Military public affairs, for more than 50 years, has been primarily attributed to the coverage military operations receive from the national media. Influenced at the highest levels of the federal government - from the White House in coordination with the State Department and the Department of Defense - the national media were effectively mobilized to ensure the American people were kept abreast of the information they had a right or a need to know about major military contingencies. This information exchange -- borne by the defense department’s public information offices, which later became public affairs offices -- was successful during the Normandy invasion of 1944, which resulted in positive coverage, and this ensued for nearly 15 years as the country embarked upon other major military endeavors. Yet, the countless accolades and support service members and military operations once received were replaced with criticism and negative publicity beginning with the Vietnam War and more recently with operations in Bosnia, Somalia and Haiti. Since, fostering healthier military/media relationships has been a primary focus of military public affairs. This is evident by a number of corporate sponsored think-tanks, like the Cantigny Reports, that resume studies on this dichotomy following major military contingencies. However, media relations, while seemingly encompassing of the entire field, is only one of three major roles handled by military public affairs professionals: external media, community relations and internal information.
More focus needs to be given to the latter in relation to research, exploration of effectiveness and efficacy of internal mediums, incorporation of innovative technologies, and policy settings and revisions. The Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines subscribe to internally produced doctrines that govern public affairs maxims and programs, and these policies are established at the defense department level. Yet, many military public affairs offices, at the second and third tier of the organizational structure, and installation commanders are remised in insuring internal information programs and policies receive the same level of think-tank strategies to reach its internal audiences. The realm of internal information deals with the communication channel which bridges the installation commander and the installation population. Categorically, installation commanders and public affairs officers agree that internal information covers issues pertaining to the people, mission and resources, as defined in Department of Defense public affairs manuals. Also, both understand the mission of the services internal information program as a vehicle to keep service members and their families informed -- through electronic and print media -- about policies, programs, news and events that affect their lives. While the mediums public affairs typically use include the installation newspaper and other print vehicles like policy letters, flyers and bulletins, and the installation television and radio programs, the effectiveness of these mediums is not readily studied. This exploratory study looks into how the senders (installation commanders and public affairs officers) and receivers (active duty and reserve service members, civilian employees and their families) within this internal communication cycle define the salience of internal information and the relationship between the underlying motives for medium usage and medium preference in regards to certain demographic variables.
In exploring definitions of internal information, this study focuses on three perspectives as well as the variances and convergence between them. The first perspective is that of the installation commander. This includes the actual commanding officer of the installation and his or her immediate command staff (i.e., key organizational leaders like the Staff Judge Advocate or Civil Engineer, and the senior enlisted advisor). The second perspective is that of the population which encompasses the installation community (i.e., permanent and transient service members, civilian employees, family members and retirees). The third perspective is that of the installation's public affairs staff (i.e., installation public affairs officer and internal information chief). Within each perspective, the underlying question is "What is internal information?"
For most public affairs offices, the need for internal information has been defined by the results of the installation newspaper readership survey. This is because as a policy, the installation newspaper has been the commander’s primary vehicle to orchestrate effective two-way communication between his or her policies and programs and the internal audience. Although the installation newspaper has rated as the medium of choice for internal audiences, it should not serve as the primary, and sometimes the only, measurable tool to assess of the effectiveness of internal information programs. Little research has been done in attempting to define the installation commander's needs for delivering and receiving information from the population, as well as the type of information in question. Outside of newspaper readership surveys, little, if any, attempts have been made to define these needs within the installation population. Consequently, the relationship between the commander’s need to provide information and the information that the population needs begs to be explored.
Finally, the installation newspaper readership surveys has been the status quo, since the newspaper’s inception shortly prior to World War II, to determine how most people get their news and information about the installation and their service’s policies and programs from the installation newspaper. What cannot be ascertained from these surveys is that given a choice, the population would prefer a mean other than the installation newspaper to get this information. Secondly, the installation newspaper surveys do not fully determine the variance in types of information salient to the installation population. By Department of Defense authorization, military installations use Likert-type scales to survey a population (with vague specification of sampling pool) and as a result, the subjects are provided little opportunity to specify the information they would like to receive through internal mediums. Little research has been conducted on "how" the installation population use the newspaper or the "underlying motives" for using the medium, particularly once the population is stratified by various demographic variables. Furthermore, research has not focused on medium preference (incorporating various technological avenues currently established within military and civilian mass communication) and perceived media richness by installation populations, also in relation to various demographic variables. Ultimately these gaps in research and fundamental understanding of internal information by commanders, public affairs professionals, and the installation community have coupled to form an apparently ineffective communication setting which is internal to a vast majority of the U.S. military. A study needs to be conducted to determine the effectiveness of the mediums used to provide internal information.