Academic journal article Newspaper Research Journal

Computer Adoption Levels of Iowa Dailies and Weeklies

Academic journal article Newspaper Research Journal

Computer Adoption Levels of Iowa Dailies and Weeklies

Article excerpt

The incorporation of computer technologies into the newspaper industry has been hailed by some as ranking in importance with the Gutenberg press and offset printing.

While claims about the advantages of computer adoption by newspapers are common, systematically-derived, empirical information on the extent of actual computer use and the types of applications varies widely, with some topics being relatively well researched while others have been virtually ignored. Furthermore, there are many examples of new information-related technologies that the popular media have ballyhooed as can't miss innovations but have failed to live up to their billing.

For example, in 1984 the New York Times reported that videotex terminals to deliver news and other information into American homes would be "as common as telephones." Also in 1984, the Washington Post reported that home delivered videotex "will grow to about 1.9 million by the end of 1988." The reality is that at its zenith videotex was barely perceptible in the home market or, for the most part, elsewhere in the U.S.

There is a recurring pattern to research concerning innovations such as newspaper computerization. Since much of the excitement about new technologies comes when the innovation is first introduced, there also is a peak of research interest at this time. The result is predominantly studies of relatively early adopters concentrated on a limited number of obvious applications.

Studies to date on computer adoption by newspapers have tended to focus on large dailies, which are the first to adopt, and have virtually ignored weeklies. Also, the research has been narrowly focussed on a very few of the many possibilities for computer use by newspapers such as online database searches and pagination. For example, on the advertising side of the paper computers can be used to receive and send ads, production personnel can use computers to design and build ads, and business personnel can bill advertisers, applications little studied to date.

Therefore, the purpose of this research was to examine computer use for a wide range of applications in information management, production and business operations. This study further sought to expand the research by examining computer uses at large and small weeklies as well as large and small dailies.

Research literature

Although research in the area of computer adoption by newspapers per se is not abundant, there are findings that are valuable in guiding further inquiry.

Research in the area of diffusion of innovations provides a useful framework for interpreting data on computer adoption by newspapers. In a recent synthesis, Everett Rogers noted that the first 2.5 percent who adopt a new practice are considered innovators. They tend to be risk takers with substantial resources who can afford to make mistakes. Consequently, while they are important in demonstrating how a new practice can be used, they often are not opinion leaders whom others will follow.

The second group to adopt, which diffusion theorists have named early adopters, constitute the next 13.5 percent. Since this group includes many of the opinion leaders, adoption by them helps promote and diffuse the innovation through the rest of the community.

These two groups combine for the first 16 percent in the adoption continuum and represent the first of two thresholds of interest in this study since if the opinion leaders can be convinced to adopt an innovation, theoretically the others should follow. In fact, some researchers have observed that when adoption progresses much above 16 percent it reaches what they call a tipping point, where adoption accelerates rapidly.

The early majority, the next 34 percent, follow the example of the early adopters but seldom take the lead themselves. This group, combined with the innovators and early adopters, accounts for the earliest 50 percent of adopters, which is the second target threshold in this study because when half of the potential use of an innovation is reached it is considered adopted. …

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