By Jessica Pollard
Columbia, Mo. (Nov. 11, 2004) — This week, U.S. citizens throughout the country had the opportunity to vote for the President of the United States. However, some people decided not to vote because they were upset by the media’s negative coverage of the campaign. Their lack of interest could have been caused by the lack of social connectedness, or social capital, they felt toward their country, which may have been brought on by the media. The media’s effect on a person’s social capital was the focus of a new study by a Missouri School of Journalism researcher.
“Recent research indicates that rural communities tend to have higher levels of social interaction and attachment than urban communities,” said Esther Thorson, associate dean of graduate studies and research. “The news media can help hone a community’s sense of identity by spurring social trust and social networks. Our goal was to determine if the mass media affected rural and urban communities differently, in terms of social capital and related processes.”
Thorson’s research focused on the use of mass media in various types of communities which, Thorson said, could explain decreases in social capital. Adults from two urban and two rural communities in the Midwest were evaluated based on types of media utilized, community involvement and awareness, and overall attitudes toward the media. The findings indicate positive ties between media use, such as reading the newspaper or watching local news, and social capital, which ultimately predicts social behaviors, such as voting and volunteering within the community.
Newspaper use had a larger impact on social networks in rural settings, as people were more likely to engage in community activities and social functions. However, in urban settings, newspaper use largely affected social trust and voting, as people were more likely to exercise their civic responsibilities. Network television also was analyzed in both settings, and had positive effects in rural environments, due in part because many rural Americans don’t have access to local TV news and must turn to network channels for news. Urban settings were largely unaffected by network news, as local television news and networks equally share the market in larger cities.
Using this research, researchers can highlight differences in how social capital develops in rural and urban communities. If it is on the decline, it is important to explore the processes by which this trend can be reversed, Thorson said.
The study recently was published in Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly.