The News Media: Its Role as a Source of Information and News to Active Political Party Members

Condé Grondin (University of New Brunswick)

Deirdre Grondin (University of New Brunswick)

Abstract: The relative contribution of several sources of information in providing information and news about the political affairs of New Brunswick to "active" political party members is explored. As well, differences between the two major linguistic groups (French and English) of New Brunswick in their usage of news media to obtain political information are illustrated.

Résumé: Nous faisons une reconnaissance de la contribution respective de différentes sources d'information utilisées par des adhérents "actifs" de partis politiques pour obtenir de l'information et des nouvelles à propos des affairs politiques du Nouveau Brunswick. Aussi, différences entre les deux groupes linguistiques (francophone et anglophone) de la province dans le processus de se procurer cette information sont illustrées.

The current fashion, in many journalistic analyses of the provincial political scene in Canada, attributes a significant, if not a determining, role to the news media in shaping the political conduct of the average citizen. Certainly, the news media occupy a significant position in the communication-opinion process by virtue of the fact that they provide much of the raw material from which Canadians create their political images and construct their political behaviour. This phenomenon involves an interaction between the source (news media) and the receiver (Canadian citizens). That is, exposure to various news media must occur for these sources of information and news to have a significant impact on the political process. The purpose of this paper is to identify the news media used by "active" political party members, in New Brunswick, to obtain information and news about the political affairs of New Brunswick. As well, we examine whether the members of the two major linguistic groups of New Brunswick (French and English) differ in their use of various news media to obtain political information and news.

Media Use and Political Information

Blumler & McQuail (1968) in Television and Politics: Its Uses and Influences were among the first researchers to study the use of a mass medium as source of political information. Their findings indicated that, when both radio and television were available to British voters, television was preferred as a source of political information.

Nimmo (1970, p. 114), looking at the same issue, from an American perspective, said that studies "dating back to 1959 indicate that increasing proportions of Americans get most of their news from television rather than from radio, news papers or magazines."

In spite of strong arguments by Schwartz (1974) who indicated that radio provides the bulk of political news to voters, Nimmo (1978), when examining the political media, found that television was still the most widely-used source of political news. Likewise, when examining The Effects of Mass Communication on Political Behavior, Kraus & Davis (1978, p. 51) concluded that "a majority of those who do notice some political news in the printed media, nevertheless, feel that they learn more about what is going on politically from the spoken media [radio and television]."

Additionally, when reviewing The Royal Commission on Newspapers (1981), Siegel (1983) found that between 80% and 85% of Canadians indicated that electronic media was the most believable, influential, fair and unbiased media. As well, they felt that electronic media keep them up-to-date on information. He also suggested that although Canadians "continue to be ardent newspaper readers, their enthusiasm for the electronic media, especially television is tremendous" (Siegel, 1983, p. 244).

Siegel's (1983) findings are consistent with those of Rust, Baja, & Haley (1984) which showed television, followed by magazines and newspapers, were the media used most frequently by voters to obtain political information. Furthermore, Beaudry, & Schaffer (1986) observed that, as the "shakeout" among candidates occurs in a campaign, the news media play an increasingly important role. As well, Weaver (1987, p. 262) proposed that the "news media may be highly influential at this stage as candidates seek their support, and interaction between press and contender may help shape issues and images that voters eventually confront."

In summary, researchers have found variations among the media used to obtain political information. However, of the media studied, presently, "television has replaced newspapers as a source of news and political information" (McPhail & McPhail, 1990, p. 369). Whether the use of a medium to obtain information translates into an actual vote is another question. Television, especially television news, may simply be a convenient source of political information for voters. The convenience of television as a news medium may require the support of complementary media to actually influence the political perceptions and attitudes which result in voting patterns. Indeed, Rice & Atkin (1990, p. 270), when comparing television as a source of political information and news to newer technologies, indicated that television use will decrease in the future. They suggested that political campaigns will use a range of media including interactive cable systems, video-cassettes, video-conferencing, electronic mail, personalized direct mail and automated telephone dialing.

Sources of Political Information and News

Data for the study were provided from three province-wide bilingual mail-surveys of members of the Liberal Party (1985) and of the Progressive Conservative Party (1987 and 1989) of New Brunswick.

Overall, the three samples available in the present study were not chosen randomly from the universe of all supporters of the N.B. Liberal Party and/or the Progressive Conservative Party. Thus, it would be invalid to generalize universally on the basis of the data made available for this paper. The three samples of respondents provide only a few "blocks" of data which must be fitted to other blocks of data before formulating generalizations about the amount of political information and news obtained by all "New Brunswickers" from various media sources. Ultimately, this study satisfies only the need of an exploratory investigation. Consequently, the findings reported herein must be interpreted with this in mind. And certainly these findings are, at best, suggestive rather than validating, heuristic rather than conclusive.

Results

The public at large is continuously bombarded with political reports disseminated through various media channels. Hardly a day passes without provincial politicians and issues appearing on television, in newspapers and over the radio. Political commercials and advertisements, public policy announcements, debates, candidate's news conferences, political speeches by party leaders and the deliberations of the provincial legislature combine to form a weekly, if not a daily, diet of political news for the people of New Brunswick. In fact, it is widely accepted that much of the information about the political process and issues comes to provincial audiences through the news media.

In an attempt to assess the relative role of various media to provide "political party activists" with information and news about provincial politics, respondents were asked to indicate whether they acquired a great deal, some, hardly any or no information from each news medium. The results for the three data bases are presented in Table 1. Although it appears that respondents rarely rely exclusively on any one source of information, the findings that emerge from the three data bases suggest that television is the primary source of information. As might be expected, 48.5%, 54.2%, and 45.7%, respectively, of the respondents indicated that they obtain "a great deal" of their political news from television. Likewise, another 44.6%, 41.1%, and 50.4% of the samples said they gain "some" news from television.

Table 1
Sources of Political Information and News for All Respondents
Data
Sources Bases A great deal Some Hardly any None at all
Radio 1984 39.4% (138) 54.0% (189) 6.0% (21) .6% (2)
1986 34.8 (54) 57.1 (92) 6.8 (11) 1.2 (2)
1989 30.2 (100) 51.4 (170) 15.7 (52) 2.7 (9)
Television 1984 48.5 (175) 44.6 (161) 6.4 (23) .6 (2)
1986 54.2 (91) 41.1 (69) 4.2 (7) .6 (1)
1989 45.7 (156) 50.4 (172) 2.9 (10) .9 (3)
Daily Gleaner 1984 11.4 (29) 19.6 (50) 8.2 (21) 60.8 (155)
(Fredericton) 1986 14.4 (20) 30.9 (43) 13.7 (19) 41.0 (57)
1989 14.8 (38) 17.6 (45) 9.4 (24) 58.2 (149)
New Brunswick 1984 38.8 (120) 30.7 (95) 8.7 (27) 21.7 (67)
Telegraph-Journal 1986 30.3 (46) 42.1 (64) 7.2 (11) 20.4 (31)
(Saint John) 1989 35.0 (105) 37.0 (111) 8.7 (26) 19.3 (58)
Evening Times Globe 1984 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
(Saint John) 1986 5.4 (7) 9.2 (12) 10.0 (13) 75.4 (98)
1989 12.5 (32) 15.6 (40) 7.0 (18) 65.0 (167)
Times-Transcript 1984 11.4 (28) 20.4 (50) 4.5 (11) 63.7 (156)
(Moncton) 1986 7.2 (10) 20.3 (28) 9.4 (13) 63.0 (87)
1989 16.4 (43) 18.7 (49) 5.7 (15) 59.2 (155)
L'Acadie Nouvelle 1984 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
1986 11.6 (15) 7.0 (9) 3.9 (5) 77.5 (100)
1989 10.7 (27) 6.7 (17) 5.1 (13) 77.5 (196)
Globe and Mail 1984 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
(Moncton edition) 1986 3.8 (5) 14.3 (19) 20.3 (27) 61.7 (82)
1989 4.0 (10) 17.0 (43) 18.6 (47) 60.5 (153)
Local weekly 1984 12.8 (33) 33.1 (85) 19.8 (51) 34.2 (88)
newspapers 1986 12.6 (17) 36.3 (49) 14.1 (19) 37.0 (50)
1989 13.4 (36) 39.2 (105) 16.4 (44) 31.0 (83)
Magazines 1984 11.5 (31) 35.7 (96) 26.0 (10) 26.8 (72)
1986 7.9 (11) 39.6 (55) 23.0 (32) 29.5 (41)
1989 5.0 (14) 36.9 (103) 20.1 (56) 38.0 (106)
Talking with 1984 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
friends 1986 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
1989 32.6 (103) 57.9 (183) 7.3 (23) 2.2 (7)
Talking with neigh- 1984 33.1 (95) 57.8 (166) 6.6 (19) 2.4 (16)
bours/acquain- 1986 37.2 (58) 50.0 (78) 9.0 (14) 3.8 (16)
tances (people) 1989 18.7 (56) 52.3 (157) 20.7 (62) 8.3 (25)
Political meetings 1984 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
1986 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
1989 35.0 (104) 36.0 (107) 15.2 (45) 13.8 (41)

The comparison of linguistic groups presented in Table 2 show a greater tendency on the part of French (62.5%, 78.9%, and 64.3%) as compared to the English (45.4%, 43.4%, and 38.7%) respondents, to rely on television "a great deal" for political information and news. While there are variations across data bases, we can safely conclude that French political activists in New Brunswick, compared to the English, rely more heavily on television to obtain political news.

Table 2
Sources of Political Information and News for
English and French Respondents
English French
Data A great Hardly None A great Hardly None
Sources bases deal Some any at all deal Some any at all
Radio 1984 42.1% 50.6% 6.5% .8% 31.0% 66.2% 2.8% 0%
1986 32.4 55.9 9.9 1.8 37.8 62.2 0 0
1989 30.5 54.5 11.6 3.4 32.4 39.7 27.9 0
Television 1984 45.4 47.3 6.5 .8 62.5 33.8 3.8 0
1986 43.4 52.2 4.4 0 78.0 16.0 4.0 2.0
1989 38.7 57.1 2.9 1.3 64.3 32.9 2.9 0
Daily Gleaner 1984 13.9 24.7 5.2 56.2 2.1 0 18.8 79.2
(Fredericton) 1986 14.4 37.1 13.4 35.1 13.5 8.1 16.2 62.2
1989 18.8 19.4 10.8 51.1 2.1 6.3 4.2 87.5
New Brunswick 1984 44.5 34.0 8.0 13.4 14.8 7.4 13.0 64.8
Telegraph Journal 1986 35.8 46.2 6.6 11.3 16.7 28.6 9.5 45.2
(Saint John) 1989 36.7 40.0 9.8 13.5 27.6 25.9 5.2 41.4
Evening Times Globe 1984 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
(Saint John) 1986 7.7 8.8 13.2 70.3 0 8.3 2.8 88.9
1989 16.4 18.0 8.5 57.1 2.0 6.1 0 91.8
Times-Transcript 1984 11.8 20.2 3.4 64.6 13.0 16.7 9.3 61.1
(Moncton) 1986 6.4 20.2 9.6 63.8 9.8 19.5 9.8 61.0
1989 17.0 19.7 5.9 57.4 11.3 11.3 3.8 73.6
L'Acadie Nouvelle 1984 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
1986 0 2.3 3.5 94.2 37.5 17.5 5.0 40.0
1989 0 0 2.9 97.1 40.7 15.3 8.5 35.6
Globe and Mail 1984 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
(Moncton edition) 1986 5.4 14.0 20.4 60.2 0 13.9 16.7 69.4
1989 3.9 19.4 19.4 57.2 0 7.7 17.3 75.0
Local weekly 1984 10.5 29.3 21.5 38.7 21.0 45.2 12.9 21.0
newspapers 1986 8.5 33.0 14.9 43.6 23.7 47.4 13.2 15.8
1989 8.4 38.7 16.2 36.6 26.8 37.5 14.3 21.4
Magazines 1984 13.3 35.0 27.6 24.1 5.8 34.6 19.2 40.4
1986 8.2 38.8 23.5 29.6 7.9 39.5 23.7 28.9
1989 4.1 33.5 22.9 38.6 8.6 44.8 12.7 34.5
Talking with 1984 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
friends 1986 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
1989 31.1 60.4 6.2 2.2 41.3 46.0 9.5 3.2
Talking with neigh- 1984 33.3 58.6 4.8 3.3 30.6 59.7 9.7 0
bours/acquain- 1986 34.9 53.8 7.5 3.8 44.4 37.8 13.3 4.4
tances (people) 1989 17.5 53.3 20.3 9.0 23.0 47.5 21.3 8.2
Political meetings 1984 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
1986 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
1989 31.4 38.2 15.0 15.5 41.7 28.3 16.7 13.3

Summary and Conclusion

The focus of this paper was to demonstrate the relative contribution of several sources of information in meeting the political information-seeking needs of politically "involved" New Brunswickers. These data show, with considerable consistency, not only among political parties but also overtime that television was the primary conveyor of political information and news for the majority of respondents. Further, these politically involved respondents showed a fairly high susceptibility to seek additional information from radio and the one provincial newspaper, The New Brunswick Telegraph Journal.

As has been noted, the results provide an interesting illustration of differences between English and French respondents (Grondin, 1981). The image that was projected consistently was that television, is a much more important source of political information and news for French than for English respondents.

To sum up, the size and nature of the three samples used in this paper preclude any broad generalizations, but the results are illuminating. Again, the evidence collected here would suggest that politically active, involved "New Brunswickers" tune in to a variety of mass and interpersonal media in their political information-seeking activities. Of those, the evidence presented documents the current importance of television in providing public information and news. However, the data does not support the assumption that it is the pre-eminently preferred source of information. Our findings, also, suggested the pervasive importance of radio and daily newspapers, more specifically, The Telegraph Journal, as providers of political information and news.

Notes

1
At the time the surveys were carried out, only two English television stations--a CBC-affiliate station (Saint John) and an ATV-affiliate station (Moncton)--on one French CBC station (Moncton) were available to the majority of viewers in New Brunswick. Only those that were subscribers to cable had access to more stations. However, these were American stations and/or Quebec stations, and thus carried no information about New Brunswick's political scene. Accordingly, the investigation did not attempt to identify which stations were utilized to obtain political information.

References

Beaudry, A., & Schaffer, B. (1986). Winning local and state campaigns: The guide to organizing your own campaign. New York: Free Press.

Blumler, J., & McQuail, D. (1968). Television in politics: Its uses and influences. London: Faber and Faber.

Grondin, D. (1988). Differences in the relative media preferences of English-speaking and French-speaking Canadian consumers. Canadian Journal of Communication, 13(3) 128-135.

Kraus, S., & Davis, D. (1976). The effects of mass communication on political behavior. London: Pennsylvania State University Press.

McPhail, T., & McPhail, B. (1990). Communication: The Canadian experience. Toronto: Copp Clark.

Meadow, R. (1990). Overview of political campaigns. In R. Rice and C. Atkin (Eds.), Public communication campaigns. Newbury Park: Sage Publications.

Nimmo, D. (1970). The political persuaders: Techniques of modern electoral campaigns. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Royal Commission on Newspapers. (1981). Ottawa: Queen's Printer.

Rust, R., Baja, M., & Haley, G. (1984, November). Efficient and inefficient media for campaign advertising. Journal of Advertising, 13, 45-49.

Siegel, A. (1984). Politics and the media in Canada. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson.

Weaver, D. (1987). Media agenda setting and elections: Assumption and implications. In D. Paletz (Ed.), Political communication research: Approaches, studies and assessments. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.



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