Fleeting fleet street: The ephemeral nature of institutional media effects

Stefan Jonsson, Jesper Edman

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Introduction Organizational studies regularly invoke media effects as a core element in the establishment of organizational legitimacy (for instance Pollock and Rindova, 2003). Implicit in these studies is the suggestion that the media is on par with other field members. The legitimacy effects of media support, or media questioning, are often taken as equivalent to the legitimacy effects of action by a regulatory agency, industry association, or other deeply embedded field actors. In this chapter we suggest that media is, in several important respects, not like most other field members and consequently it should not routinely be treated as other field members. We outline two main differences between media and other field members and suggest how these differences can be taken into account in institutional analysis. The first difference is that media is more fleeting in its attention. Media is by nature news-seeking (Shoemaker and Reese, 1996) and therefore its gaze on specific industries and organizations will be transitory and contingent - in contrast to a regulator or competitor, who is consistently oriented toward other actors within the field (DiMaggio and Powell, 1983). The second difference lies in the depth of embeddedness within the field. While an important audience member, media is an outsider to most fields, in the sense that it seldom holds a direct stake in what transpires within a field. On the one hand, the part-outsider status is critical to the media, in order to maintain its air of impartiality. On the other hand, it means that media knowledge of field-level practices is usually shallower than among other field actors and media will typically employ less resources and effort to organize and drive any kind of field-level change than other field actors. These differences not only demark the media in relation to other actors, but more importantly they raise questions about ascribing similar institutional effects to the actions of the media as we do to other field members. Consider, for instance, the case of legitimacy. Even if we can track an increase in media coverage and it correlates with an increased acceptance of an organization or a practice as natural and in tune with social norms (Suchman, 1995; Tolbert and Zucker, 1983), what do we make of such legitimacy if the industry - for one reason or another - falls from media grace and is forgotten?.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationOrganizations and the Media
Subtitle of host publicationOrganizing in a Mediatized World
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781135081645
ISBN (Print)9780415813655
Publication statusPublished - 2014 Jan 1
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance(all)
  • Business, Management and Accounting(all)
  • Arts and Humanities(all)
  • Social Sciences(all)


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