In media, cynicism takes two forms: (1) the cynicism embed by the organisation influences the reader; and (2) the cynicism of staff that impacts the organisation.
There has been much research on the first form, called the spiral of cynicism. The concept essentially states that strategic frames used by the media when discussing politics activate cynicism in the public. The danger of this spiral, of course, is that "a cynical public can lose interest in political participation altogether". Yet, this behavioural change - non participation where there otherwise would have been activity - is not just true in the political sphere. It is evident across organisations and industries.
Within an academic institution, for instance, a teacher's cynicism about the institution can have a meaningful impact on student performance. This study found that organisational cynicism, that is "negative attitudes toward one’s employing organization that are composed of cognitive (belief), affective (affect), and behavioral (behavior) dimensions"* impact "factors such as organizational commitment, organizational citizenship, job satisfaction, organizational justice, and organizational climate."
The researchers discovered that "as teachers’ organizational cynicism perceptions increased, academic achievement decreased (16%); and as teachers’ school culture perceptions increased, academic achievement increased (13%)".
The three parts of organisation cynicism - belief, affect and behaviour - may not be exhibited within media organisations specifically. Yet, the presence of cynical personality traits - used to find a story, hunt down a scoop and create a notable analysis - is likely to have a broader impact within an organisation.
There are number of implications of cynicism within an organisation including:**
- High and increasing rates of burn out among cynical journalists
- Reduced intentions to perform organizational citizenship behaviours
- Increased likelihood to engage in unethical behaviours
Given this information, how do media organisations capitalise on the cynical personality tendency of their staff (one that is a part of what makes them successful) with the need to adapt and change and meet the changing needs of their audience in a time of disruption? Particularly when skepticism can lead to non participation.
Then again, maybe I'm just an optimist. In the words of Julian Baggini, writer and founding editor of The Philosophers' Magazine "If there's one thing that makes me cynical, it's optimists. They are just far too cynical about cynicism."
*Full definition: negative attitudes toward one’s employing organization that are composed of cognitive (belief), affective (affect), and behavioral (behavior) dimensions which are (i) one’s belief that the organization lacks integrity, (ii) a negative affect toward the organization, and (iii) tendencies towards disparaging and exhibiting critical behaviors toward the organization that are consistent with these beliefs and affects
**These outcomes are amplified following layoffs