It is important to understand the operational definitions within any study. Operational definitions describe what is being measured so that the study can be repeated by someone else (Sommer & Sommer, 1997). Operational definitions within this project are no exception. The terms used within this project must be understood by anyone who deals with reporting bad news within military organizations. Additionally, terms must be defined operatively by the researcher so that anyone reading the research will understand precisely the meaning the researcher applied to the term (Leedy, 1993).
The focus of bad news reporting is often categorized under crisis communications or strategic communications. Strategic communications refers to goal setting, situational knowledge, communication competence, and anxiety management (OíHair, Friedrich & Shaver, 1995). While this paper is focused at the tactical level of reporting bad news, this strategic framework still applies in the choice of whether to employ novel tactics.
In this study, bad news refers to those issues that are not good news but are also not necessarily crisis issues. These non-crisis issues include incidents that are fairly routine on military installations, would embarrass the military locally, and which might invite unwelcome questions and scrutiny from the local community. Incidents could include: servicemembers caught driving while under the influence of alcohol; occurrences of sexual harassment, crime, and unwed pregnancies, whether perpetrated by servicemembers or their dependents; military readiness issues; minor training mishaps; recruiting violations, and many other issues that are minor in nature but that either interest or affect the militaryís relationship with the local community. Within communities that include a military installation, these non-crisis situations occur on a regular basis.
Undoubtedly, some installations do a better job than others in reporting these incidents. This is often a strategic choice made by the military command. While the installationís public affairs officer is usually the point person for releasing all news, whether good or bad, release of bad news usually involves the installationís commanding officer or executive officer. Thus, the term military command operationalized includes the local installationís public affairs officer (or office) in advisement with the local chain of command up to, and usually including, the commanding officer. For this studyís purposes, the low-impact nature of local bad news would not require prior release approval from any authority outside of the local installation. In crisis situations, the local public affairs officer would normally consult with their serviceís headquarters in the Pentagon, whose division of public affairs might consult with the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs in determining release parameters.
The term release instrument is complex and has many implications in its operationalization. First, it refers to a hand or electronically-delivered, standardized press release or media advisory proactively provided to both electronic and print media in the local community. Note that the instrument must be proactive, meaning it precedes any request from the community and/or media for information pertinent to the bad news subject matter. Second, the instrument can be verbally delivered in instances where a member of the command interacts with opinion leaders in the community, such as delivering the information at speeches to local community groups. At times this tactic may be practical, necessary, or looked upon as desirable. In face-to-face interactions with non-media entities, verbal release of the bad news is acceptable. However, in releasing the bad news to media, the press release itself must exchange hands, fax machines, or e-mail. Confirmed delivery of the press release to the media is adequate to achieve release of the bad news. Whether the media report the bad news is inconsequential to this study, for actual reporting of any news, good or bad, is outside the influence of the military. Third, the release instrument must adhere to the four filters advanced in information manipulation theory. The release should contain information that is adequate in quantity, quality, veracity, and clarity. Otherwise, receivers may perceive deception. Naturally, the press release will be subject to normal government restrictions of security, accuracy, policy and propriety. Last, the release must contain a communication objective key to this experiment. Every press release containing bad news should contain a strongly worded sentence or quote from the public affairs officer or commanding officer advancing the installationís proactive position on its relationship with the community. An example of the communication objective could be: "This base and all of its servicemembers want to be responsible citizens of our community. Thatís why it is important to us to be as open as possible about our operations and people, including open discussion of our strengths and weaknesses." Local community
Local community defined simply means the town within the immediate vicinity of the installation or which considers itself to be consequentially affected by the installationís operations. For large installations encompassing sizable geographic boundaries, the definition of "local community" should include all of the towns on their boundaries or affected by their operations. Further, if these communities do not have indigenous media outlets, then the military command must include media outlets which service their local community, while geographically separated, knowing that the outlets will provide the news to the local community and any other communities constituting the mediaís served audience.
Credibility and legitimacy
This study will operationalize the idea of credibility according to two broadly-accepted Likert-type, semantic differential scales: the Leathers Personal Credibility Scale and the McCroskey and Jenson Source Credibility Scale (McCroskey, 1966; Powell & Wanzenried, 1995). Both scales have proven validity and reliability (Tucker, 1971; McCroskey & Young, 1981; Wanzenried & Powell, 1993). The scales measure three areas of credibility: competency, character, and charisma or dynamism. Each of these areas have sets of semantic differentials for measurement of particular sub-factors (see Table 1). In measurement of the sub-factors, the components of credibility, and thus the construct itself, can be measured. The presence or lack of organizational legitimacy can be inferred from the measurement of credibility.
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