This study examined coverage of the December 2003 bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) event to discover impact of reporters’ work role identities on news story source choices and to explore implications of results for agricultural crisis coverage. Content analysis was performed on 62 stories from U.S. newspapers in the Lexis Nexis database, selected through keyword search December 23, 2003 through October 31, 2004. These stories were divided into two equal groups based on reporters’ work-role identity (dichotomized between science-specialty beat reporters and non-specialty reporters) and analyzed by length, number of sources, and source variety. ANOVA and bivariate correlation statistics were used. Results indicated no statistically significant differences in mean story length or mean number of sources for stories written by science-specialty beat reporters and those written by non-specialty reporters. However, while mean overall source variety did not differ between the two reporter groups, work-role identify correlated with use of scientists and agricultural scientists as sources: science-specialty beat reporters used more such sources than did non-specialty reporters. Although this study was limited by small sample size and restriction to the first U.S. BSE event, the above findings may prove useful to agricultural public information officers and media relations practitioners in “pitching” stories and sources for similar agriculture-based crises. In particular, this study addresses priorities stated in the National Research Agenda - the desire of agricultural communicators to “aid the public in effectively participating in decision-making related to agriculture,” through providing information on which such decisions can be based (RPA2, 2007-2010, p. 4).

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.