that assessed the
subjects' evaluations of the publication and the reporters (see Exhibit 4).
Questions concerning their degree of ethnocentrism were also included in this
instrument. Publication evaluation items were adapted from the News Credibility
Scale (Gaziano and McGrath 1986). Perceived reporter credibility items
pertained to both the local and international stories and were adapted from the
Shaw et al. (1981) study and from the McCroskey Source Credibility Scale (1975).
The publication and credibility items are 7-point semantic differentials.
Ethnocentricity items were based on a 5-point Likert-like scale.
Factor analysis of most scale items indicated adequate discriminant and
convergent validity. Reliability measures were sound: publication credibility
alpha = .79; reporter credibility scale local story alpha =.91; reporter
credibility scale international story alpha = .90. These alpha levels are
consistent with previous research using these scales (Rubin, et al 1994).
Thirteen percent of the sample were African-American, 79 percent were white, 3
percent were Asian, and 1 percent was Hispanic, 1 percent was American Indian
and 2 percent were other. Two percent did not respond to this question. The
sample was 35 percent male and 65 percent female. All but one had American
Concerning media habits, more than two-thirds (68 percent) said they get most
of their news from television. About one in every five (19 percent) said they
get most of their news from newspapers. Radio news was the main source for 5
percent and 1 percent said online news services were their main source. Seven
percent did not respond to this question. Respondents spend an average of
nearly five hours per week watching television news, two hours and forty minutes
reading a newspaper, and a little over three hours (3.12) listening to radio
news. Online sources of news are used more (1.83 hours per week) than news
magazines (0.95 hours per week). Almost two-thirds (64 percent) claim they
observe world events in the mass media daily.
Recall of the bylined name for both the local and international stories was
high: 88 percent for the local story and 84 percent for the international
Consistent with the Sande et al. (1989) study, students in this sample were
very ethnocentric. Nearly two thirds (65.1 percent) agreed or strongly agreed
with the statement, "I consider my country to be superior to other countries in
Results and Discussion
Two independent variables were manipulated in a 2 X 2 factorial after-only
design. The first factor was a byline with either an American name or a foreign
name. The second independent variable was the story type: local or
international. Analysis of variance revealed no significant differences among
the four groups and the variables measuring local reporter and international
reporter credibility (see Table 1). From this analysis, the presence of a
foreign sounding byline on a story does not influence perceived credibility of
the reporter. No distinction seems to be made by respondents in this study
regarding the locus of the story, that is whether the story is local or
Further analysis examined locus of story individually in regards to story type
and byline. Interactive effects were also examined (see Table 2). This
analysis indicates no significant differences exist between groups except for
perceptions of the reporter's interest for the local story and perceptions of
the reporters interest and active/passive style for the international story. No
interaction effects are indicated. Respondents who read the local story with a
ANOVAs for Four Groups_ and Measures of Reporter Credibility
American Reporter Foreign Reporter
Variable F-Value F-Value
Reliable/Unreliable 1.17 0.42
Informed/Uninformed 1.20 0.27
Qualified/Unqualified 0.51 0.18
Intelligent/Unintelligent 0.80 0.70
Valuable/Worthless 0.09 0.48
Expert/Inexpert 0.08 0.81
Concise/Wordy 0.11 0.30
Precise/Vague 0.31 0.33
Active/Passive 0.47 1.51
Interesting/Uninteresting 3.04 1.77
_Group 1= local legislation story/ domestic byline and international war
Group 2 = local legislation story/ foreign byline and international war
Group 3 = local crime story/domestic byline and international relations
Group 4 = local crime story/foreign byline and international relations
No statistically significant differences were found among the groups.
ANOVAs for Story Locus by Byline and Story Type_
Local Story International Story
Variable Byline Type_ Interaction Byline Type_ Interaction
Reliable/Unreliable 0.40 0.88 2.55 0.72 0.28 0.15
Informed/Uninformed 0.24 3.19 0.24 0.02 0.60 0.19
Qualified/Unqualified 0.19 1.26 0.15 0.39 0.09 0.91
Intelligent/Unintelligent 1.46 0.78 0.01 0.66 0.33 1.32
Valuable/Worthless 0.07 0.07 0.14 0.02 0.02 1.38
Expert/Inexpert 0.53 0.16 0.03 1.06 1.04 0.45
Concise/Wordy 0.04 0.01 0.28 0.53 0.43 0.01
Precise/Vague 0.30 0.08 0.57 0.17 0.86 0.01
Active/Passive 1.35 0.04 0.03 0.00 4.51* 0.01
Interesting/Uninteresting 5.09* 2.61 1.12 0.06 5.01* 0.22
_ Values reported are F-values
_ Local story types were local crime and local legislation and international
story types were international war and international relations
* p < .05
sounding byline were more likely to perceive the reporter as uninteresting than
interesting than respondents who read the local story with a domestic byline (F
value = 5.09, p < .05). Regarding the international story, respondents who read
the international relations story instead of the international war story were
more likely to perceive the reporter as passive than active
(F-value = 4.51, p < .05) and uninteresting rather than interesting (F-value =
5.01, p < .05), regardless of the byline. This is not surprising given the two
topics. Stories about war and conflict provide more action and more opportunity
to write in an active style than international relations stories. Reporters in
the line of fire in Bosnia are likely to be viewed as more interesting than
reporters covering the latest tift in the Middle East peace talks. Thus, it
seems that while no interaction effects exist, source and message
characteristics do influence, albeit to a small degree, perceptions of the
ANOVAs for Ethnocentricity by Byline
Variable American Reporter Foreign Reporter
Reliable/Unreliable 0.30 2.13
Informed/Uninformed 0.41 0.70
Qualified/Unqualified 1.78 2.51
Intelligent/Unintelligent 0.36 4.40*
Valuable/Worthless 1.77 0.89
Expert/Inexpert 0.31 10.22*
Concise/Wordy 0.01 0.47
Precise/Vague 2.21 0.60
Active/Passive 1.35 0.30
Interesting/Uninteresting 0.40 0.10
* p < .05
Responses to the 5-point ethnocentric question were recoded to reflect
ethnocentricism (responses of agree or strongly agree) and no ethnocentricism
(responses of strongly disagree, disagree and neither agree nor disagree).
This new variable was analyzed to determine if significant differences exist in
how those who are ethnocentric differ from those who are not ethnocentric for
each item in the two credibility scales (see Table 3). The only differences
were found in two evaluations of the foreign reporter: perceptions of the
reporter's intelligence and expertness.
In summary, no significant differences were found in how readers perceived the
credibility of the reporters for either local stories and international stories.
No interaction between the source (bylined reporter) and message (story type)
was found. Receiver characteristics mattered very little. Readers with a high
level of ethnocentricity tended to perceive the foreign reporter as less
intelligent and not as expert as the American reporter. No other credibility
variable was affected.
The results of this experiment suggest one of two phenomena, or perhaps both,
are occurring. First, the presence of a foreign-sounding byline matters little
because respondents in this study view reporters as well-trained professionals
who try to be objective, fair and accurate. Given that subjects in this study
are mostly mass communication majors who are very familiar with the training
journalists receive, this is a likely scenario. Also people tend to perceive
bias within media institutions more often than with the reporters who work in
the media (Gaziano 1988). Although the masthead for the fictitious publication
in which these articles were told they belonged was not shown and no lengthy
explanation of the publication was given when the experiment was conducted, this
also could be occuring. The absence of such information in this case could
remove from thought any "sponsorship" for the reporters' shortcomings.
Secondly, the presence of foreign-sounding bylines matter little because
respondents pay scant attention to most bylines. Although Culbertson and
Somerick (1976) found that people indeed notice bylines and project meaning into
them, and nearly nine in every 10 respondents in this study correctly recalled
the reporter's names, the presence of a byline has become so commonplace that
they carry very little significance. Stories used in this study came from
previously-published newspapers and covered topics that were deemed interesting
by cohorts of the sample. Bylines may make a difference when stories are about
controversial topics. Bylines may make a difference when stories are poorly
Because students were used in this experiment, generalizing the results of this
study is problematic. Also, bylines were used in every case. Because the
thrust of this study was to examine the influence of foreign-sounding bylines,
no consideration was made for testing these stories without bylines. This could
have confirmed the speculation made above. Also, stories were presented to
subjects in isolation. Page placement, graphic elements such as photographs and
headlines, a masthead, and other factors that simulate a "real" reading
environment might produce different results.
Future research should strive to correct these shortcomings. Replications of
this experiment using diverse samples should be conducted, and these experiments
should include a no-byline variable. Researchers should test bylines in a
natural setting; that is, on a page that is similar to a real newspaper page.
Also, rather than "interesting" story topics, future studies should examine how
the presence of bylines influence perceptions of stories about controversial
topics. The influence of byline on stories of varying quality should also be
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