| Since its inception, mass communication has been thought to influence the public's views on a variety of subjects. As members of the public affairs community it is in our best interest, and our job, to determine which media represent the most effective means of influencing public opinion. During the course of this study we reviewed and examined the benefits and drawbacks of using television, print media, movies, radio, and the internet to communicate with the American population.
In today's world, people are no longer concerned with what happened yesterday, they want to know what is happening now. In light of this, several broadcasting corporations have created networks dedicated to the constant reporting of news. This continuous attention to current events has had an impact on how the American public makes decisions and forms opinions. Seventy percent of our test audience stated that they use television to decide which issues are important to America. This fact indicates that the use of television to publicize the military mission and gain support of ongoing operations should be the primary media utilized by public affairs practitioners.
The in-depth coverage provided by newspapers ensures that this media will not easily fade away. Many Americans look to the print media to gain a greater understanding of the issues relevant in today's world. Thirty-eight percent of our test respondents felt that newspapers offered the best information about the military. This is especially significant considering the fact that only 26 percent of the general population gets their news from newspapers (Public Relations Tactics, 2000). Although newspapers offer an extensive view of current events, their lack of 24-hour coverage limits their effectiveness for public affairs practitioners. Furthermore, most newspapers cater to a specified portion of the audience, usually upper to middle-class males with higher education, thereby limiting their ability to influence a majority of the general population.
News magazines have been used by the military in the past to reach older, more educated audiences. However, this segment of the population is relatively small and not reflective of the prevailing opinions of the average American. News magazines deliver more depth, and are thought to allow readers the opportunity to spend more time on an issue. However, in today's fast-paced world, many individuals lack the time and desire to read the lengthy articles presented in this format. Those who do have the time represent a small portion of the American population making this media impractical to use in efforts at influencing the public's view of the military. The results of our survey indicate this fact. Only 11 percent of all respondents rated print media (newspapers and magazines) as the source that they use to get information regarding the military and 38 percent of respondents rated print media as the best place for information regarding the military.
Radio has experienced a decline in recent years. In our visually-oriented society, this medium lacks the imagery used by other media to emotionally impact the population. Today, if there are no pictures, there is no story. While radio possesses the ability to be first out with the news, it is not the medium of choice for most Americans, who rely mainly on visual images to gain more understanding of an issue. Only three percent of survey respondents rated radio as the source they use to gain information regarding the military and as the best source for information regarding the armed forces. Furthermore, radio has become a highly segmented medium catering to a variety of audiences. If public affairs practitioners wish to reach a specific audience, like those who listen to classical music, radio possesses an advantage. However, in reaching the entire population, radio is extremely limited. The movie industry has long been fascinated with the military. However, the nature of the film medium makes it ineffective at influencing public opinion. Most moviegoers are passive in their use of this media limiting their experience to entertainment. It can take years and millions of dollars to produce a single film, limiting the accessibility of this medium for military public affairs practitioners. Most people do not view movies as a means of forming an opinion. Only seven percent of our survey respondents identified movies as a means of obtaining the best information about the military.
The rapid growth of the Internet has made it an attractive option for many in the public affairs field. However, this medium is still not considered the best source of information regarding the military and military operations. While the Internet is effective at disseminating internal information, it is limited in its ability to promote a positive perception of the military. Although many college-aged students have begun turning to the Internet for news, Only seven percent of our survey respondents use the Internet as their primary source for information regarding the military and as the best source for information about the armed forces. it generally fills the role of providing supplemental information concerning news stories seen on television.
Television Most Used for Gaining Information
At the beginning of this study we hypothesized that media outlets influence public perception of the military, television provides the best outlet for public affairs practitioners to get the most positive coverage of the U.S. armed forces, and the media set the agenda for what the American people think about, and public affairs specialists can utilize media agendas to cultivate a more positive perception of the military.
Although there were no correlations shown between media and public perception of the military, the survey proved that television was the medium most used by respondents for obtaining information about the military and in deciding which issues were most important. Results were inconclusive as to how public affairs professionals can utilize media-set agendas to cultivate a more positive perception of the military.
Although the study supported the hypothesis that television was the best medium for public affairs practitioners to use in promoting a positive military image, the results of the survey indicated that several areas were not adequately explored. These areas include agenda-setting and whether or not increased exposure to positive messages can create positive perception of the military. Additionally, the media use portion of the survey was not effective in determining the number of minutes respondents spent with different types of television programming due to question phrasing. The survey requires modification to address these limitations. See Appendix B for a revised survey. The final limitation is the sample size used for the survey. In order for a study to be generalizable to a greater population a sufficient sample size must be used. As stated in the methodology, an adequate sample size for this survey would have been approximately 384 respondents. Due to time constraints, we were not able to gain the sufficient sample size.
Implications for Further Research
This study identified television as the most used medium. This offers future researchers the opportunity to focus more completely on this medium. Issues that may be explored in further studies include an in-depth exploration of whether or not television influences public perception of the military and how it influences public perception. Additionally, further research could address which message type is the most effective at influencing public opinion when using television as the channel.