Seal of the Department of Defense Media Use, Rationale
and Hypotheses

Introduction Abstract Problem Statement Literature Review You are here Methodology Projected Results Discussion Reference List

    Newspapers, magazines, radio, television, movies, the Internet: At least one of these media, and usually two or three of them, are used daily by an overwhelming majority of Americans. These media can all be used to shape perceptions and persuade the public. Each of them has both positive and negative aspects. The burning—not to mention the million-dollar—question for the public affairs practitioner is, which media outlet generates the most positive and widest-reaching influence on the American people? An in-depth examination of each medium revealed some clues.

Newspapers.    Since Harper's Weekly, the newspaper that kept America informed about the greatest battles during the Civil War, print media have played an important role in shaping American public opinion and public policy. However, since the introduction of the radio and the "fireside chats" the newspaper has played a smaller role in our society. In fact, in the June 2000 Public Relations Tactics, it was estimated that only 26 percent of the American population gets their news from newspapers. Of the percentage of adults who read the newspaper only 42 percent read the newspaper every day; 19 percent read a few times a week; 16 percent read once a week; and 10 percent read less than once a week (News reality, 2001).

    In a study on newspaper functions, Burgoon, Bernstein, and Burgoon (1983) surveyed journalists and adults on what they thought the functions of newspapers should be. The most important functions were to "provide a timely account of significant events and to explain how important events and issues relate to the local community. There was one notable disagreement: readers ranked the watchdog function of the press much lower than did journalists" (Wimmer & Dominick, 1991, p. 268; Burgoon et al., 1983).

    Although disagreements exist regarding the functions of newspapers, researchers have found characteristics of newspapers that explain the way they inform the American public. According to Austin and Pinkleton (2001), newspapers can rapidly target a broad audience. However, the audience must be actively pursuing information to "obtain in-depth news, financial and sports information and movie reviews" (Making sense of the census, 2000, p. 7).

    The second characteristic of newspapers is they "convey issues more thoroughly than on TV or in radio and faster than through magazines" (Austin & Pinkleton, 2001, p. 57). This could lead people to believe print media is more factual and detailed. In a study completed by McCombs (1979), the primary reason people read newspapers is to fulfill a need for information (Wimmer & Dominick, 1991). This leads to the third and final characteristic of newspapers--easy access to in-depth coverage of an event or issue (Austin & Pinkerton, 2001). Unfortunately, newspapers do not reach all members of the targeted audience. Researchers discovered newspaper readers are "generally middle-aged or older males, middle to upper-middle class, with higher levels of education" (Making sense of the census, 2000, p. 7). Additional non-reader studies examined the reasons why people do not read newspapers (Wimmer & Dominick, 1991). In a study completed by Lipshultz (1987) people chose to not read newspapers for four reasons: 1) they relied on other media for information, i.e., TV and radio; 2) newspapers cost too much; 3) they perceived newspapers as boring; and 4) newspapers took up too much time (Dominick & Wimmer, 1991). Another limitation of newspapers is they have a short life span. Readers cannot reread and share information with others because that information expires quickly (Wimmer & Dominick, 1991).

    Although it is not expected that newspapers will ever cease to deliver news, it is likely that circulation will continue to wane due to the general public's propensity to seek news coverage of the military via alternative mediums. The globalization of telecommunication allows consumers to get the news they want, when they want it. With the amount and depth of the technology today, and the continued proliferation of technology expanding our world, it's likely that the attractiveness of newspapers will diminish.

Magazines.    Similar to newspapers, magazines have provided insight to the soldier's life during wartime. The most noted magazine for covering wartime and the military is Life magazine. Life magazine added another dimension to the stories people heard on the radio (Wilson & Wilson, 2001). Studies have shown that magazines are a good "barometer for measuring our changing American culture" (Wilson & Wilson, 2001, p. 195; Casty, 1968, p. 20). However, similar to newspapers, magazines have lost some of the draw they once had. In the 2000 census bureau report, the number of magazines dropped from more than 12,400 to 9,800 and report of media use in the American population, found that only 5 percent get their news from magazines (United States Bureau of the Census, 2000).

    Magazines are not only used for news, but also for more specialized information like current fashions, recipes, and health issues (News reality, 2000). Since their inception, magazines have covered a variety of subjects. One of the characteristics of magazines is they "can more specifically target market segments" (Austin & Pinkleton, 2001, p. 57). According to Wilson and Wilson (2001) magazines have either unit specialization or internal specialization. Unit specialization occurs in magazines that target special-interest audiences (p. 196). Internal specialization magazines appeal to a more general audience (Wilson & Wilson, 2001).

    Magazines can also go into greater depth on more complex issues than newspapers and this medium lends itself to factual, detailed message delivery (Austin & Pinkleton, 2001, p. 57). Magazines are not as timely as newspapers. This gives people the opportunity to reread articles and to "give thoughtful attention to material" (Austin & Pinkleton, 2001, p. 57). Both newspapers and magazines have the potential for setting the agenda for the American public. A study by Shaw and McCombs (1977) found that, in a 1972 political campaign, newspapers were initially more effective in agenda-setting than in influencing public opinion" (Heath & Bryant, 2000, p. 359). In other studies, magazines were also found to influence what the American population thinks about (Austin & Pinkleton, 2001).

    News magazines are a popular medium in which the military has sought publicity because magazines tend to be read by an older, more educated audience. News magazines deliver more depth, and are thought to allow readers the opportunity to spend more time on an issue. For the military's purpose in gaining, or maintaining American support, news magazines are influential in delivering a detailed view into a certain unit's mission or a broader aspect like peacekeeping, but are not the medium of choice in today's fast-paced society.

Television.    When television debuted in 1939 at the World's Fair in New York no one could have imagined the impact it would have on society in just 70 years. By the late 1950s, three-quarters of American homes had a television, and by the late 1970s deregulation brought cable television and more choices into our lives (Baker, 1998). Barely 20 million homes had cable in 1980 when Ted Turner's Cable News Network (CNN) hit the airwaves. The Persian Gulf War and CNN's 24-hour news coverage marked the advent of the constant news cycle and changed the way people view the world forever. CNN's audience reached 1.6 million viewers in the United States every quarter hour as they watched "history's first live-on-television war" (Enter CNN, 2001, pg. 89).
    Statistics illustrate how television has emerged in American society. The United States census bureau estimates 98 million television sets were owned by Americans in 1998, compared to 59 million televisions owned in 1970, and 67 million households had cable in 1998, compared to 4.5 million in 1970 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2000). Even more telling is the fact that 93 percent of all Americans watched nearly seven-and-a-half hours of television a day, or about 51 hours per week in 1998 (Nielsen Media Research, 2000). For comparison, daily newspaper circulation was down in 1998 to 55.9 million from the 1970 circulation estimate of 62.1 million; and 45 percent of all Americans accessed the Internet at least once in 30 days during 1998 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2000). A 1998 Gallup Poll reveals that generally Americans have the highest levels of trust in cable television news sources (CNN in particular), public television news, local television news, and prime time television news magazines (Newport & Saad, 1998). Forty-six percent of all Americans get their news from television (U.S. bureau of the Census, 2000), and children spend 56 percent of their time in front of the television (Diaz, 1999).

    Television's international proliferation reaches to virtually all corners of the world. One example is how the United States military found itself back in the Middle East following Operation Desert Storm. After the defeat of Iraq, Iraqi Shi'ites and Kurdish rebels organized to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Crushed by Hussein's Republican Guard, the Kurds were threatened with genocide. CNN broadcast their plight on American television stimulating the U. S. government to come to their aid in the form of Operation Provide Comfort (Snow, 1994).

    Donald M. Snow, Ph.D., professor of political science at the University of Alabama, and author or coauthor of more than two dozen books on defense policy and international relations, cites two global trends affecting the national security environment: the explosion of the "technological revolution" and the impact of global telecommunications; and the growing number of transnational issues which broaden the effect of "what constitutes national security" (Snow, 1994, p. 103). Snow argues:

One obvious aspect of global television is to make events around the world public for all to see. Before CNN it is not likely the world would have known of Saddam Hussein's repression of the Kurds, and in that circumstance there simply would not have been an Operation Provide Comfort. (Snow, 1994, p. 105)

    The same is true concerning the United States' involvement in the Balkans. The Independent Television Network (ITN) broadcast the first images from that war compelling the government to take action (Snow, 1994). The international propagation of news and information is a trend that is part of globalization and is on a path to becoming even more affective in the future.

    With the onset of the 24-hour news cycle and broadcasting corporations dedicated to delivering news as it happens from where it happens television has the greatest impact on American society. To maintain public support of the military public affairs professionals should seek every opportunity to publicize their unit's accomplishments through the local television media.

Radio.    Nearly 10,000 commercial radio stations populated American airwaves in 1998. Virtually all of the stations are programmed with music formats—15 commercial radio stations in the country are solely dedicated to news and talk show formats (Commercial radio now, 2001). Of nearly one billion people surveyed 84 percent said they listen to the radio, and Americans in general rely on the radio for news 11 percent of the time (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2000). College graduates in 2001 relied on radio for news 57 percent of the time (Graduating to the Web, 2001). Public radio attracts 15 million listeners to National Public Radio's news/talk programming on 620 public radio stations across the nation (The rise of NPR, 2001).

    Traditional all-news radio programming has been combined with the talk-show format and draws the attention of millions of listeners every day, 24 hours a day. Talk-show host Rush Limbaugh attracts 20 million listeners to his nationally syndicated program daily, while Howard Stern draws an enormous audience from 25- to 35-year-old males. "All of our shows have some news content," says Jeremy Coleman, program director at WJFK, Washington, D.C., the FM talk station that airs Stern and G. Gordon Liddy. "Liddy will sit there and read newspaper articles for 45 minutes at a stretch," he said, while Stern and "news-reading sidekick" Robin Quivers prefer to just bring the news into the conversation. "The fact is, Mr. Stern devotes an hour a day of his show to news," said Coleman (Fisher, 1998, p. 84).

    Radio news is not a product station owners wish to develop. Only 15 commercial radio stations across the nation are dedicated to all-news broadcasting. 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. Radio does, however, have the distinct advantage in having a "captive" audience while people are in their cars commuting or traveling longer distances: if the traveler chooses to listen to news stations. It is not likely that radio should be the medium of choice for public affairs professionals to actively pursue for publicity and maintaining public support for the military.

Movies.    When the first motion pictures were being produced in the early 1900s (Reisman, 1949), few could have imagined the effect they would eventually have on popular American culture. Today, movies, which for the purposes of this study are limited to theater films, in the United States gross more than $77 billion (Motion Picture Association of America, 2000). Furthermore, it is estimated that U.S. residents have attended at least five movies a year for the past five years (Motion Picture Association of America, 2000). In the year 2000 alone more than 1.4 billion tickets were sold to the American population. The staggering amount of money produced by the movie industry begs the questions, who is going to see these movies and why?

    Reisman (1949) suggested that Americans go to the movies because they provide an outlet for wishful thinking and emotional release. When going to see a film, people want to be entertained. "Reality must not intrude here; there can be no assessment of values; the tensions and contradictions within all cultural values must be excluded" (Reisman, 1949, p. 316). Although moviegoers are primarily passive, evidence has been presented that they are in some way influenced by what they see on the screen (Palmer, 1995). However, due to the cost (the Motion Picture Association of America estimates that it cost more than $55 million dollars to produce a movie in 2000) and time involved in making a movie, this medium is decidedly inappropriate for shaping public opinion on current issues. Palmer (1995) offered the Vietnam War as an example of this. It wasn't until the late 1970s, when a series of Vietnam movies were released, that the American public began to change its perception of the war (Palmer, 1995). A study by Advertising International (1999) further supports the contention that most Americans go to the movies for relaxation and entertainment. This study found that 73 percent of moviegoers combine their motion picture viewing with dining out, and 69 percent combine the experience with shopping (Who's going to the movies?, 1999).

    While Americans do not go to the theater to have their views of current society changed, they nonetheless go to the theater. Approximately 31 percent of males and 24 percent of females older than 18 say they attend movies frequently (Motion Picture Association of America, 2000). Several key commonalities characterize today's moviegoer. Adults ages 18-49, with a median age of 39, make up 74 percent of the movie-going audience (Who's going to the movies?, 1999). It was also found that nearly 58 percent of those going to movies have attended or graduated college (Who's going to the movies?, 1999).

    Although the movie industry is certainly in no danger of folding, there are drawbacks to using this medium as a method of influencing the public. Aside from the fact that most moviegoers are passive in their viewing habits and the inherent costs of producing a film, issues of satisfaction and exposure come into play. A recent Gallup poll (2001) found that 43 percent of Americans feel that movies are getting worse, and 53 percent are dissatisfied with current ticket prices. This explains why nearly 68 percent of the population prefers to watch movies at home (Gallup, 2001). The Motion Picture Association of America (2000) estimates that 28 percent of males and 30 percent of females older than 18 never go to the theater to see movies.

    The movie industry has certainly made an effort to portray the military in a true light since the end of the Vietnam War, but results show that Americans just don't rely on movies to shape their opinion about the military. In this study, it research team's view that it is not plausible for military public affairs professionals to pursue publicity through Hollywood.

Internet and the World Wide Web.  Internet usage in the United States is growing at an incredible rate. Levy et al. (2002) says Internet use is expanding by 2 million new users per month, and more than half of the nation is now online, according to the United States census bureau (2000). Further, as new tools come online and megaliths like AOL-Time-Warner combine their technology, the divide between television and Internet grows less distinct. Levy (2002) says, "Few technologies have spread so quickly, or become so widely used, as computers and the Internet. These information technologies are rapidly becoming common fixtures of modern social and economic life." Levy (2000) says that examining the number of households with Internet access reveals this rapid uptake. In 1997, 15.2 million households had Internet access through 18.6 million hosts. In 54.4 million households had access through 68.4 million hosts (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2000).

    In spite of these incredible growth rates, the Internet still isn't the choice medium for receiving news. Why is this? One reason could be that the majority of Internet users are under the age of 17 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2000). Levy (2002) says that children and teenagers use computers and the Internet more than any other age group. Additionally, those children seem to be using the Internet more for "surfing" and playing games than actually reading news. Children under the age of 17 spend 56 percent of their total time consuming media via television and five percent with the Internet (Diaz, 1999). This may change in a decade or so when the children of today are the adults of tomorrow, but for now youth wield a very small political hammer.

    A second reason is paradoxical in its assumptions: It appears that as media becomes more capable of offering increased coverage of international and foreign events, people are turning inward and seeking more information on what is happening at home, and television is more capable of delivering that access than the Internet. "The paradox of having more information to offer and less demand is nowhere more obvious than on the developing electronic network," says Claude Moisy (1994, p. 113). As published in Public Relations Tactics (January, 2002), a survey in June 2001 showed that 35 percent of news programming concerned domestic affairs; in October 2001, a follow-up survey showed domestic-related programming grew to 62 percent. This ready access to any kind of information may be creating an overload in the mind of the general consumer. The current consumer is bombarded all day long with information in one form or another, which makes them unlikely to expend physical effort in using a medium to seek out the same information from other sources. This argument has shown its impact on the news industry as well. In a June 2000 survey in Public Relations Tactics, 46 percent of Americans said they received their information from television; five percent said they received their information from the Internet. Consider that in 1998 there were 235 million televisions in the United States (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2000, p. 567). That is 2.4 television sets per household. During this time 42.1 percent of United States households had computers, and only 26.2 percent of those had Internet access (p. 567).

   Another reason might be just plain laziness. Computers require some sort of physical interaction whether it is clicking on mouse buttons or typing on a keyboard, the user has to physically want to go to a certain site to find information. Television—often referred to as the "boob tube" because of its lack of interactivity—is a medium that requires little or no effort on the part of the consumer. All a person does is turn on the television and sink into a chair and become a "couch potato" as the world is delivered to his or her living room in full color.

    Despite the Internet's growth explosion in the last decade it is still not America's medium of choice for gaining news and information. While public affairs professionals are encouraged to make news and information available through this medium, it is apparent that the Internet's strength lies in informing the military's internal audiences about benefits, programs, and agencies available to them.

Rationale and Hypotheses
    Since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the media has covered the military and military actions in Afghanistan. Additionally, public opinion has been very supportive of the military since the attacks. In an article in the Sept. 22, 2001 Economist, the authors state that "public opinion has been overwhelmingly in favor of military action against terrorists, though more nervous of using force against states that sponsor them" (Allies in search of a strategy, 2001). Turn on any TV station and in a short time you will see some type of coverage of the military. The media has set the agenda for America since the attacks. Although the attacks were a tragedy, this event provided public affairs specialists the opportunity to gain positive publicity for their units or military service using all media outlets. The media provided the outlet for military public affairs specialists to help shape the American public's opinion of the military in hopes of increasing the positive coverage of the armed forces.

    The agenda-setting theory addresses that media influences the American people-not, necessarily what we think, but what we think about. According to the theory, the media sets the importance of an issue, "regardless of the level of importance we placed on it before the media attention" (Infante, Rancer & Womack, 1997, p. 366). Because the military cannot set the agenda for what the American people consider important, the fact the agenda has been set by the media provides public affairs specialists the opportunity to develop the public's perception of the military. Cultivation theory describes what the possibilities are when a person is repeatedly exposed to media messages. Under the auspices of cultivation theory, public affairs specialists' publicity efforts may help determine what the American public sees as the "real" military. The dilemma public affairs practitioners' face is there are several media outlets to choose from to focus our publicity efforts. This study is conducted to determine:

      H1: Media outlets influence public perception of the military.
      H2: Television provides the best outlet for public affairs practitioners to get the most positive coverage of the U.S. armed forces.
      H3: 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.