News: Reaching out for Connectivity
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.
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).
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
"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,
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,
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 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
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.