Capstone Project, Class 04C
Air Force Mass Media: Which Sources are Chosen By Who and Why


This study examined Air Force communication use. The first two predictions posited relationships between professional and community involvment, respectively, and communication use. The results indicated that those Air Force members who are more motivated toward professional and community activities are less inclined to utilize most communication forms, such as: base newspapers, base Web sites, Air Force Web sites, commanders’ access channels, etc. Thus, survey results failed to support the hypothesis. Instead of being more inclined to use communication, those more motivated toward professional and community activities are significantly less likely to utilize the base newspapers, Air Force and base Web sites, and commanders’ access channels, etc. This lack of support for both hypotheses could have occurred for several reasons, but one speculation is that the media user who is interested in professional or community activities is not utilizing any of the Air Force media venues because they cannot find it there. This indicates that base newspapers, Air Force Link, commanders' access channels, etc. perhaps do not publish articles relevant to community and professional activities.

Hypotheses 3 & 4 used the ELM and HSM to predict that senior officers and senior noncommissioned officers have a higher need for cognition and will therefore actively process information and seek out Air Force print mediums. The results suggested that this is not necessarily the case. Indeed, this response group was less likely to actively process information as indicated by their lack of involvement. This result is not indicative of a failure of the theories to predict behavior but may be a reflection of the insufficient operationalization of the involvement variable (see Appendix A, question 2). The instrument attempted to measure involvement by asking the importance of certain Air Forces related topics, e.g., quality of life, fitness, retention, etc. A respondent’s high rating of importance on these issues was interpreted as high involvement. An individual, who is highly involved in an issue, will be motivated to elaborate on that issue, leading to active/central route processing (Booth-Butterfield & Welbourne, 2002). Although speculative at best, this inverse relationship between senior rank and involvement might be explained by the idea that the ratings given to the issues listed in the questionnaire (Appendix A) are the issues that are not typically found in the base newspaper or Airman Magazine, although deemed important to the respondent. Another possible explanation could be that the respondents found the issues designed to measure involvement as “not in their lane.” Military members are well known for being concerned only with those things that are germane to their specific function in the military. It is not inconceivable that a petroleum specialist in the rank of Airman 1st Class working on the flight line would be highly involved or find personal relevance in issues such as base realignment and closure, recruiting challenges, or outer space programs. Both of these possible explanations serve as a guide to future researchers to better operationalize the involvement variable. In addition, there was no support for the prediction that junior enlisted and junior officers are less involved and therefore passively process information. Also, there was no support for the prediction that they prefer using news mediums associated with passive processing according to the HSM. Indeed, this response group did not prefer any of the Air Force internal information products. Simply put, junior grade airmen and officers are not consuming base newspapers, Air Force Link, Air Force Radio or Television News, nor do they view the Commander’s Access Channel. These findings were statistically significant. However, the problem remains that the operationalization of involvement may not be optimal.

Hypothesis 5 posited that Air Force members assign greater credibility to communication venues that feature either more immediate contact or are more visual. Respondents were asked to rate importance and believability of 18 information sources on a 10-point scale with 1 being “not at all important/believable” to 10 being “very important/very believable.”
While the results supported the hypothesis of high credibility for more immediate contact, it did not support the more visual component. Ibelema and Powell (2001) found that the more pleasant a person found a source to be, the more it enhanced the perception of competence. McCroskey and Wheeless (1976) defined competence as the extent to which a source or person is perceived as knowledgeable, which is evident in the fact that the unit commander was found to be higher in credibility than all other information sources. The top 3 immediate contact forms that are most credible are unit commander, first sergeant and direct supervisor (see Table 1). These results were significant in each instance.The second part of the hypothesis which examined whether or not the participants would rate more visual communication higher was not supported. The more visual sources actually yielded a lower mean score versus the less visual sources (more immediate contact). Of the less visual sources, the top three scores were, Air Force Policy Letter Digest, civlian Web sites and Aim Points. One explanation for the lack of support for the more visual information sources being considered more credible was explained by McCroskey and Wheeless in 1976, when they stated that credibility is a multidimensional source that “can be perceived positively on some dimensions and not on others” (p. 105). According to Hennessy (1970), within media, important differences exist between sources the public considers more objective and those they distrust. The message may be considered trustworthy, but may be rejected when it is in a medium that is considered untrustworthy (Hennessey, 1970). For example, Air Force base newspaper staffs generally consist of junior enlisted members. While the news and information they are providing about Air Force or base issues might be trustworthy in different media venues, the fact that it is being delivered by someone of lower rank might be viewed by others as untrustworthy based on the airman’s experience level.

Finally, in Research Question 1, the study explored the relationship between education and communication use. This data suggests that those who are more educated are more inclined to read the base newspaper and less inclined to read Air Force Policy Letter Digest and view the Commander’s Access Channel. Those that are higher educated tend to be higher ranking individuals typically and we speculate that because they are in a “more important” role as a higher educated/higher ranking Air Force members, they would need to be more knowledgeable about base activities and Air Force news, etc. and therefore be more inclined to read the base newspaper. The Commander’s Access Channel, being more of a passive medium (TV) may not appeal to the higher educated as illustrated through the Heuristic Systematic Model. We speculate that these higher educated people fail to frequently read the Air Force Policy Letter Digest, because they are already familiar with much of Air Force policy. Also due to the fact that the higher educated typically are older, they may be set in their ways with Air Force policy and see little reason for reading about updated or new policies considering they are probably closer to retirement than the lower educated/lower ranking.