Military Review English Edition November-December 2015 - Page 19

COMMUNICATION STRATEGIES I n 1422, Charles VI of France died, and Charles VII ascended the throne moments later as, according to tradition, the Duke of Uzès announced, “The King is dead, long live the King!” (translated from French).1 Just as old kings die and are replaced by new kings, institutions and social perspectives gain and lose favor over time, and sometimes overnight. Traditional military tactical guidelines and operational principles also evolve. Without change, institutions weaken and atrophy. In the U.S. Army, changes are necessary and inevitable. Changes to institutional policies and principles have to be communicated to soldiers in a way that effectively alters their attitudes and behavior. Institutional changes have to be communicated to the general public as well. Therefore, to positively influence change, Army leaders must ensure their messages are reaching their intended audiences while considering how messages from competing sources influence those audiences. One effective way to analyze the influence of organizational messages is by applying the concepts of agenda setting, media melding, and agendamelding. Communication research into these concepts suggests leaders can monitor organizational performance and adjust communication approaches to responsibly influence institutional change. Agenda Setting What is agenda setting? Political scientist Bernard Cohen in the early 1960s discovered that what people knew about foreign affairs was closely related to the editorial selection of items covered in the news media they followed (i.e., media connect people and set a news agenda). This correlation was relatively simple to establish in Cohen’s time because the dominant news media comprised few television networks, radio stations, print newspapers, and magazines. The topics featured in the news among the handful of powerful media of the time could be compared rather easily to surveys of public awareness of issues. Cohen’s research led him to argue that the press was not especially effective in telling people what to think but was exceptionally powerful in telling people what to think—and talk— about.2 This, in a phrase, is agenda setting: media frame and focus community interest on a discrete set of issues by means of regular news coverage. MILITARY REVIEW  November-December 2015 Since then, hundreds of media studies have confirmed the observation that news media influence which issues and topics people consider most important and are worthy of thinking and talking about, to the exclusion of other important issues and topics of possible interest available.3 Therefore, in general, though the media usually do not change people’s values and attitudes by themselves, they do frame a picture of the world at large for their audiences. This limits the array of issues and topics about which public attitudes and values are subsequently formed. Thus, the agendasetting function of the media has an immensely powerful indirect influence on public attitudes and values. Statistical Correlations between the Media and Public Agendas To explore the influence of media news agendas on the public, researchers have employed sophisticated research models based on statistical analysis. Statistical correlation is one such analytical tool that has been used to demonstrate the power of agenda setting by determining the level of media-audience agenda agreement on public-interest issues. Correlations between factors defined as variables can help with understanding relationships even if they cannot directly identify and prove cause and effect. For media research on agenda setting, the scale of correlation ranges from 1.00 (perfect agreement) to 0.00 (no agreement at all). In other words, among a sample group from a designated audience, a correlation of +1.00 would mean that the media and members of the sample group agreed completely on the importance of all topics mentioned in the news, from most to least emphasized. Conversely, a correlation of zero would mean there was no media and sample group agreement whatsoever on the importance of those topics. (There can even be a –1.00 correlation, which means the public completely rejects the media emphasis, not a realistic situation normally.) Using statistical correlation as a metric for analysis, studies of media influence have consistently demonstrated that there is a strong relationship between topics selected by the media as newsworthy and topics perceived by the public as important to the communit y (defined as, say, a correlation of .65 or higher). Such findings consistently demonstrate the significant agenda-setting power of the news media. 17