The finding that newspapers hold a strong position was not surprising. Flanagin and Metzger (2000) found that newspapers are a more credible source of information than the Web. However, it is possible that the credibility gap diminishes when a website is published by a credible source such as a government organization. The utility of a newspaper is another viable aspect. Foxholes do not have Internet access, but they can have a newspaper. Military public affairs practitioners will always have to fill the need of providing information and news through print media in areas where servicemembers have limited access to electronic resources.
The ranking results between radio and television in the categories of most military news, new and changing policy, and most informative also deserve attention. Radio ranked twice as high as television in the most of your military news category, but television ranked twice as high radio in the news on policy category. In the category of most informative, radio and television are only separated by .4%.
The results suggest television and radio continue to satisfy a news need for our military members as it does for the American people. For radio, the American core listening audience is ages 25 to 44 (Merli, 1998). According to Joinson (1998), 95% of Americans listen to radio sometime during the week and the average person listens approximately four hours a day. By comparison, the average person only spends 45 minutes each day reading a newspaper (Joinson, 1998). Radio is as an effective medium because of its immediacy. A message is delivered instantly. Television can also broadcast a message immediately, but requires some preparation.
Most stateside military installations make use of the local economy's radio and television stations for breaking news announcements, taking advantage of the immediacy these mediums provide. At most military locations overseas, there is one FM and one AM radio frequency, and a television frequency available to reach the audience (AFRTS, 2001). Joinson (1998) does point out the radio is limited in that it only serves the local area in which it broadcasts. Radio and television messages must also be understood the moment they are received because there is usually no replaying the message for clarification. However, radio and television are able to reach 94 % of population every week (Merli, 1998).
For these reasons and as shown in the results, television and radio continue to fill an important role in news dissemination. From our results their role may be diminishing due to the Internet, however, television and radio do continue to fill an entertainment need. The Ferguson and Perse (2000) study indicates that the primary use of television is for entertainment. The entertainment aspect is a viable role for television, especially for servicemembers stationed overseas. Again further research is warranted, however, the data appears to indicate a functional displacement of television by the Internet as a news source.
For those overseas and forward deployed, the Web still ranked highest as best news source followed by newspapers, radio, and television respectively. It is assumed that the immediacy of radio and the Web is an important aspect for those overseas. Those forward deployed indicated that they did not have military radio or television station available to them. They do indicate a weekly newspaper is available, but their preferred source for news is exclusively the Web.
We believe the growing popularity of the Web as a news medium may be from its ability to combine many of the strengths of broadcast and print mediums. The power of the Web is its ability to deliver complex message almost immediately. Excluding the Internet, print media follows radio and television in immediacy. Most civilian newspapers publish daily, while the data indicates that military newspapers publish weekly. Newspapers, though slower in reaching their audience, have an advantage over broadcast mediums in the ability to deliver a more complex message. The audience has the benefit of being able to re-read the information if it is not understood the first time. The Internet has real-time immediacy, the ability to air video and audio, the ability to deliver complex messages, and it also allows the reader to re-read the message if not fully understood the first time. In recent years, the numbers of people reading newspapers have continued to decline (Flanagin & Metzger, 2000). Further research must be done to substantiate our belief of why the Internet is becoming more popular and newspaper readership is declining.
Currently, the Internet is used by approximately 130 million people in 171 countries (Flanagin & Metzger, 2000). As stated earlier, these numbers are expected to grow exponentially. The medium is only in its infancy, and its full impact on patterns of media use must continue to be researched as more and more people get online (Kayany & Yelsma, 2000).
Further research will also be better served by a more valid and reliable sampling technique. The 10-day response time was the determining factor for the use of a snowball convenience sample. Using an e-mail survey also limited contact and responses to only those with e-mail. Also, the percentage of responses from each service were not proportional to the percentage they comprise within the military. For example, the Army was extremely under-represented in this study, given their percentage of the total military force, with only nine respondents from a 480,000 soldier force, less than two one-thousandths of a percent. The Army makes up 34% of the total force of the five services but only 3.5% of the participants in our study.
Also, anonymity, while promised, could not be guaranteed in this design. Because a respondents e-mail address was given on each response, this may have limited the number of responses received.
The survey design also asked no occupational or "Internet access at work" questions, so there is no way of knowing if this survey reached a significant percentage of those who do not work in an office environment.
This study has significant findings for public affairs practitioners and military leadership. Because most active-duty members are relying on the Internet, training and resources must be available to ensure that both people and equipment are prepared to update their websites with the latest news. Also, the amount of print publications and resources required should be reviewed.
For example, the Air Force's Airman magazine is published at a one-to-three ratio, one magazine per three members. This ratio is typical for military publications. Printing costs for the 11 regular issues and one almanac is approximately $820,000 for a press run of 86,000 copies each issue.
Empirical research should look at the purposes and efficiency of newspapers. Many base newspapers are also online, but our research did not address this aspect. Indications are that all of the sources still have a viable role, but to what extent. The functional displacement this research indicates begs many questions. These questions can only be answered with more empirical research. The implications of which could lead to a better and more efficient use of training and production dollars and public affairs assets.
Rationale & Research Questions | Method | Results | References | Appendix