Esther Thorson

Esther Thorson

RJI Founders

  Director of Research (former)
  Reynolds Journalism Institute


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Account Details

Member ID: 609

Group Title: Staff

Join Date: June 10, 2015


Last Visit: December 31, 1969

Last Activity: December 31, 1969

Total Entries: 0


Timezone: UM6


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About Esther Thorson

Esther Thorson is a professor at the School of Journalism at Michigan State University’s College of Communication Arts and Sciences. Previously, she was the associate dean for graduate studies and research at the Missouri School of Journalism, as well as the director of research for the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute. She was also a professor of strategic communication.

Thorson has published more than 100 scholarly pieces on news effects, advertising, media economics, and health communication, and she has edited six books. Thorson has headed grant and research contracts totaling nearly $3 million. She is the only female Fellow of the American Academy of Advertising. Thorson applies research, both hers and that of her colleagues, in newsrooms and advertising agencies across the United States and abroad. She serves on eight journal editorial boards.

Her research with colleague Margaret Duffy for the Newspaper Association of America has been presented in national forums throughout the United States. Other recent projects focus on Internet advertising, the choice of news sources of the 18 to 34 demographic, the emotional effect of negative news photographs and the impact of the Internet on traditional media use for news.

Thorson has advised more than 35 doctoral dissertations, and her former students hold prestigious professorships throughout the United States and Asia. She is the recipient of the American Advertising Federation’s Distinguished Advertising Education Award, the American Academy of Advertising’s Outstanding Contribution to Research Award, a Mizzou Alumni Association Faculty Award and the Missouri Curator’s Award for Scholarly Excellence. In August 2008, Thorson was named Outstanding Woman of the Year in Journalism Education by the Commission on the Status of Women of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.

Applied research

Employ both qualitative and quantitative methods to empirically search for solutions for industrial problems and find new opportunities.

The Midwest democracy project surveyed high school students to understand their involvement with the news coverage on their school voting.

According to phone interviews with 91 websites in 46 small, medium, and large U.S. cities, two highest motivations of running citizen journalism websites are to provide community information and to offer alternatives to existing media. Citizen journalism websites are run by owners’ own money and not likely to replace legacy news media.

An experiment was conducted to compare three of the new styles of journalism – the collaborative news approach, Twitter, and Wikinews – on how credible, conversational, and likable they are to consumers. Readers found the greatest credibility and expertise in collaborative news stories, followed by Twitter, then Wikinews. They also perceived Wikinews and Twitter stories as the most informal and that worked against perceived expertise.

Content analysis
To understand whether citizen journalism websites are adequate to compete with legacy media, a comprehensive content analysis of 363 websites was conducted in 46 U.S. cities. As a result, citizen journalism websites are not yet alternatives to replace local news coverage run by legacy media.

Media profitability research
One of Thorson’s research interests centers on media profitability. She brought together professors and professionals across the country to a presentation held by RJI.

Thorson, in collaboration with Murali Mantrala and Elina Tang from the marketing department at the University of Missouri, reported that as newsroom budgets decrease, profits also decline. This analysis was based on 1999 Inland Press Association data from 327 newspapers under 85,000 daily circulation.


Esther Thorson is the former director of research for the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute

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