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«13TH INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC RELATIONS RESEARCH CONFERENCE “Ethical Issues for Public Relations Practice in a Multicultural World” Holiday Inn ...»

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Blogs vs. Online Newspapers: Analyzing Different Emotions and Perceptions of Crisis Responsibility Displayed Online in the Samsung Oil Spill

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Abstract

This study applied the contingency theory and the Situational Crisis Communication Theory (SCCT) to examine how general public and journalists show their emotions and perceptions of crisis responsibility differently during the Samsung oil spill crisis which occurred in Dec. 8th 2007. In order to compare general public’s and journalists’ perceptions of the crisis, a quantitative content analysis of 88 blogs (general public) and 96 online news articles (journalists) was conducted. This study revealed that general public (blogs) expressed more anger and alertness toward Samsung than journalists (online newspapers), and the anger and alertness were continuously demonstrated even after Samsung officially apologized. In examining Samsung’s perceived crisis responsibility, while journalists (online newspapers) reported more crisis responsibility toward other parties (e.g., Hebei Spirit and Korean government), general public (blogs) produced stronger crisis responsibility of Samsung as a main culprit of the crisis. Regarding contingent factors that influenced the organization’s stances and strategies, only external public characteristics and issue under consideration were significantly differentiated across the crisis phase, and journalists (online newspapers) contained more external contingent factors respectively than general public (blogs). Lastly, general public (blogs) assessed that Samsung chose more advocate strategies to each crisis phase. In accord with the essence of the contingency theory and the SCCT, the results suggest that general public (blogs) and journalists (online newspapers) assess crisis differently, thus public relations practitioners need to monitor general public’s dynamic evaluation of an organization, which can be completely dissimilar to journalists’ framing of news report.

393

Introduction

While contingency theory provides organizations with wide-ranging factors influencing organizations’ crisis communication and their moving stance (Cameron, Pang, & Jin, 2007), Situational Crisis Communication Theory (SCCT) explicates “how publics react to a crisis” by assessing reputational threats from empirical research and conceptual parsimony (Choi & Lin, 2009; Coombs, 2004, 2007a, 2007b; Coombs & Holladay, 2002). In terms of a contingency theory, since an organization’s stance shifts along the continuum — from advocacy to accommodation— anytime and to any point, assessing one’s crisis communication includes understanding dynamic contingent factors. However, SCCT posits that public relations function in post crisis communication for public relations practitioners to react to a crisis with respect to expected reputational threats posed by several situational factors. By assessing those factors focusing more on organizational side such as crisis type, past crisis history, and an organization’s prior reputation, the SCCT tends to give parsimony to crisis managers in choosing strategies or tactics. Previous studies regarding the SCCT have recently examined how publics’ emotions (Choi & Lin, 2009a; Choi & Lin, 2009b; Coombs, Fediuk, & Holladay, 2007; Coombs & Holladay, 2007) and negative word-of-mouth (Coombs et al., 2007; Coombs & Holladay, 2007) affect an organization’s reputation and consumers’ purchase intention. Additionally, with respect to the contingency theory, several scholars have delved into the concept of public’s emotions in strategic crisis communication (Jin et al., 2007, 2008; Jin, 2009; Turner, 2007).

In spite of growing attention to either the understanding of those dynamics in strategic management of crises or the testing of situational factors in the SCCT, little is known about affected publics, especially how they produce their emotions in a real crisis situation. That is, how publics’ emotions and perceptions of crisis responsibility are displayed differently within each crisis phase. Additionally, given that blogs and social media are used as a news source for journalists as well as important communication channels during a crisis for an organization (Perry et al., 2003; Taylor & Perry, 2005; Wright & Hinson, 2008), we wonder whether or not general publics’ perceptions of a crisis (i.e., emotions, perceptions of crisis responsibility, contingent factors, and Samsung’s Crisis Response Strategy) displayed online are differed from those of journalists.

Therefore, the overarching aim of this research is to compare blogs and online newspapers in regard to various types of emotions (i.e., anger, alertness, sadness, fright, and anxiety) (RQ1); and perceptions of an organization’s crisis responsibility to each crisis phase (RQ2) for the 2007 Samsung oil spill crisis in South Korea. Moreover, this study explores an organization’s contingent factors (RQ3) and CRS (RQ4) to each crisis phase as different as evidenced by publics’ perceptions of a crisis and journalists’ framing of news reports.

On December 8th, 2007, Samsung, one of South Korea’s biggest and worldwide corporations, experienced the nation’s worst oil spill crisis caused by collision between its crane barge and a Hong Kong owned oil tanker. Because of the publics’ extreme blame on the corporation, Samsung was on the front lines in not only dealing with key publics and financial resources related to expected lawsuits, but also considering its social responsibility toward victims and communities. The crisis had three distinct phases of whether publics noticed Samsung’s possible cause of the crisis ending in lawsuits in April 2009. Within the three crisis phases, Samsung chose various CRS.

This study employs a content analysis of news stories related to this oil spill crisis in two national online newspapers, Chosun Ilbo (n = 49) and JoongAng Ilbo (n = 47), for analyzing 394 journalists’ perceptions. Blogs (n = 88), searched on www.naver.com, will also be analyzed for publics’ perceptions within the three crisis phases.

Speculation from this case study will provide important implications for public relations practitioners and scholars. This study helps them to understand how an organization’s contingent factors and its CRS were framed by publics and journalists during a given crisis. In considering factors driven from contingency theory and the SCCT, we hope that this study sheds light on understanding 1) the publics’ emotions and 2) journalists’ framing of a crisis in regard to an organization’s perceived crisis responsibility and its CRS.



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