Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Online and in the Know: Uses and Gratifications of the Web for Political Information

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Online and in the Know: Uses and Gratifications of the Web for Political Information

Article excerpt

In advancing an agenda for studying the Internet, several new technology researchers have advocated a uses and gratifications approach to examining the motives for why individuals use the Internet. These calls for the uses and gratifications approach to studying the Internet (Morris & Ogan, 1996; Newhagen & Rafaeli, 1996) echo the pleas of several uses and gratifications scholars (Palmgreen, 1984; Williams, Phillips, & Lum, 1985) to adapt that approach to the study of emerging communication technologies.

While researchers have increasingly turned to the uses and gratifications perspective to examine how individuals use the Internet in general (e.g., collective use of the World Wide Web, e-mail, chat rooms, and other functions; Ferguson & Perse, 2000; Kaye, 1998; Papacharissi & Rubin, 2000) or for commercial purposes (Eighmey, 1997; Korgaonkar & Wolin, 1999), little attention has been paid to how individuals use the Web for political information. Also, few researchers have taken the next step: linking audience Web use motivations with political effects. Finally, while most studies examine how gratifications predict political attitudes, this study examines the other perspective: How will political self-efficacy, the degree to which people believe they can influence the actions of politicians and government, and other political attitudes predict Web motivations?

Uses and Gratifications Approach

The uses and gratifications approach has been viewed by its proponents as a welcome antidote to earlier direct effects models by examining what people do with the media rather than what the media do to people (Katz, 1959). Uses and gratifications researchers assume that audience members actively search out media messages to satisfy certain needs, a change from earlier assumptions that audience members were an undifferentiated mass that passively receives media messages. Specifically, the uses and gratifications approach assumes that (a) the audience is active, (b) media use is goal directed, (c) media consumption can fill a wide range of needs, (d) people have enough self-awareness to know and articulate their reasons for using the media, and (e) gratifications have their origins in media content, exposure, and the social context within which the exposure takes place (McLeod & Becker, 1981). Later scholars have labored to strengthen the concept's theoretical framework by linking it to expectancy value theory (Palmgreen & Rayburn II, 1982) and to dependency theory (Wenner, 1982). To explain why audience motives for using the media do not always appear goal oriented, Rubin (1984) also distinguished between ritualistic television viewing (people who often consume media content out of habit and thus do not have well-defined gratification goals) and instrumental viewing (those who intentionally seek out media content to satisfy certain needs).

Uses and Gratifications and the Internet

While several early uses and gratifications studies examined how people use political information to gratify needs, later studies have moved away from political content to examine media use in general and use of entertainment media (McLeod & Becker, 1981). This has occurred at a time when political apathy and distrust of politics and politicians have increased and when the media increasingly have been blamed for having helped cause this political discontent (Fallows, 1996; Lichter & Noyes, 1996). Few studies have examined what motivates individuals to use the Internet for political information, although the Internet has been hailed as a tool to reinvigorate the democratic process by creating a new electronic public square that allows citizens to directly connect with each other and to contact government officials. The Internet also increases access to political information, which should create a better informed citizenry who participate more in political life and who have a greater influence on the political process (Bimber, 1998; Johnson & Kaye, 1998b, 2000). …

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