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    Four communication theories, social presence, media richness, uses and gratifications, and niche, may give public affairs practitioners perspectives to assist in understanding why patterns of media use are changing.

    Social presence theory
    Social presence is the feeling that audience members experience or don't experience of being involved in a communication interaction when using mass media (Papacharissi & Rubin, 2000). Short, Williams, and Christie (1976) regard social presence as being a variable in mediated communication. Social presence affects the way individuals perceive mediums and people whom they receive messages and communication from. The amount of social presence varies among each type of medium. Because of its lack of nonverbal cues, computers have been found to have less social presence than other mediums (Papacharissi & Rubin, 2000). Social presence has also been expanded to include the appropriateness of different mediums for sending different types of messages (Rice, 1993).

    While social presence theory does assist public affairs practitioners in making decisions on what might be appropriate for certain mediums, it does not directly address which mediums are currently being used.

    Media richness theory
    Building on social presence theory, the amount of closeness that can be sent over the medium depends on media richness. O'Hair, Friedrich, and Shaver (1998) define media richness as the "ability of a communication channel to handle information or convey the meaning contained in a message" (p. 60). Just as the social presence theory posits that some mediums are more appropriate for certain types of messages, so does the media richness theory. According to Kennedy (1997), the amount of information a channel is able to transmit helps explain the decision-making process of choosing one form of media over another. For example, television and Internet and their visuals are able to convey more information than radio. As with the social presence theory, this theory does not directly address which mediums are used but provides a possible answer as to why.

    Uses and gratifications theory
    Communication theorists have used uses and gratifications theory in an attempt to explain how individuals use mass media to satisfy their needs (Infante, Rancer, & Womack, 1997). These needs range from relaxation to companionship to information. Uses and gratifications theory has three objectives: what people do with media, the underlying motives in using media, and consequences of that use. The theory posits that audience members actively seek out mass media to satisfy personal wants and that they make conscious decisions on what they see, hear, or read (Littlejohn, 1996).

    While uses and gratifications theory does shed more light on why people select certain media over others, it still does not address current patterns of media use.

    Niche theory
    Niche theory applies best to this research project. Niche theory states that the ways in which different species interact for resources leads to competition, resource partitioning, exclusion or coexistence (Leibold, 1995). While niche theory is central to modern ecological theory, social scientists have begun to use it in analyzing communication and social structures in different contexts.

    Dimmick and Rothenbuhler used niche theory to study different mediums and their competition for consumers as cited in Kayany and Yelsma, 2000. According to Dimmick and Rothenbuhler, competition can become so ardent that the weaker can be driven to extinction. Another possibility is that a new medium enters the environment, alters it, but the competing mediums coexist by focusing on a functional niche, such as entertainment or information.

    The impact of the Internet is not yet fully known, but Kayany and Yelsma (2000) propose that looking back on media evolution suggests functional displacement has occurred several times this century. In 1937, 51% of the U.S. population reported that newspapers were their primary source of news, but in 1945, radio was the primary news source for 61% of Americans. In 1972, television became the primary news source for 60% of Americans.

    Several recent studies have shown that Americans are currently changing their patterns of media use, and Kaynay and Yelsma (2000) study whether the Internet may be causing another functional displacement.

    Changing patterns of media use
    Americans currently use more media overall, but television viewing and newspaper use is declining according to a study reported in Mediaweek (Consoli, 1988). While television viewing is declining, it still is the most used media with broadcast and cable television combining to account for 31% of adults' daily media use. In another study reported by Mediaweek, the communications industry envisions an increase in media use through 2002 (Schwirtz, 1998).

    Kaynay and Yelsma (2000) state that according to recent estimates, 42% of American adults use the Internet. By the year 2003, 58% of adults will be accessing the Internet from home. According to Kaynay and Yelsma (2000), the primary motive for using the Internet is to seek information. They found that for most Americans, television (64.3%) and newspaper (56.2%) are still the most used media to get information. The Internet was ranked most important by 36.6% of respondents. Kaynay and Yelsma (2000) did find a growing increase in the Internet in meeting the information need, and a decrease in television meeting the same need, suggesting that a functional displacement may be underway. Kaynay and Yelsma (2000) found no such data to support a functional displacement in regard to newspapers, but stress with the growing rate of Internet users studies should continue to see if such a displacement occurs as the number of Internet users rise.

    Ferguson and Perse (2000) also studied the Internet as a functional alternative to television. Using a uses and gratifications perspective, they found that television is mainly used for entertainment, while the Internet is mainly used for searching for information. To limit the potential loss of audience caused by a functional displacement, Ferguson and Perse stressed that it would be wise for broadcast and television networks to establish Internet sites and cross-promote programming.

    The increase in use of personal computers are further evidence that media consumption patterns are changing (Hintze & Lehnus, 1998). Based on their Internet survey, they found 16- to 24-year-olds spend significantly more time watching television and listening to radio than reading newspapers and magazines. Time spent on the Internet ranked between the two. From 1996 to 1997, Internet access rose from 47.3% to 61.6% for females and 53% to 64.3% for males. This excluded accessing the Internet for e-mail. Internet access increased among all demographic groups. Education level was a key element with more than 90% of college graduates recently using the Internet. Fewer than one third of the participants who did not complete high school reported recent use.

    Napoli and Ewing (1998) also researched use of the Internet, and print and broadcast mediums. They found that regardless of how much time respondents reported spending online, they had similar levels of broadcast and print media use. The researchers predict that Internet use will increase dramatically with the rise of the what they called the "Net Generation."

    Recent studies also address the current demographics of audience members using different mediums and the strengths of those mediums. Knowledge of the audience is essential to public affairs practitioners to develop a message that properly matches the audience. Morton (1998) identifies some descriptors, such as age, education level, race, personality types, incomes, and marital status as keys to understanding the audience. Sociographics examine the broader behavior of groups and psychographics reflect the personality of groups. The strengths of those mediums have been studied from many perspectives including social presence, media richness, and uses and gratifications.

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