The Status of Internet-Based Research in Five Leading Communication Journals, 1994-1999

By Tomasello, Tami K. | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

The Status of Internet-Based Research in Five Leading Communication Journals, 1994-1999


Tomasello, Tami K., Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


In light of recent calls to action regarding Internet research, this study examines the con tent,frequency, and pattern of published Internet-based research articles in five leading communication journals for the primary purpose of assessing how these journals have kept pace with the Internet's influence on the communication process. A content analysis of 961 articles reveals that less than 4 percent focused on the Internet during the examined six-year timeframe. However, the total number of Internet-related articles published per year appeared to increase over time. Several challenges faced by communication researchers and journals in positioning the Internet within the discipline are discussed.

Introduction

Although the Internet may be portrayed as a communication technology unique to the 1990s, this depiction is somewhat misleading. The Internet's origins are in fact traceable to the 1960s development of the military-funded communication network, ARPANET, with the Internet officially making its debut as a civilian tool for communication in 1983.1 However, widespread public awareness of the Internet's existence did not occur within the United States until the early 1990s when it was privatized and online services such as America Online (AOL) were developed to serve the general public.2, 3 Hence, there is a tendency to think of it as a turn-of-the-twenty-first-century phenomenon.

Prior to the 1990s, early public access to the Internet was limited mostly to government agencies, universities, and computer-related organizations, such as hardware and software developers. Initially, users experienced the Internet in the form of text-based communication applications such as e-mail and navigation systems such as Telnet.4 In 1992, the World Wide Web (WWW) became publicly available in the United States5 and began to diffuse widely in 1993 with the release of the iconbased web browser Mosaic, which made web navigation more "user friendly" and visually appealing.6 Subsequently, use of the Web helped to popularize the Internet in general.7

As use of the Internet has shifted from a small community of researchers and government employees to a worldwide community, researchers recognize the Internet as an important area in need of study. The widespread diffusion and adoption of the Internet in the United States and abroad provides scholars with numerous research opportunities. Because the Internet functions as a channel for communication, this is especially true for the field of communication. However, as with any innovation, it can be difficult at first to know how to approach the investigation of an innovation's contribution to and effects on the society into which it is introduced. With regard to the Internet, communication researchers, as well as others, must grapple with numerous decisions, such as determining how applicable existing theories and methods of inquiry are to this newest communication technology.

While the arguments for why and how to study the Internet vary, a common theme to arise within our discipline concerns the unique opportunity that today's communication scholars have to witness and record, first hand, the introduction of a major communication technology. Scholarly journals are one forum where communication researchers record the results of their research for the benefit of current and future generations of scholars. Published articles inform other researchers of the types of approaches being used to study a wide variety of topics, including the Internet. A number of disciplines are conducting Internet research as is evident when searching electronic databases. For example, a simple keyword search conducted in December 1999 in the Social Sciences Abstracts database on the term "Internet" yielded a return of 969 articles published across a diversity of disciplines, most notably in the areas of business, demographics, law, and policy studies.

Each discipline, including communication, typically contains a core set of journals considered to be "leaders" among all others in terms of their coverage of subject matter, length of publication, and quality of published articles. …

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