Political information choices in a media saturated environment : credibility or convenience?

Moody, Kim Elizabeth (2011) Political information choices in a media saturated environment : credibility or convenience? PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.

Abstract

This thesis examines the ways in which citizens find out about socio-political issues. The project set out to discover how audience characteristics such as scepticism towards the media, gratifications sought, need for cognition and political interest influence information selection. While most previous information choice studies have focused on how individuals select from a narrow range of media types, this thesis considered a much wider sweep of the information landscape. This approach was taken to obtain an understanding of information choices in a more authentic context - in everyday life, people are not simply restricted to one or two news sources. Rather, they may obtain political information from a vast range of information sources, including media sources (e.g. radio, television, newspapers) and sources from beyond the media (eg. interpersonal sources, public speaking events, social networking websites). Thus, the study included both media and non-news media information sources. Data collection for the project consisted of a written, postal survey. The survey was administered to a probability sample in the greater Brisbane region, which is the third largest city in Australia. Data was collected during March and April 2008, approximately four months after the 2007 Australian Federal Election. Hence, the study was conducted in a non-election context. 585 usable surveys were obtained. In addition to measuring the attitudinal characteristics listed above, respondents were surveyed as to which information sources (eg. television shows, radio stations, websites and festivals) they usually use to find out about socio-political issues. Multiple linear regression analysis was conducted to explore patterns of influence between the audience characteristics and information consumption patterns. The results of this analysis indicated an apparent difference between the way citizens use news media sources and the way they use information sources from beyond the news media. In essence, it appears that non-news media information sources are used very deliberately to seek socio-political information, while media sources are used in a less purposeful way. If media use in a non-election context, such as that of the present study, is not primarily concerned with deliberate information seeking, media use must instead have other primary purposes, with political information acquisition as either a secondary driver, or a by-product of that primary purpose. It appears, then, that political information consumption in a media-saturated society is more about routine ‘practices’ than it is about ‘information seeking’. The suggestion that media use is no longer primarily concerned with information seeking, but rather, is simply a behaviour which occurs within the broader set of everyday practices reflects Couldry’s (2004) media as practice paradigm. These findings highlight the need for more authentic and holistic contexts for media research. It is insufficient to consider information choices in isolation, or even from a wider range of information sources, such as that incorporated in the present study. Future media research must take greater account of the broader social contexts and practices in which media-oriented behaviours occur. The findings also call into question the previously assumed centrality of trust to information selection decisions. Citizens regularly use media they do not trust to find out about politics. If people are willing to use information sources they do not trust for democratically important topics such as politics, it is important that citizens possess the media literacy skills to effectively understand and evaluate the information they are presented with. Without the application of such media literacy skills, a steady diet of ‘fast food’ media may result in uninformed or misinformed voting decisions, which have implications for the effectiveness of democratic processes. This research has emphasized the need for further holistic and authentically contextualised media use research, to better understand how citizens use information sources to find out about important topics such as politics.

Impact and interest:

3 citations in Web of Science®
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ID Code: 46042
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Sternberg, Jason, Bean, Clive, Bruce, Christine, & Partridge, Helen
Additional Information: Recipient of 2011 Outstanding Doctoral Thesis Award
Keywords: media as practice, media literacy, media diets, information repertoires, political information, media scepticism, need for cognition, media gratifications, human information behaviour, political communication, Australia, ODTA
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Creative Industries Faculty
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 19 Sep 2011 03:00
Last Modified: 04 Jun 2013 03:56

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