October 10, 2013
This study introduces the message convergence framework, initially established by Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca, as means for comprehending and analyzing the process through which audiences simultaneously decipher pluralistic meaning from multiple sources typical of crisis events. Emphasizing Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca’s concept of plurality, the framework establishes three propositions: focusing on source credibility, significance of source convergence, and the evolution of source convergence throughout the crisis. The propositions are applied to the transcripts generated by focus groups that observed a series of simulated television reports about a mock crisis. Participants performed well in distinguishing among sources and their credibility, in recognizing and evaluating points of convergence, and in seeing how these points of convergence gain and lose strength or persuasiveness as the crisis unfolds. The framework is seen as a practical tool for assessing an organization’s credibility and relationships prior to a crisis and for monitoring coverage of crises in both traditional and social media.