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Internal Corporate Social Responsibility Fit and Its Effects on Media Coverage

Lunenberg, K. (2014) Internal Corporate Social Responsibility Fit and Its Effects on Media Coverage.

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Abstract:This research discusses the influence of the degree of fit between an organization’s CSR activities and its business practices on the media coverage of CSR. Businesses’ role in society nowadays clearly goes beyond a simple economic responsibility and also includes a social and environmental aspect. Communicating this new role to the public organizations may encounter counterproductive effects. While stakeholders would like to know more about the organizations’ CSR activities, “too much effort to create awareness can have a boomerang effect as stakeholders become cynical and skeptical” (Coombs & Holladay, 2012, p. 111) and CSR activities can lead to legitimacy destruction when one or several external stakeholders perceive these activities as window-dressing. Here, the media are a central actor, because they clearly codetermine the public discourse on CSR (Zhang & Swanson, 2006; Wang, 2007). They are not only a channel which organizations use to communicate to the public but also an independent monitor of organizations’ activities representing the public’s interest (Zhang & Swanson, 2006). In face of these possible obstacles and the central role the media play in the public discourse on CSR (Buhr & Grafström, 2006; Wang, 2007; Zhang & Swanson, 2006), internal CSR fit seems to be an interesting concept, because it focuses on the relevance of CSR in terms of the organizations’ core business (Yuan et al., 2011). Since past research indicates a significant effect of internal CSR fit on the public perception (Becker-Olsen, Cudmore & Hill, 2006; Bloom, Hoeffler, Keller & Meza, 2006; Drumwright, 1996; Ellen, Mohr, & Webb, 2000; Elving, 2012) and the media, as independent monitor of organizational activities (Zhang & Swanson, 2006), have a great responsibility in informing the public in an adequate way, it is expected that internal CSR fit would influence the way in which the media present organizations and their CSR activities. 513 news articles on organizations’ CSR activities from newspapers and magazines were investigated via two different studies. First, an expert review of the fit between the CSR initiatives presented in the news articles and the core business of the organizations pursuing these initiatives was conducted. Second, a quantitative content analysis measured the tone of voice and framing of the media coverage. The statistical analysis, which combined the results from the two studies, revealed that the relationship between internal CSR fit and the presentation of organizations and their CSR in the media is rather weak. While internal CSR fit does not impact the tone of voice of the media coverage, it weakly predicts the framing in the news articles. In addition, there are single influences of internal CSR fit found on separate aspects of the frames applied in the media. The identified impacts are statistically weak and point in two opposite directions with some pledging for a positive and the others pledging for a negative influence of a high degree of internal CSR fit. Since the negative impacts slightly outweigh the positive impacts it might be concluded that high internal CSR fit has a weak, negative influence on the framing of the media coverage. However, one has to consider that whether there is a positive or negative impact depends on which specific aspects of the framing is considered, because for some CSR frame variables there was also found a positive impact. This weak relationship between internal CSR fit and media coverage offers two options for future research: looking for different CSR related factors that may impact media coverage or investigating the weak relationships identified more closely. Moreover, taking a more open approach future research may seek to identify the meaning of internal CSR fit to journalists and how they perceive their role in the public discourse on CSR. In addition, exploring possible interaction effects of internal CSR fit and media coverage on the public perception may also be a valuable direction for future research. Finally, adopting the theoretical insights derived from this research to the practice organizations are advised to engage in CSR, no matter whether deeply integrated into their core operations or in a superficial way. Since the perception of CSR in the media seems to be mainly positive, simply pursuing CSR can be expected to increase the likelihood of positive media coverage. Furthermore, the media should increase the transparency of their reporting in order to deliver the public an unbiased picture of the state of CSR and imply a more critical public discourse on this prominent topic. A good way to foster such critical perspectives among media professionals – and therefore also a more critical public perception – would be a form of CSR education for this specific target group.
Item Type:Essay (Master)
Faculty:BMS: Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences
Subject:05 communication studies
Programme:Communication Studies MSc (60713)
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