Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Informing Citizens: How People with Different Levels of Education Process Television, Newspaper, and Web News

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Informing Citizens: How People with Different Levels of Education Process Television, Newspaper, and Web News

Article excerpt

The early years of the twenty-first century are likely to be remembered, at least in news media circles, for a staggering decline in traditional news media use and a correlating growth in Web news consumption (Project for Excellence in Journalism, 2005). Despite this apparent transition in where people get news information, a growing body of survey findings shows that Web use is not randomly distributed across demographic groups (Dutton, Gillett, McKnight, & Peltu, 2003; Norris, 2001). In terms of socioeconomic status, Web users are at the middle to high end, and according to knowledge gap literature, this is the group that acquires mediated information more efficiently than those members of society who inhabit lower socioeconomic strata (see Gaziano, 1997; Viswanath & Finnegan, 1996). The pressing question is how these changing patterns in news channel use might influence knowledge gaps, informed citizenship, and ultimately democracy. This study tests knowledge gap formation at the intersection of media channels and education groups by focusing on individual-level information processing dimensions. After more than 100 survey studies, the knowledge gap hypothesis has entered a phase of experimental investigation. The goal here is to advance experimental work on the knowledge gap, testing cognition as one potential micro-level explanation for a macro-level phenomenon.

Knowledge Gain: Education and Channel

The Limited Capacity Model of Mediated Message Processing (LC3MP) provides a micro perspective on the process whereby participants encode (measured through recognition memory), store (measured through cued recall), and retrieve information (measured through free recall). This model parses out cognitive processes along three dimensions without treating it as a linear procedure. For example, encoded information might not be stored at all, or already stored information might be used to support the encoding process (Lang, 2000). Moreover, the three sub-processes often compete for a limited pool of cognitive resources. In a state of cognitive overload, one or more process will suffer at the expense of the other. But it could also happen that the cognitive system is under-engaged by stimuli--leading to poor processing overall, or during individual sub-processes. In this sense, testing how well participants perform for each sub-process gives a comprehensive account of knowledge gain. A news story might be remembered, but details about it or the main point of importance might not be remembered.

Knowledge gap researchers commonly employ education level of participants as an indicator of socioeconomic status. Likewise, Grabe, Lang, Zhou and Bolls (2000) provided experimental evidence that adults with a high school (or less) education encode news information less efficiently than those with college degrees. This study offered results related to television news only and did not test for the storage or retrieval dimensions of memory. Other knowledge gap literature suggests that education level might also impact storage and retrieval processes. In fact, Park and Kosicki (1995) argue that educated media users may remember more information than less educated ones because their thought processes and ability to make connections between related pieces of information are more elaborated. This connectedness between chunks of information increases the amounts of information stored (Craik & Lockhart, 1972; Jerit, Barabas, & Bolsen, 2006). Similarly, Chew and Palmer (1994) and Rogers (1976) argue that less educated people may have less developed cognitive abilities to select, store, and retrieve information, suggesting they may gain less knowledge than higher educated people when exposed to the same information. It is possible that the educational processes that develop reading and writing skills enhance the ability to process visual and aural information (Park & Kosicki, 1995). These research findings inform the first hypothesis:

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