Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Where Is My Issue? the Influence of News Coverage and Personal Issue Importance on Subsequent Information Selection on the Web

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Where Is My Issue? the Influence of News Coverage and Personal Issue Importance on Subsequent Information Selection on the Web

Article excerpt

In the past few decades, the Web has grown exponentially and become an important source of political information. Recent statistics show that in 1 month alone (March 2007), approximately 210 million people in the United States used the Internet at least once (Nielsen/NetRatings, 2007). During the 2004 election, 75 million Americans (37% of the adult population) used the Internet for political information acquisition; 18% of these users said the Internet was their primary source of political information, according to a study by Pew Internet & American Life (2005).

Coinciding with this expanded use of the Web, network television viewership and newspaper readership have declined. Indeed, many believe that network television viewing and newspaper circulation will continue to diminish. Coffey and Stipp (1997), for instance, suggest that traditional media uses will decline over time because younger generations will grow up using computers more than their parents' generation and because the computer now replaces other free-time activities. Television news viewing in particular appears to be most vulnerable to this decline. Rogers (1985) found that these early adopters of computers tend to spend less time viewing television. Accordingly, the Pew survey indicated that about 27% of respondents replaced television viewing with the Web (Pew Research Center, 1997).

However, some researchers argue that the shift from traditional news to reliance on the Web is, at best, exaggerated. While the Web has replaced some outlets as a source of news consumption, it is less dramatic than some would claim. Ahlers (2006), for instance, illustrated that only 12% of news consumers migrated directly from traditional news media to electronic news media. Furthermore, another 22% of U.S. adults reported that they use the Web as a complement to traditional news media rather than a substitute (Ahlers, 2006; Dutta-Bergman, 2004). Thus, it appears more likely that the Web functions as a supplement, rather than a substitute, to traditional news media.

Little is known, however, about how traditional news media influence the patterns of Web use (cf. Dutta-Bergman, 2004). What theories offer an insight into the relationship between traditional news and Web uses? If the Web serves as a supplement or a complement to traditional news media, how does this take place? This study investigates the way news coverage in the traditional media influences individuals' subsequent Web use patterns in terms of selectivity. By testing three theoretical frameworks that explain individuals' information selection patterns--the accessibility effect from priming, instrumental utility of information, and personal issue importance--this study explores how traditional news media influence what information individuals choose to view on the Web.

What Drives Selectivity on the Web? Three Theories

For nearly 60 years, selectivity has remained an enduring concept in communication research. The concept of selectivity is especially relevant to the new media environment, particularly the Web. Whereas traditional news media focus on larger markets with little interest in tailoring the content to specific markets, information obtained through the Web is almost inherently specialized by topic (e.g., Greenberg, 1999; Rash, 1997; Sunstein, 2001).1 An enormous amount of information is far more accessible on the Web than was previously available through traditional media. In addition, because the Web promotes a high level of interactivity, users can be selectively attentive--and selectively exposed--to information. These two major characteristics of the Web--specialization and interactivity--offer a high potential for increased selectivity (Tewksbury, 2003). While researchers accept that the Web offers a higher level of selectivity and therefore offers greater benefits compared to traditional news media, regrettably little is known about what factors influence individuals' information selection on the Web. …

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