Authority signaling: How relational interactions between journalists and politicians create primary definers in U.K. broadcast news

How journalists construct the authority of their sources is an essential part of how news comes to have power in politics and how political actors legitimize their roles to publics. Focusing on economic policy reporting and a dataset of 133 hours of mainstream broadcast news from the five-week 2015 U.K. general election campaign, we theorize and empirically illustrate how the construction of expert source authority works. To build our theory we integrate four strands of thought: an important, though in recent years neglected, tradition in the sociology of news concerned with "primary definers"; the underdeveloped literature on expert think tanks and media; recent work in journalism studies advocating a relational approach to authority; and elements from the discursive psychology approach to the construction of facticity in interactive settings. Our central contribution is a new perspective on source authority: the identification of behaviors that are key to how the interactions between journalists and elite political actors actively construct the elevated authoritative status of expert sources. We call these behaviors authority signaling. We show how authority signaling works to legitimize the power of the U.K.'s most important policy think tank and discuss the implications of this process.