Statement of the Problem

The mission of military public affairs is to make timely and accurate information available so that the American public and Congress may assess and understand the facts about national security and defense strategy. The information flow is facilitated by the media, acting as a conduit between the military and the target audience. Although military public affairs provides the information to the media, it does not edit or censor what the media does with the provided information. Therefore, in order for military public affairs to decrease the potential misrepresentation of the information by the media, a strong relationship needs to exist between both parties. Trust is vital for the relationship to be mutually rewarding.

From the military public affairs perspective, establishing and maintaining a high level of trust with the media is essential to mission accomplishment. Because the relationship between military public affairs and the media is highly symbiotic, the level of trust has significant impact on each other's success. Therefore, developing tools that can improve and increase trust levels is important. In order to devise potentially effective improvements, it is critical to have a solid understanding of trust .

Trust is communication-based in that it is the outcome of communication behaviors, such as providing accurate information, giving explanations for decisions and demonstrating sincere and appropriate openness. Dynamic in nature, it is constantly changing as it cycles through phases of building, stabilizing and dissolving. It is multi-dimensional because it consists of multiple factors at the cognitive, emotional and behavioral levels, all of which affect a person's perception of trust (Schockley-Zalaback, Ellis, & Cesaria, 2000).

Upon evaluating the aspects of trust, six variables were identified as salient to high levels of trust. Expertness, reliability and dynamism address the interpersonal level, whereas competence, integrity and rapport involve organizational trust levels. Low levels of one or more of these factors indicate to the military public affairs specialist that the variable needs to be improved to increase trust. An effective measurement of these factors is a Likert-type survey. The results can then be studied and used in relations to the expectancy value theory and the diffusion of innovations theory.

A baseline level of trust must be established in order to gauge how much improvement is required. Administering the survey to a large sample is necessary in developing this baseline. The results from the survey will provide valuable information about deficiencies needing improvement. After addressing the identified areas theoretically, a subsequent survey can be given to measure any expected progress. Several events are highlighted as opportunities for such measurement.

The majority of military public affairs involves four areas. Planned operations, such as long-range exercises or annually celebrated events, are the first category. Emergency situations, or any unplanned crises that requires immediate response, are the second area. The third category focuses on shifts in policy issues that address any higher-level change in policy that affects the local area. Random interaction with the media for events such as feature stories comprises the final category. These categories provide a sound basis for administering subsequent surveys.

Although the survey will provide clues about variables that require improvement, it is incumbent on the military public affairs specialist to decide how to address the problem. Choosing a course of action depends on the individual public affairs specialist. This human dynamic is often an important catalyst because, when broken down to its smallest form, the interaction between both parties involves people communicating with one another. Unless the individual military public affairs specialist addresses the specific variable on the lowest level, any significant change is unlikely to occur. This research prospectus does not intend to answer how it should be done. It merely aims to provide a useful insight about what needs to be improved.

Conceptual Orientation

Policy Change

Policy change is operationally defined as the dissemination of new guidance at the service level or the Department of Defense level. This includes announcements such as updates on the anthrax vaccine program or changes in uniform issues, such as the new camouflaged uniforms implemented by the Marine Corps.

Planned Military Operations

The term major military operation is associated with large troop movements to areas for peacekeeping operations, military field training exercises, and hostile military operations. Examples of this category include annual occurrences such as Exercise Team Spirit in South Korea or the deployment to sea of Naval Battle Groups and Marine Expeditionary Units.

Emergency Situations

Emergency situations encompass unplanned events that require immediate response. Disaster operations include aircraft accidents, disaster relief operations, disaster recovery operations, and major military accidents that result in loss of life. Mishaps impacting the environment also fit in this genre.

Random Interaction

Random interaction involves any routine contact between the media and military public affairs specialists. This includes features stories or special interest pieces on servicemembers receiving awards and recognition or changes of command.

Types of Media

The types of media agencies evaluated include television, print journalism, radio, and wire news services. Local media is defined as media whose customer is limited to the local area of the military installation or incident site. National media is media that is broadcast or published with a majority of the customers located throughout the country.


The level of trust the media has in military public affairs is the dependent variable of this prospectus. It is measured in two areas, interpersonal trust and organizational trust. Trust between organizations is a condition needed for superior performance and competitive success for both organizations involved (Lane, 1998). Contractual trust requires a shared understanding of the profession, the needs, and the technical standards between organizations and rests on a shared moral norm of honesty and promise keeping (Sako, 1999). Trust develops through a cognitive process in which interactions between people having preconceived ideas of trustworthiness apply those concepts in formulating a judgment of trust about the other person (Nishishiba & Ritchie, 2000).

Reducing complexity and the existence of uncertainty contribute to trust. An orientation to the future and the presence of risk are also common characteristics of trust (Muhlfelder, Klein, Simon, & Luczak, 1999). Trust is usually backed by openness with the information available and the candidness of accounts provided (Bennett, 1999). Sztompka, P., (1999) stated trust is "... a bet about the future contingent actions of others," (pgs 25). In measuring trust, findings can only be generalized in terms of relative trust rather than trust between specific people (Wheeless & Grotz, 1977). Botan & Frey, (1983) in their studies found that maintaining a close relationship helps increase and maintain levels of trust. Kieran, (1997), states that if the media can't trust their sources, they cannot fulfill the function of transferring key information to the public.

Interpersonal Trust

As stated, trust is examined at two levels: interpersonal trust (between a public affairs specialist or local public affairs office and a member of the media or media outlet) and organizational trust (between service-level or Department of Defense-level public affairs offices and media agencies). Interpersonal trust is influenced by three factors: the expertness in relation to the subject; the reliability of the person; and the dynamism, or confident behavior perceived as being more active or frank and open (Griffin & Patton, 1971).

Organizational Trust

Organizational trust is influenced by three variables, competence, integrity and rapport. Competence is evaluated based on the quality of the ability and expertise of the partner in the given area (Schockley-Zalaback, Ellis & Cesaria, 2000). Integrity involves honesty, commitment, adherence to a set of principles, and acting fairly and honoring agreements -- including level of disclosure (Cufaude, 1999). Rapport is the depth of the relationship, the shared vision, purpose and direction as well as the understanding of roles and responsibilities within the relationship -- including an understanding of work styles, strengths and weaknesses (Cufaude, 1999).

This prospectus in evaluating trust levels is based on two theories, the value-expectancy theory and the diffusion of innovations theory.

Expectancy Value Theory

The expectancy value theory is used in this study to transmit a message to opinion leaders with an expected acceptance. After analyzing the information derived from the survey, messages can be tailored to suit the need. For instance, if rapport levels are low, special attention can be focused in order to improve them. The exchange of ideas and perceptions from the media through the survey will enable military public affairs specialists to change or manipulate the identified variable so as to increase the level of trust. Fashioning the message to better please the media would thereby raise trust to a more desirable level.

First explored by Martin Fishbein, the expectancy value theory is characterized by using the existing beliefs and evaluations of the opinion leader to communicate a new idea in such a way that is compatible with the opinion leader's beliefs (Littlejohn, 1996). The theory summarizes that people actively seek out information to satisfy individual needs (Infante et al, 1997).

Based on the expectancy value theory, Heath & Bryant, (1992) stated that fear appeals have a strong influence in manipulating behavior because of the associated strong negative outcomes. The gratification appeal is the element in the theory that is sought after. The individual's attitude toward an idea, which is determined by how that person makes an evaluation based on his or her beliefs, determines the individual's level of gratification (Littlejohn, 1996). The expectancy value theory is based on the premise that people prefer to comply with requests that produce positive outcomes and avoid negative outcomes in ways conforming to their norms or behavior (Heath & Bryant, 1992).

Finding a basis in affective-cognitive consistency, this theory is linked to cognitive behavior. If a change can be made in a person's beliefs about a suggestion, the person's attitude will automatically change with a positive correlation (Infante et al, 1997). Attitudes, which are the premise of the expectancy value theory, are distinctive because they are interactive and result from a complex interaction between beliefs and
evaluations (Littlejohn, 1996). This theory is related to the uses and gratifications theory in that people make choices based on the interaction between the gratification they desire and whether or not others would agree or disagree with the selection (Heath & Bryant, 1992).

Persuasion, through the expectancy value theory, explains how people become a part of an organization, how they maintain their relationship with the organization and why sometimes people terminate organizational relationships. This behavior is seen as a function of the expectancy or perceived probability that particular consequence will occur, and that evaluation or degree of effect (positive or negative) will happen (Heath & Bryant, 1992). The learning aspect of the expectancy value theory is where people associate consequences with requests, characteristics with others, and attributes with objects. Persuasion involves conditioning new affects or feelings to the proposal by allowing previous associations to weaken. The goal is to terminate the relationship to previous associations (Infante et al, 1997).

The expectancy value theory is used for the application of what is identified as an expected value of trust for each identified opinion leader. After determining what opinion leaders consider to be valuable elements of trust on both the interpersonal and operations levels of trust, manipulation of those variables will produce the desired outcome of a higher level of trust.

Diffusion of Innovations Theory

Diffusion of innovations is a mass media theory that derives its value of delivering an idea or message to a large audience through the use of gatekeepers or change agents (Infante, Rancer, & Womack, 1997). An innovation is an idea or practice that is seen as new to another unit for adoption (Severin & Tankard, 1992). Diffusion research focuses on five areas: the characteristics of the innovation; the decision-making process used by the people who are adopting the new concept; individual characteristics of the change agents or gatekeepers; the consequences for the individuals adopting the new idea; and the channels of communication used in delivering the new idea (Infante et al, 1997).

Studies in the diffusion process can be measured in time of acceptance, with acceptance being operationally defined as the initial acceptance and use. Studies are also measured in the channel used to deliver the message, such as faith in the testimony of the opinion leader (Katz, 1971). The change agents are the professional leaders who can sway or influence the opinion leaders who have the power to adopt or accept the new idea or proposal. Gatekeepers are people who control and direct the flow of information (Infante et al, 1997).

There are five steps involved in the characterization of an innovation that can affect the time to implement: relative advantage, the degree the idea is seen as better; compatibility, the degree an innovation is perceived as being consistent with past beliefs; complexity, the degree it is considered complex and difficult to use; trialability, is the degree an innovation can be experimented with; and observability, the degree the results can been observed (Rogers, 1983). There are some limits to the use of the diffusion theory such as social structures, which serve as boundaries for the spread of the diffusion of innovations (Katz, 1971).

Innovation is defined as any new idea in a social system and the diffusion of the innovation consist of four basic elements: the nature of the innovation, the channels used to spread the idea, the communication used, and the time needed to deliver (Defleur, 1982). Diffusion of innovation theory is derived from the two-step flow theory, which focuses on only two steps involved in the flow of information introduced to society (Littlejohn, 1996). The two-step flow process ascertains if the opinion leaders have received information from the media and spread the information to their peers.

The diffusion of innovations uses multiple steps in delivering the new idea to the opinion leaders and society, such as society receiving the message directly from the sender instead of the mediator, or through a change agent to the opinion leader (Littlejohn, 1996). The diffusion of innovations theory is used in this study to allow manipulation of the two sets of variables for interpersonal and organizational levels of trust.
Although the theory is not directly applicable in the development of the survey, it is important in regard to the survey results. The survey contains an open-ended question that asks the media to identify the most trustworthy media outlet. The most identified media outlet will provide a good indicator of who the opinion leaders are within the media. The identified opinion leaders in the respective media outlet will be targeted using the diffusion of innovations theory. Through cooperation with these opinion leaders, effective messages can be developed that would improve specific variables.

Rationale and Research Questions

Like any relationship, without a certain level of trust, the relationship between
public affairs and the media will not survive (Rotter, 1967). Because trust is elusive and public affairs interactions with the media rely on trust to perform their job adequately, it can be deduced that a baseline trust level from which changes in levels can be measured must be developed. It is insufficient to understand that trust levels can and will fluctuate however. The ability to predict when those levels will change and what can be done to prevent or enhance change in a positive way is the ultimate goal.
It is known that different types of media events generate different types of media engagements. The questions posed by reporters during a major military policy change, such as the announcement of military wide anthrax shots, are different in tone and scope from those questions posed after a disaster like an aircraft accident. Reporters and public affairs professionals approach these incidents differently. It is only logical to assume that trust levels during these events would also change.

For the purposes of this study, four major event types are identified for measure: policy changes, emergency situations, planned military operations and random events. Policy changes involve service-wide or Department of Defense wide policy announcements. Emergency events include situations where quick responses are necessary, such as aircraft accidents, disaster relief or recovery that result in loss of life or environmental damage. Planned military operations are large troop movements to areas for peacekeeping, exercises or hostile operations. Random events are any other initiation of interaction with the media to include feature stories and background information.

In addition to measuring how events affect trust levels, interpersonal and organizational relationships between the media and military public affairs specialists also have significant effects on trust levels. A person who trusts some one else will rely and have confidence in the information given to them by the other and may decide to take on a level of risk by accepting the other person's word (Giffin, ????). On an organizational level, mistrust can reduce the amount and quality of communication. Increases in trust can increase the timeliness of feedback and the receptiveness of information (Botan, 1983). While the media often times has little choice in relying on the information provided to them from public affairs professionals, trustful communication between the two carry more weight than the bureaucratically mandated relationship imposed by the circumstances of the media event (Muhlfelder, Klein, Simon & Luczak, 1999).

Drawing on interpersonal and organizational trust research, there are three testable factors that relate to interpersonal trust, and three that affect organizational trust levels. Measurement of expertness, reliability, dynamism, competence, integrity and rapport provide a solid overall picture of the media's level of trust of military public affairs professionals individually and the military system as a whole (Giffin ????) (Schockley-Zalaback et al., 2000).

Based on the above discussion, and in accordance with the diffusion of innovations theory and the expectancy value theory, the following research questions are advanced:

RQ1: What is the baseline trust level local and national media have for military public affairs operations?

RQ2: How do military events like, policy announcements, disasters and military operations effect trust levels?

Identification of a baseline trust level will help to ensure trust levels are maintained throughout media event types as well as before and after any internal public affairs policy changes. If the manner in which public affairs operations are conducted changes, an existing, testable baseline of trust would allow the change on the trust level to be monitored. The measurement of trust levels periodically would enable military public affairs to gauge its efficiency in getting out the desired message. In addition, an understanding of the relationship between media event types and specific trust factors would allow military public affairs to target improving the specific trust factors that have the greatest impact on trust levels during each type of event. Therefore, the following hypothesis is posed:

H1: Targeting and increasing specific trust factors for improvement (expertness, reliability, dynamism, competence, integrity and rapport) will result in an increase in the level of trust media representatives have for military public affairs.


The first step in developing a total picture of media trust levels is to identify the ways in which public affairs professionals and media representatives interact. Four specific categories are identified: policy changes, planned military operations, emergency situations and random events. The random events represent any given time media may be invited or request access to information from a military press office. A Likert-type survey was designed to test for three interpersonal trust factors, expertness, reliability and
dynamism (Giffin, 1971) and three organizational level trust factors; competence, integrity and rapport (Cufaude, 1999; Schockley-Zalaback et al, 2000).


The survey should ideally be distributed by the Department of Defense to tactical public affairs offices for at least two large bases that serve each of the military branches. A total of eight major installations would participate in the study. The target bases selected should be ones that have the greatest potential to experience each of the four military operation types: random events, policy changes, planned military operations, and emergency situations). An example of a good target base in the Army might be Fort Bragg, where troops are frequently called on first for military operations, where accidents or fatal injuries occur, and where involvement in an announcement of an Army policy change also occur.


The public affairs offices at the target bases should administer the surveys to a large convenience sample of media professionals from print, broadcast, radio, and wire news services representing local and national news outlets. Each time an event occurs which draws a significant number of media to the target base, the media representatives should be surveyed. The surveys can be administered while the press members are still on the base, or the survey can be emailed to the media representatives with lists taken from the media visitor logs kept for each media event.

Beginning the study and producing a control measure of trust levels requires the target base public affairs offices to select a random set of media representatives who have
visited the base in the past and administer the survey to them. These surveys will be coded as the random events group. Subsequent surveys should be administered throughout the year and coded as the emergency situation group, policy change group, or planned military operation group. Completed surveys should be sent directly to the Department of Defense for analysis.


At the top of each survey is a section for the survey administrators from the target base to complete. This portion indicates which event type the media visit represents, as well as the branch of service and the name of the base. The media representative completes the rest of the survey. The first section of the survey requests personal information from respondents, to include name and business address, email address, media outlet and job position.

The measurement tool consists of 24 Likert-type statements that measure respondent's reactions to recent public affairs encounters. The statements are formulated to direct respondents to consider either an interpersonal encounter with a public affairs professional and to respond to statements at the organizational level. Respondents are asked to indicate that they strongly disagree, disagree, disagree somewhat, neutral or unsure, agree somewhat, agree or strongly agree. Reverse coding is used on one third of the survey questions. In addition, respondents are asked to respond to one open-ended question by indicating which media outlet they feel is the most trustworthy.


The independent variable for this study is the level of trust during four different
testing situations. The dependent variables are the six trust factors, expertness, reliability, dynamism, competence, integrity and rapport. Three of the trust factors are based on the Giffin Trust differential for interpersonal communication (Giffin 1971). The other three, competence, integrity and rapport are based on research by the International Association of Business Communicators (Cufaude, 1999; Schockley-Zalaback et al, 2000). Survey results will provide mean, median and mode levels of trust after each type of military event. In addition, a one-way ANOVA factor analysis should provide results about levels of trust and relationships to policy changes, planned military exercises and emergency situations.

Projected Results

It is known from previous studies that trust indicators like expertness and dynamism have an effect on trust levels (Giffin, 1971). The researchers expect to find that trust levels media representatives hold for public affairs professionals are affected not only by trust factors but also by the type of event or military operation causing the media to require public affairs assistance. By identifying which trust factors have the most affect on levels of trust during particular operations, public affairs professionals can focus on improvement of those variables displaying the most effective ways to increase trust levels.