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An attributional analysis of corporate reporting in crisis situations: The 2010 Toyota recall

Falk Tennert (Fachbereich Medien- und Kommunikationsmanagement, Mediadesign Hochschule Berlin, Berlin, Germany)

Journal of Communication Management

ISSN: 1363-254X

Article publication date: 28 October 2014




The purpose of this paper is to use an attributional approach to examine press coverage in Germany dealing with Toyota’s 2010 global product recall due to purportedly defective brakes. The research focuses on the attributions of cause and responsibility and, thereby, the practices of media-brokered selection and interpretation of events.


The methodology used is a quantitative content analysis of selected German print media. Corporate reporting is analysed with the help of attribution theory approaches from the field of psychology, which, when applied to public relations themes, thereby enables the identification of latent and manifest risk factors that emerge from the perceived responsibility of the media.


Causal attributions are an essential aspect of coverage in acute crisis situations. The key findings show a dominance of internal attributions of responsibility in which the media interprets the crisis as self inflicted and ascribes a high level of fault on the company. Exonerating attributions according to a self-serving bias find little resonance in the coverage. The responsibility attributed to Toyota by the media coverage to a sustained damage to the company’s reputation.


The study demonstrates that attribution theory can be productively applied to questions of communication management. This approach enables an analysis of attribution discourse as well as the potential long-term effects on the company’s reputation. Thus, the original value of this study lies in the psychological foundation of organisational risk and opportunity.



Tennert, F. (2014), "An attributional analysis of corporate reporting in crisis situations: The 2010 Toyota recall", Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 18 No. 4, pp. 422-435.



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