Exploring the Relationship between Media Source and Current Events Knowledge
 
Student Researchers

Lauren Dupont, Rebecca Edgar, Katie Mayer, & Michelle McMurty (BA Students)
This paper is based on a project from an undergraduate research methods course.

Faculty Supervisor

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar

Introduction

College students are an important target sample of news use because they fraternize with different news media sources during their college years. The college years are a period of socialization to using different media, which provide news and information about adult roles. Previous research suggests that the news medium or combination of media that college students use in their college years may influence later political awareness, knowledge, and activity. Specifically, this study examines the relationship between usage of a specific medium source usage and the level of current events knowledge.

Hypotheses

The research question led to the following hypotheses:

H1: Different news media sources have a differential impact on knowledge, attitudes and opinions regarding current affairs.

H2: The degree of usage of a specific medium will influence individual knowledge. Specifically, greater the print media use, higher the knowledge of current events, whereas broadcast news viewing will be negatively associated with knowledge.

H3: Demographic differences will affect level of knowledge of current affairs. Generally, political science majors will have a higher score than other majors.

Method

A total of ninety-seven respondents were randomly chosen and administered a paper-and-pencil survey. The survey instrument had questions pertaining to demographics, specific media use and media preference for information seeking. In addition, it also had a number of current event questions in the areas of local, national and international news, as well as business, sports and entertainment.

Results

A 'Knowledge' index was created by summing up the correct answers to the current events questions. This was used as a measure of knowledge of current events. Also, an 'Overall Feeling' index for each medium was created by combining the responses to questions concerning how often respondents use each media source and their preference for a particular media source for information gathering.

H1: Supported. Different news media sources have a differential impact on knowledge, attitudes and opinions regarding current affairs.

H2: Partially supported. A positive correlation between newspapers and knowledge was found; there was a negative correlation between radio and knowledge. However, there were no significant findings with regard to television and magazines.

H3: Not supported. Political science majors did not have significantly higher scores than other majors.

Conclusions

The data lend support to the notion that the more one uses a particular medium, the more they prefer it as a source of information. There are also some interesting implications for researchers as well as practitioners. For example, radio seems to be associated with entertainment and appears to be ineffective as a source of information. Newspapers, on the other hand, are reckoned to be the best sources of information. Since this study examined the efficacy of different media, an important direction for future research would be to examine the computer, or more specifically, the Internet, as a source of information.

For more details regarding the study contact

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar by e-mail at sss12@psu.edu or by telephone at (814) 865-2173

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Media Effects Research Lab at College of Communications, Penn State University