Research

Research and teaching in our unit focuses on the area of international and comparative approaches to media and communication research. We pursue comparative cross-national research questions in a wide area of subfields, mainly in Journalism & News, Political Communication, Media Systems & Media Cultures as well as Methodology.

Current projects

Audience Preferences

(SNF Study, 2017-2019)

Frank Esser & Desiree Steppat

The Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF) has granted funds for a two-year research project on audience preferences in news media. The project explores how citizens in five different countries encounter news online and offline. The study consists of a large-scale online survey conducted simultaneously in Denmark, Italy, Poland, the US, and Switzerland.

Since the rapid evolution of online news outlets in most recent years, keeping track of the exact ways on how citizens receive their daily news becomes a challenge not only for researchers but also for citizens themselves. Being confronted with a seemingly endless stream of opportunities to encounter news, citizens need to make up their mind about which news they choose or do not choose to use. Our research project “Audience Preferences” thus aims at finding the motives behind news choices by also considering variation in media environments due to different national settings. The project wants to find answers to relevant questions in the field of audience research: How did the Internet and Social Media change the consumption of news today? How does the audience perceive news performance from different media outlet? How do people rate the quality and quantity of news media available to them in their home countries? The study draws on everyday observations by the news viewers themselves and seeks to develop practical implications for newsmaker around the globe to improve the quality of their current affairs reporting. More info.

Fake News Across Four Western Democracies

(IPMZ Study, 2017-2018)

Edda Humprecht

The campaigns of the 2016 US presidential election and the UK vote to leave the European Union have raised questions on the influence of fake online news and social-media ‘echo chambers’. Although fake news are not a new phenomenon, they have gained more influence through social media and have been used strategically to reach political goals. Fake news often consist of untrue statements that are disseminated widely via social media. As more people turn to social networks as a primary news source, fake news may become a major challenge to political communication in advanced democracies.

This study offers new insights into this largely uncharted territory. Based on a quanitative content analysis of fake news re-published by fact-checking websites in four countries (USA, UK, Germany, Austria), this study aims to explore and explain cross-national differences in content and dissemination of fake news.

Populism and the news media. A comparative and multi-issue approach

(SNF Study NCCR Democracy, 2013-2016)

Frank Esser, Sven Engesser, Florin Büchel & Nicole Ernst

The project is embedded in the NCCR phase III module 2 The Appeal of Populist Ideas and Messages. Understanding populism in the context of de-nationalization and mediatization. The aim of the whole module is to study populism in the political arena (i.e. political actors and their outlets), in the media arena (i.e. news outlets as unintentional accomplices), and in the public (i.e. populist reasoning and attitudes, effects of populist communication on public opinion). By connecting political strategies and communicative strategies, the module will investigate (1) the rise and fall of political and media populism, (2) to what extent media actors produce their own form of populism to raise people’s interest in news, and (3) how these manifestations of populism affect the audience. The key idea of the module is to study populism within a single comprehensive framework that encompasses the political arena, the media arena, the public, and the temporal and cultural contexts that contribute or impede populist mobilization and populist communication. The project itself directs his attention to the study of populism and the news media in a comparative and multi-issue approach. Thereby populism and political news can be understood from three perspectives: First, populism in the news can simply reflect a communication strategy of political actors to which journalists are responsive. This refers to a rather passive role of journalists who simply transmit political populism. Second, news organizations may engage in their own form of populism – “media populism” – which bears similarities to populist political rhetoric. The third perspective represents the opposite: Journalists can also counteract populist attempts by denying them access to the media arena or by uncovering their communication as self-serving maneuvers. Therefore the overall research question of the project will be:

• To what degree do mass media carry, shape and/or transform populist issues, frames, arguments, and communication strategies?

Additionally to the content analysis of media output in the 12 countries, the project will also include the self-presentations of politicians on social media and political talk shows in the analysis, because politicians can present themselves there with less influence from media actors and journalistic practices than in news-oriented mass media formats.

Completed projects

Comparing Online News Under Different Market Conditions: A cross-national study of online news performance

(SNF Study, 2012-2015)

Edda Humprecht & Frank Esser

The last decade has seen a dramatic shift from print to online media in many Western countries. The emergence of the Internet has reshaped how people use the news and journalists produce the news. This transition was accompanied by economic troubles as ‘old’ media found their traditional business model threatened by the Internet and ‘new’ media start-ups are still searching for working business models. This project aims to answer the question as to which economic context conditions are most conducive to online media providing high news performance. We analyze the relationship between economic conditions and online news performance in different market environments, namely Switzerland, Germany, France, Italy, the U.K. and the U.S.A. The research design is informed by contributions from several disciplines. The Structure-Conduct-Performance paradigm (SCP) from the field of economics serves as the theoretical framework. SCP is a well-accepted method of market analysis with roots in industrial organization theory and has been applied in media economics and media market research before. The measurement of news performance draws upon the core data gathering method of the communications discipline, namely quantitative content analysis. The statistical analysis of combining structural market data with news output data will be done with Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA). This project aims to answer the research question which constellations of economic conditions (ownership type, revenue structure, competitive situation) are most favorable for high news performance (understood as championing hard news, pluralism, analytical depth, accountability reporting, and audience participation). This is highly relevant for the current debate on the future of journalism and e-democracy.

Framing Climate Change

(UZH research grant, 2012-2014)

Michael Brüggemann & Sven Engesser

The university of Zurich has granted funds for a two year research project on journalistic framing of climate change. The project explores how journalists frame climate change in leading online outlets in five different countries. The study combines content analysis with interviews and covers climate journalism in the US, the UK, Germany, Switzerland and India. Please contact me, if you are interested in cooperation or if you are currently working on similiar questions. Climate Change is one of the major challenges of our time. Apart from being a challenge for policy makers it is also a challenge for journalists since it is an issue that cuts across traditional news beats, defies the division between national and 'foreign' news, and asks journalists to deal with scientific risk assessment rather than delivering facts about events. Our research project 'Framing Climate Change' explores how journalists frame climate change and why they do so. In contrast to past studies, it goes beyond content analysis and combines journalist interviews with an analysis of their articles. Thus, it will be able to identify the factors that explain journalistic framing practices. To what degree do journalists just deliver the frames of social actors to the audience? To what degree do they provide their own individual interpretations of the issue? Under which circumstances are they able to give their own opinions? These questions are relevant for a fuller understanding of journalistic framing practices and to be able to understand the dynamics of the debate on climate change in different countries. Find out more...

Media-centered Reporting Styles in Television News across Countries

(SNF Study NCCR Democracy, 2009 - 2013)

Frank Esser & Florin Büchel

This project studies an important factor of the process of mediatization of politics that is seen as its driving force: media logic. Media logic refers to how politics is represented and defined in the news media. It is characterized by specific narrative techniques, presentational styles and production formats that news organizations use in order to succeed in the society-wide struggle for people's attention. These frames and formats influence the readers' or viewers' political worldviews. The logic of news making and policy making do not always coincide and sometimes openly clash. The project investigates whether the media content of political affairs today is more governed by a media logic or a political logic. It does so by analyzing election campaign coverage on television news in several countries in order to identify different reporting styles. These reporting styles are either more media-centered, focusing on journalists as important actors in election campaigns, or rather politician-centered, granting candidates in an election enough opportunities to present themselves in the media. First results indicate three different reporting styles: firstly, a US-American style (together with Germany) where candidates run highly controlled campaigns with a lot of attack rhetoric, for which they are punished by journalists with limited opportunities to present themselves – a media-centered reporting style. Secondly, a Northern-European style (Denmark, Britain, Switzerland and to some degree France) is identified. It shows more interactive political campaigns, but the journalistic voice is still dominant in the coverage, leading to a defensive rhetoric by politicians. And thirdly, a Southern-European style can be found for Italy and Spain where campaigns are rather uncontrolled, but the journalists grant the politicians a lot of space in the coverage – which indicates a politician-centered reporting style.

Mediatization of political reality: Implications of media-centered reporting styles for democracy

(SNSF Study NCCR Democracy, 2009-2013)

Frank Esser & Andrea Umbricht

This project studies an important factor of the process of mediatization of politics that is seen as its driving force: media logic. Media logic refers to how politics is represented and defined in the news media. It is characterized by specific narrative techniques, presentational styles and production formats that news organizations use in order to succeed in the society-wide struggle for people's attention. These frames and formats influence the readers' or viewers' political worldviews. The logic of news making and policy making do not always coincide and sometimes openly clash. The project investigates whether the media content of political affairs today is more governed by a media logic or a political logic (serving the needs of political actors, institutions and democracy as a whole). In an analysis across several countries representing different types of western media systems, the project also assesses the extent to which political news coverage today is characterized by media logic.

Mediatization of political attitudes: becoming a democratic citizen in a multi-media environment

(SNSF Study NCCR Democracy, 2009-2013)

Frank Esser & Ruth Kunz

It is often assumed that the media play a key role in shaping political attitudes. However, our knowledge of the media's role in the political socialization process is remarkably thin. This project addresses the fundamental question of how young people develop into democratic citizens in a society influenced by entertainment-oriented media and mediatized politics. How do they develop democratic attitudes and values and civic engagement? In particular, it focuses on the current changes in the political, media and family environment and their consequences for young peoples' participation in democracy:

• Established agents of political socialization, like family, school and parties, have been supplemented by new agencies, like anti-globalization or environmental movements, or consumer political movements, which are less stable, more issue-oriented and more dependent on communication-based networks.

• The role of the traditional mass media, like newspapers and television as providers of political information and stimulants of political participation, has changed. Television has become more infotainment-oriented and free newspapers and online news have displaced daily newspapers and television newscasts.

• Changing society under the influence of globalization, individualization and mediatization