This study looks at the growing popularity and value of the World Wide
Web as an information dissemination tool for the Department of Defense
and its four service components. Although not new, the World Wide Web offers
advantages and opportunities for public dissemination of information that
are still being discovered. This study applies Rogers’ (1983) Diffusion
of Innovation Theory of mass communication to the military’s use of the
World Wide Web for providing publicly accessible websites. More specifically,
this analysis examines the individuals charged with establishing, maintaining
and operating military websites on the World Wide Web – the military webmaster.
Through results compiled from a pilot survey targeted to 85 military webmasters, the study provides a description of their current level of training, government experience and demographic background. This information is used to propose an approach to developing training.
The World Wide Web is one of the many information dissemination tools available
to the Department of Defense (DoD) and its four service components. Service
chiefs in the United States Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps strongly
encourage military commanders and organizations to utilize the World Wide
Web to convey information quickly and efficiently on a broad range of topics
relating to its activities, objectives, policies, and programs. To accomplish
this informational service, military organizations operate publicly accessible
websites on the World Wide Web.
The World Wide Web is an evolving information dissemination channel that serves a broad audience. It has the power of mass communication in that it can serve the needs of audiences at the local, regional, national, and international levels. In essence, anyone with access to a computer terminal and a telephone connection has access to the World Wide Web. The power and reach of the World Wide Web adds a new dimension to the practice of Public Affairs. Through this electronic medium, messages are instantaneously available for public retrieval and consumption.
Since World War II, information dissemination about military activities and operations has been the purview of Public Affairs professionals. Public Affairs activities are typically divided into three categories: Command Information (CI), Public Information (PI), and Community Relations (CR).
The function of CI is to disseminate information to internal audiences in an organization. These audiences include service members, their immediate families, civilian employees, military retirees, and their families. CI tools available have been newspapers, newsletters, magazines, a local command channel on the servicing cable television outlet, bulletin boards, briefing packets, and posters. The role of CI in an organization is to convey the command’s messages of importance regarding policies and programs to the audience most served by those policies and programs.
PI is the dissemination of information to the external audience. These audiences include various sectors of the American public, international publics and organizations. Conveying messages to such a large audience requires a close relationship with news media organizations.
Local, regional, national, and international news media organizations routinely convey messages through news reporting, investigative reporting, public service programs and messages, advertising, and promotional spots. Public Affairs practitioners at military organizations receive training in media facilitation visits and methods of news release.
CR activities promote and enhance the positive image of military activities and operations within the appropriate civilian community. The audiences served by the CR function may cross over internal and external boundaries. Typically, the CR function targets local and regional community outreach to gain and maintain support for the military. In some instances, national and international audiences become affected.
The DoD recognizes the immense power of the World Wide Web as a communication tool. In policy guidance issued November 25, 1998, the DoD delegated responsibility for operating and maintaining military-related, publicly accessible World Wide Web sites to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs (OASD(PA)). In essence, Public Affairs Officers (PAOs) at all military organizations now have staff responsibility for performing webmaster duties.
Furthermore, the policy directs that the heads of the DoD components (Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps) shall “provide the necessary resources to adequately support the staffing, training, equipping, and funding for web site operations.”