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Struggling for the Upper Hand: News sources and crisis communication in a digital media environment

Journal article
Authors Bengt Johansson
Tomas Andersson Odén
Published in Journalism Studies
Volume 19
Issue 10
Pages 1489-1506
ISSN 1461-670X
Publication year 2018
Published at Department of Journalism, Media and Communication (JMG)
Pages 1489-1506
Language en
Keywords Crisis communication, journalist–source relationship, news, organizational communication, social media
Subject categories Media and Communications


Previous research shows how powerful interests outside the media have the upper hand in the relationship between journalists and sources. This conclusion is sometimes challenged by the fact that journalists might control framing, follow-ups, and the packaging of stories. This article seeks to contribute to the field of journalist–source studies by focusing on aspects of the digital media environment, with a focus on the breakthrough of online media and social media. The purpose of the article is to analyze how external sources, such as public authorities, perceive the power relation to the news media in crisis communication. The empirical data used is semi-structured interviews conducted with 26 communication managers, communication staff, and crisis managers at authorities and nationally owned companies during four societal crises in Sweden in 2012–2014. The public authorities perceive that the digital media environment gives them control of the information flow in relation to journalists. Even if there is a requirement for updated information, the use of channels like the website and social media gives a sense of having the upper hand in relation to journalists. The perception of the journalist–source relation is, however, to some extent varying between different public authorities and types of crisis.

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