The Impact of Web Site Campaigning on Traditional News Media and Public Information Processing

Article excerpt

This study examined the impact of Web site campaigning on traditional news media agendas and on public opinion during the 2000 presidential election campaign. Based on an intermedia agenda-setting approach, this study demonstrated the direction of influence among three media in terms of the flow of information. An agenda-setting impact of Web site campaigning on the public was also identified.

The agenda of the news media has become a principal focus of attention in the agenda-setting process.1 The key question of "who sets the media's agenda?" has revived an interest in the flow of news stories and story ideas among the news media.

Since White's 1949 gatekeeping study, there have been concerns about how the issues in institutional media systems are prioritized.2 The greatest attention has been paid to the relationship among media. For example, based on this concept of an intermedia-agenda function, Roberts and McCombs3 found that the news agendas of different news organizations impact each other. However, inquiry into the intermedia-agenda function has centered around traditional media, mainly newspapers and television. The current study also considers new media influence in the intermedia agenda-setting function.

Since the 1996 political campaign, the Internet has been examined as a means of political information exchange.4 To mobilize supporters, political candidates have begun to convey their voices "on the net." Today nearly all candidates have an online strategy. Most have established Web sites where information on the candidate's background, issue statements, and supporters, as well as day-to-day campaign information, can be obtained. Internet networks can also influence public exposure to information,5 creating opportunities for individuals and groups to affiliate and participate in civic affairs and public life, and active involvement in political campaigns by Internet users has been reported.6 Given the growth of Internet campaigning and the role of the online information user as opinion leader, Internet campaigning should be considered an important channel of information.

Some attention has been paid to the content of Web sites and their implications in social and political life,7 but little attention has been given to how new technologies affect the flow of information in relation to other media channels. This intermedia agenda-setting study examines how political campaign Web sites shape or interact with the traditional news media's agenda.

Literature Review

Political Campaigns through the Internet, Despite divergent claims about the impact of Internet campaigning, the Internet has clearly been a part of a political phenomenon in which a great amount of political information is exchanged between politicians and the public.8 In particular, the Internet has become a valuable source supplementing traditional media such as newspapers and television in information dissemination and retrieval.9

The year 1996 might well be called "The Year of New Media Politics," in that political candidates began rushing to establish a presence "on the net." In the 1996 general elections, fifty of sixty-eight senatorial candidates had home pages.10 The 1996 presidential election was also the first national contest to show evidence of the power of the Internet as a mass medium. According to Meddis,11 Bob Dole's Web site recorded more than four-million "hits."

Scholars do not uniformly believe in the widespread efficacy of the Internet for political information. Not only do some citizens lack Internet access, but many do not actively seek out political information through Web sources.12 Nonetheless, candidates' political Web sites are also accessible news sources for the traditional media. According to Whillock,13 candidates in 1996 routinely sent press releases via their home pages and often directly to journalists' e-mail addresses in an effort to frame campaign issues to their advantage. …