ARTICLE: When a company is in a crisis, journalists’ attention shifts away from the CEO

A company’s chief executive officer (CEO) is usually its most visible public representative. However, in a time of crisis, journalists’ attention moves towards the company’s board members, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz researchers Nora Denner, Thomas Koch and Stephanie Senger discovered.

The authors set out to investigate how personalized crisis coverage is – in other words, how much it focuses on individual company representatives. First Denner, Koch and Senger selected six German companies that had undergone crises. Then, they selected a random sample of news covering those companies from four German newspapers and magazines – deliberately including stories from before, during and after each crisis. The final sample of 420 articles was then analysed.

Overall, most articles were personalized to an extent, but this tendency increased during crises. Furthermore, the authors noticed this increase was significant in only two of the outlets: the business-oriented Handelsblatt and WirtschaftsWoche. These papers increased their personalization by approximately half, to a point where almost all articles (94 per cent) highlighted company representatives. The two popular interest papers, Süddeutsche Zeitung and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, barely changed their level of personalization.

The authors also noted a shift in which company representatives the personalization targets. While CEOs are at all times the most prominent figures, their visibility decreases during crises. Instead, board and advisory board members get thrown into the spotlight. This might be due to journalists wanting to investigate the crisis more deeply – or because the companies try to pull CEOs “out of the line of fire”, Denner, Koch and Senger suggest.

The article “Personalization of corporate coverage in crisis and non-crisis periods” was published by the journal Journalism. It is available online on the publisher’s website (abstract free).

Picture: Untitled by Free-Photos.

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