Mediating and moderating factors that affect health journalists' perceptions of conflict issues
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[ACCESS RESTRICTED TO THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI AT REQUEST OF AUTHOR.] Taking an affective and cognitive approach toward effective conflict management communication, this study attempts to analyze the mediating and moderating factors affecting health journalists' perception processes about conflict issues in accordance with the conflict management life cycle. By integrating strategic conflict management, agenda-building theory, and the emotion of anger, this study investigates the following concerns: 1) how health journalists' perceptions of an organization's responsibility during a health-related crisis affect their expectations of the organization's stance and strategy; 2) if health journalists' levels of anger about a crisis mediate the relationship between their perceptions of an organization's responsibility for the crisis and their expectations of the organization's stance and strategy in response to the crisis; and 3) whether either the concept of agenda-building as an issue management technique or the expression of sympathy as an initial response to a crisis can be utilized to moderate (lessen) journalists' levels of anger in association with their perceptions of an organization's responsibility. To address these concerns, this study conducts a 2 x 2 x 2 mixed-subjects experiment with health journalists that examined organizational crisis responsibility (high vs. low), information explaining agenda-building (present vs. absent), and expression of sympathy (present vs. absent). The results of this study reveal that health journalists' perceptions of crisis responsibility affect their expectations of an organization's stance and strategy. Perceived crisis responsibility is newly proposed as an addition to the list of contingency factors as a situational variable. The results also indicate that health journalists' levels of anger function as a mediating factor in the relationship between their perceptions of crisis responsibility and their expectations of an organization's stance and strategy. It also provides a rationale for the need to identify moderating factors to lessen public anger before the public forms its expectations of an organization's stance. Even though the moderating effects, information explaining agenda-building, and expression of sympathy were not supported, this research represents an important initial step in the analysis of these moderating variables. It also represents a pioneering endeavor to test the function of agenda-building as a proactive issue management technique. This study provides a necessary addition to the development of public relations theory and acts as a launching point for subsequent research. In practical application, the results of this study add to the body of knowledge regarding the influence of public relations practitioners on the media, particularly in the health field, and may help practitioners to profit from their strategic conflict management decisions in response to a crisis.
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