Literature Review
Team Members


Hometown News: Reaching out for Connectivity

Review of Literature

To properly discuss the problem of the lack of connectivity and salience of the military to the general population we must review some key research related to our approach. In the literature review we must look at the theory of Agenda Setting as well as the critical concepts of Organizational Identity, and gatekeeping.

Public Opinion
Walter Lippman is given credit for the modern concept of agenda-setting. Although he never earned a graduate degree, he was "the single most influential writer about the role of the mass media in shaping public opinion" (Dearing & Rogers, 1996, p. 11). In his book Public Opinion, Lippman (1922), said that "The world as known was the world as it was . . . whatever we believe to be a true picture, we treat as if it were the environment itself" (p. 4). The mass media, in his opinion, creates pictures in people's heads and policymakers should be aware of that (Lippman, 1921). Abraham Lincoln wasn't the first to acknowledge the power of public opinion, but he stated it clearly when he said:

Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed. Consequently, he who moulds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes and pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed. (Abraham Lincoln, quoted in Rivers, 1970, p. 53)

David Mervin (1998) affirmed the major role of the press in politics in his essay, The News Media and Democracy in the United States saying, "If the people are to govern themselves in any meaningful sense, they must be reasonably well-informed." (p. 6). Theodore White (1972) believes the media have sweeping powers over policymakers. The press "is unrestrained by any law" and "sets the agenda of public discussion" (p.238). "No major act of the American Congress, no foreign adventure, no act of diplomacy, no great social reform can succeed in the United States unless the press prepares the public mind" (p. 239).

Agenda setting
Bernard Cohen (1963), observed that the press "may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling it's readers what to think about" (p. 13) The way people look at things depends on what is they read. Since people don't read the same things or interpret them the same way, "the world will look different to different people" (Cohen, 1963, p. 13).

McCombs and Shaw (1972) built upon that research, by concentrating on the link between the media agenda and the public agenda. They realized that the evidence of mass media's effect on public opinion was not conclusive and sought to substantiate a link. They also coined the term "agenda setting."

"The basic conception of agenda setting was a theoretical idea without much basis in empirical research until the study by McCombs and Shaw (1972) of the media's role in the 1968 presidential campaign" (Rogers & Dearing, 1988, p. 563). McCombs and Shaw, professors of journalism at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, surveyed 100 randomly selected people who had not yet decided how to vote. They asked voters what they thought were the key issues. An earlier test showed that most of the political information from the mass media in Chapel Hill came from 10 sources: Five local papers, The New York Times, Time and Newsweek magazines, and NBC and CBS newscasts. Mass media stories were coded into 15 categories corresponding to different issues. The study also divided news content into "major" and "minor" levels, depending on how much time or space is given to a topic (McCombs & Shaw, 1972).

An analysis of survey results showed that the campaign itself garnered the most media attention, but among issue items, there was a clear relationship between the media attention and what the voters thought was important.

The media appear to have exerted a considerable impact on voters' judgment of what they considered the major issues of the campaign (even though the questionnaire specifically asked them to make judgment without regard to what politicians might be saying at the moment) . . . In short, the data suggest a very strong relationship between the emphasis placed on different campaign issues by the media (reflecting to a considerable degree the emphasis by candidates) and the judgments of voters as to the salience and importance of various campaign topics. (McCombs & Shaw, 1972, pp. 180-181)

Media differences in agenda-setting impact
Television and newspapers both have an agenda-setting impact, but that impact is not identical. A television viewer is given a series of reports in rapid succession. They have no control over how long they are exposed to an issue. Newspaper readers, however, control their own time. They can re-read an article about an issue that interests them, search for only articles on a favorite issue, or completely skip an issue of which they have little interest. In the 1972 election, both media had a significant, but different effect (Weaver, Graber, McCombs, & Eyal, 1981).

Newspapers are the prime movers in organizing the public agenda. They largely set the stage of public concern. But television news is not wholly without influence. It has some short-term impact on the composition of the public agenda. Perhaps the best way to describe and contrast these influences is to label the role of the newspaper as agenda-setting and the role of television as spotlighting. The basic nature of the agenda seems often to be set by the newspapers, while television primarily reorders or rearranges the top items of the agenda (Weaver, et al, 1981, p. 48)

Need for orientation
While these differences in media are plausible explanations for differences in impact, differences in audience motives play a role too. "The concept of 'need for orientation' is one of the few audience-oriented variables that has been systematically applied in agenda-setting research" (Weaver, et al, 1981, p. 49). In the McCombs and Shaw 1972 presidential election study, "The researchers looked at two factors-the relevance of information to an individual and the degree of uncertainty-in determining need for orientation" (Infante, Rancer & Womack, 1997, p. 367). The higher the need for orientation, the more likely and individual would be influenced by the mass media. "The need for orientation is a combination of high interest in an issue and high uncertainty about that issue" (Miller, 2002, p. 261).

Press and policy relationships

The press agenda affects policy agenda. According to Linsky (1986), "the press has a huge and identifiable impact" (p. 87). Even policymakers generally agree that early in a campaign when it is not clear which issues will be important, the press influences which issues will be addressed. The media have two impacts. Media coverage forces policymakers to resolve or take sides of an issue more quickly. Secondly, negative coverage can push the decision making higher up in the bureaucracy. While policymakers do not admit it, "it appears that the press can have a substantial effect on the policy choice, as well as on the policymaking process (Linsky, 1986, p.88).

With the increase in media outlet due to the emergence of the internet and transition to multi-band digital television broadcast where each station may simultaneously carry four separate programs, there are clearly more gatekeepers today than at anytime in history. This increase in volume alone may necessitate further study and literature on gatekeeping.

Gatekeepers are an important barricade faced by the Hometown News program. Gatekeeping is the process by which the billions of messages that are available get cut down and transformed into the hundreds of messages that reach a given person on a given day (Shoemaker, 1991). Serving as a funnel, gatekeepers narrow down the number of messages to the available medium. This review will look at the history, evolution through modernizing mediums and the future of gatekeepers in the dissemination of information.
In 1937, Leo Rosten pointed out in a study of Washington correspondents, that newspaper is not a chronology, an almanac nor a history, but rather a selection (Shoemaker, 1991). This is one of the earlier observations that communication involves the selection and rejection of information. Shoemaker (1991) outlines the comments Wilbur Schramm made in 1947 that no other aspect of communication is as impressive as the gatekeeper in forming the appropriate symbol between the sender and the receiver.

With radio and later television replacing, or perhaps augmenting newspaper coverage, gatekeepers became more prevalent in the daily informational flow, especially in the United States. During this transitional period (late 1950s to 1980), many researchers agreed that not only editors, program directors and news directors were gatekeepers, but that gatekeeping could actually begin with the correspondent during the preparation, editing and filing of the story. Reporters' predispositions can greatly influence the breadth and balance of coverage on issues they feel strongly about. It was further determined that news organizations as a whole had preferences on the type of stories and the slant conveyed with the coverage. Many aspects affected these decisions or slants including editorial styles and most commonly, what the key competitor's angle was on similar coverage (Shoemaker & Reese, 1996). If a competing outlet, especially in television and radio markets, had provided a substantial amount of positive coverage on a community event, another outlet may choose not to cover it at all or take a different slant. This wasn't always intentionally to keep gatekeeper control over information, but oftentimes to attract a different audience from the competition.

Shoemaker (1991) explained that the gatekeeper was an individual, with likes, dislikes and preferences and the possibility to prohibit a certain message or theme from reaching a receiver. Although this may still hold somewhat accurate today, the leaps and bounds in technology have offered additional communities media that may bypass the gatekeepers' personal controls and still deliver the message. The number of owners in the major media outlets has greatly decreased since the deregulation in 1996. The majority of the major broadcast, print and magazine mediums are controlled by just more than a handful of owners that are perhaps the last gatekeepers with any substantial ability to diminish an unpopular or unsupported message. With such a limited ownership controlling a tremendously vast majority of the media outlets, some gatekeeping or at a minimum framing or agenda setting may continue to influence information dissemination.

Regardless of the number of mediums or the number channels within each medium, gatekeepers can still filter any chance that a message has of reaching a recipient. With the hometown news efforts, competition and monetary reasons may be involved in gatekeeping among providing the same gratis space to causes favored by advertisers or other elites who support the outlet. If there are two newspaper outlets in an area, depending on the patriotic climate and propensity to support the military, if one chooses to promote the military, its competition may choose not to and support another cause, simply based on revenue attempting to attract a different market segment (Zeuschner, 1997).

Personal preferences of the individual gatekeeper have had an influence on selection and rejection since research into this area began, (Shoemaker, 1991). If the campaign themes and products better inform the individual manning the gate, this too may increase the amount of space allocated to hometown news.

Once gatekeeping methods can be explained we then look at the concept which bonds the internal and external audience with symbols, signs, and salient features of any organization. The concept of organizational identity.

Organizational identity
Organizational identity is critical when trying to understand how and why institutions develop business and mission practices, and how each individual makes up the greater whole of the organization. The first question we must answer is, What is identity? Webster's dictionary defines identity as sameness of essential or generic character in different instances (1990). Others still may define it as differentiating (Marwick & Fill, 2002), or simply as a guide to knowing self and others (Van Rekom, 1997). However you define it, identity is something that is critical to finding out whom we are and where we are going.

Military organizations use identity to present an image of what it is like to be a soldier, sailor, airman or marine. Think about what each of those means to you and you will find the inward identity of the military which is outwardly represented in uniform, attitude, and mission. In relation Army and Air Force Hometown News, internal and external organizational identity is critical in the understanding of what each individual does to make up the greater whole of the military machine. Hometown news must articulate to both the internal and external audiences the importance of what we do, how we do it, and why.

As individuals are identified through self and others, so is the organization as a whole. External identification is what people outside of your organization think and relate to your organization. Jablin and Putnam (2001) think external identity is a clearly distinctive identity meant to persuade and affect people outside of an organization. Vermeulen (2001) says recognizable items could be through the people of the organization, the buildings, or products or services offered by the company. These important assets act as symbols or windows for people outside of your organization to look in.

A good example of the meaning of symbols in external identity is the Air Force's move to a new symbol in 2000. According to Minnick (2000, March 24) the Air Force Chief of Public Affairs, Brigadier General Ronald Rand, said that the new Air Force does not have a symbol and has never had a symbol that made people "understand the important work we do and how well we do it". Additionally the new symbol would help the people within the organization be "recognized and appreciated" for all their hard work (Rand in Minnick, 2000). This recognition is multi leveled in the case of the Air Force symbol. The Air Force competes with the Army, Navy and Marines for young men and women in the civilian sector without the tradition and identification of those service components. Gioia and Thomas (1996) reason that managers must use an organization's current and historical identity to create new images and symbols (pp. 394-395). Rand and other Air Force leaders hoped that recruits and taxpayers alike would identify with the new symbol and bring an unspoken sign that would relate to air and space superiority (Bosker, 2000). The Air Force tested the new symbol with both an internal and external survey.

The internal identity of an organization is how employees recognize and relate to the images and symbols of their organization. Markwick and Fill (1997) note that corporate identity is transmitted internally through dress codes, language, and policies that shape and mold the organizations image (p. 396). It's also transmitted through the employee being a stakeholder in the process and the ability of that individual to present the image in a relevant and encompassing manner.

Going back to the Air Force symbol change as an example, Gioia and Thomas (1996) suggest that with internal identity, design change can influence thought and action of management. The Air Force created a new symbol at the very same time they were shifting their mission concept going from just an air force to an air and space force. With this ideological shift came a need to change both the internal and the external image which was partly accomplished through a symbol. Gioia and Thomas (1996) in their research of higher institutes of learning, believe that an "influential avenue to a changed identity is a changed image" (p. 398). Internally leaders within the organization use the input and feeling of the people to device images that represent organizational goals, strategy, and values. This forms identity, and as Gioia and Thomas (1996) reason, allows the organization to show it is capable of change to meet the test of time therefore meeting the needs of both internal and external stakeholders.

Hometown News attempts to connect with its internal identity through the messages it releases into civilian mass media. While the soliders, sailors, airman, and marines conduct missions from Alabama to Zimbabwe, their stories are told in their home towns where family and friends can recognize the critical contribution each individual plays in national defense. Hopefully the external identity conveyed through these media lead the uniformed person to feel he or she is part of the bigger picture and not just another number. This has the possibility of positively affecting retention, morale, and mission capability and the possible affects on national defense and operational capability cannot be underestimated.

To further investigate this possible connection we must take a look the objective of Hometown News and rationale and hypothesis of this study.