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Media outlets do not report corporate misconduct, such as environmental offences, corruption, or violations of societal standards around human rights or employee working conditions, consistently and independently. Instead, media are often influenced by their own interests, including advertising revenues paid by offending companies.
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Stäbler, Samuel and Marc Fischer (2020), “When Does Corporate Social Irresponsibility Become News? Evidence from More Than 1,000 Brand Transgressions Across Five Countries,” Journal of Marketing, 84 (3), 46–67.
Companies are increasingly held accountable for their corporate social irresponsibility (CSI). However, the extent to which a CSI event damages the firm largely depends on the coverage of this event in high-reach news media. Using the theory of news value developed in communications research, the authors explain the amount of media coverage by introducing a set of variables related to the event, the involved brand, and media outlet. The authors analyze a sample of 1,054 CSI events that were reported in 77 leading media outlets in five countries in the period 2008–2014. Estimation results reveal many drivers. For example, the number of media covering the story may be 39% higher for salient and strong brands. 80% more media report the event if a foreign brand is involved in a domestic CSI event. When a brand advertises heavily or exclusively in a news medium, this reduces the likelihood of the news medium to cover negative stories about the brand. The average financial loss at the U.S. stock market due to a CSI event amounts to US$321 million. However, the market reacts to the event only if 4 or more U.S. high-reach media outlets report on the event.
Special thanks to Kelley Gullo and Holly Howe, Ph.D. candidates at Duke University, for their support in working with authors on submissions to this program.
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