Theories and New Technologies in Media Discussion

Question 1: What are the key differences between how two or more theories view the relationships between messages, audiences and/or society from the articles?

Question 2: What changes to the gatekeeping process, if any, have been brought about by the proliferation of digital and social media? How might future research account for what extant gatekeeping literature fails to consider given these changes?

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Media Practice and Education
ISSN: 2574-1136 (Print) 2574-1144 (Online) Journal homepage:
Millennials at the back gates: how young adults’
digital news practices present a new media
logic for news gathering and gatekeeping as
user-oriented activities in a participatory news
Brant Burkey
To cite this article: Brant Burkey (2019) Millennials at the back gates: how young adults’ digital
news practices present a new media logic for news gathering and gatekeeping as user-oriented
activities in a participatory news ecosystem, Media Practice and Education, 20:4, 303-318, DOI:
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Published online: 06 Sep 2018.
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2019, VOL. 20, NO. 4, 303–318
Millennials at the back gates: how young adults’ digital news
practices present a new media logic for news gathering and
gatekeeping as user-oriented activities in a participatory news
Brant Burkey
Department of Communications, California State University, Carson, CA, USA
The participatory nature of the contemporary news ecosystem makes
it increasingly important to examine how digital news users are active
participants in selecting, authenticating, contextualizing, and
distributing digital news content, redefining our understanding of
news gathering and gatekeeping as being user-oriented activities
in this digital order. This qualitative study provides insight into the
motivations, perceptions, and attitudes of millennials regarding
their digital news practices, while highlighting their roles as
distributive news gatherers and reciprocal gatekeepers.
Received 8 July 2017
Accepted 11 April 2018
Digital news practices;
distributive news gathering;
reciprocal gatekeeping;
millennials; digital news users
With so much discussion lately of ‘fake news’ stories, more attention is clearly needed to
outline the boundaries of our participatory news ecosystem so we can better understand
how news users’ digital practices are implicated in redefining our notions of news gathering and gatekeeping. The view of digital news users is too often on news consumption,
access, and contribution without enough regard for thinking of them specifically
minding the back gates as post-production news gatherers and gatekeepers. In this participatory news ecology, many digital news users are fulfilling the same criteria as news professionals when they seek out sources, verify facts, as well as select particular platforms to
share and distribute digital news content, all of which have significant impacts on how,
where, and what news information is interpreted at the post-production level. Taking
into account this larger role digital news users play in contributing to, creating, and producing news content has led to such audience-centric notions of journalism as ‘participatory journalism’ (Domingo et al. 2008), ‘citizen journalism’ (Lewis, Kaufhold, and Lasorsa
2009), or what Marchionni (2013) calls ‘journalism-as-a-conversation.’ However, whereas
many studies consider the role of public users in the production and reception of news
content (Catone 2007; Domingo et al. 2008; Dylko & McCluskey, 2012; Goode 2009;
Green 2016; Marchionni 2013), the digital landscape seems to invite more inquiry about
what happens after users contribute to, access, and consume the news.
This transformative landscape now also facilitates the manipulation, modification,
control, and customization of users’ information content, channels, flows, and domains.
CONTACT Brant Burkey
Department of Communications, California State University, Carson,
© 2018 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
Not only can public users blog or submit content, they can also filter, aggregate, and
organize news feeds; like, tag, rate, and share content; and develop alternative curation
methods through their multimodal participation across platforms. The implication is
that the connectivity of these systems allows for a more provocative experience, where
user audiences become extended participants in the journalistic process, and new
forms of context and interpretation can emerge from how they collect, organize, collaborate, share, and interact with digital news content (Choi and Kim 2017; Swart, Peters, and
Broersma 2016).
While some scholars have begun to take notice of how these social media platforms are
having transformative effects on the news processes of news gathering and gatekeeping
(Barzilai-Nahon 2008; Hermida 2010, 2011, 2012; Hermida & Thurman, 2008, 2010; Olmstead, Mitchell, and Rosenstiel 2011; Singer 2014), most have taken an industry-centric
approach for what the shifting digital landscape means for media professionals and
how they are losing their authorial control. These studies importantly suggest that the
new digital order offers the potential to include more public participation but there is
room for more exploration of news users’ attitudes, rationales, and specific practices. In
fact, there is a surprising gap in audience-centric research clarifying how and why news
users’ digital practices should now constitute forms of news gathering and gatekeeping
in the post-production, digital environment.
One effective measure for understanding digital news practices from an audiencecentric perspective is through qualitative interviews and participant observations of the
group shown to be the most active and participatory with digital news content – the millennial generation (for the purposes of this study, defined here as young adults, ages 18–
35). Research on the topic of millennials and news has broadened in recent years but with
few exceptions speaks to their notions of credibility (Phinney 2012) or consumption habits
(Lenhart et al. 2010; Poindexter 2012), such as where they get their news in terms of social
media platforms or source preferences (Gangadharbatla, Bright, and Logan 2014; Wohn
and Bowe 2016), leaving opportunity for further examination of the specific roles millennials play as news gatherers and gatekeepers based on their digital news practices, which
is one of the main contributions of this study.
The choice to look at millennials is appropriate for this study because research shows
this generation has not only embraced but also is particularly active in the digital marketplace, where their engagement with news is directed by their own digital practices,
choices, and preferences (Geraci and Nagy 2004; Schwalbe 2009). It has been shown
that millennials get most of their news from social media sources (Rosengard, TuckerMcLaughlin, and Brown 2014) and view the digital media ecosystem as being indispensable to their lives (Lenhart et al. 2010; Wohn and Bowe 2016). In a 2012
article, Anatole (2012) made the argument that millennials are, in fact, reshaping the
concept of news by making it a more social, co-created, and peer-driven experience
often prone to sacrificing accuracy for immediacy. While more attention is being given
to millennial digital news users’ consumption habits, preferences, and experiences, the
alchemy for understanding their digital news practices in relation to news gathering
and gatekeeping is so far, at best, imprecise.
This study extends the argument that millennial digital news users are increasingly participating in the journalistic process through their digital practices, not just in the production of news (e.g. citizen journalism or contributors of user-generated content) but
in how digital news is gathered, authenticated, distributed, and interpreted in the postproduction environment, forcing a rethinking of journalistic news gathering and gatekeeping functions as now also being user-centered activities.
Review of literature
A review of the relevant literature shows that established journalistic concepts of news
gathering and gatekeeping must now confront a milieu that relinquishes some of the perceived authority of media institutions and situates audiences as more active participants in
the selecting, authenticating, contextualizing, and distributing of digital news content.
Zelizer (1990) underscores the idea that journalists have long been considered the authoritative arbiters who determined what was newsworthy and interpreted public events
through their narratives. These authoritative accounts were also built on standard
notions of news gathering, the journalistic practice of compiling and authenticating
sources and materials in the creation of news content. Journalists, therefore, were seen
as doing the important legwork of determining what sources and information should
be considered credible enough to use in their construction of news. What news content
then ended up being broadcasted, printed, or televised was chosen based on the concepts
of gatekeeping, explained as routine procedures and decisions of media professionals in
selecting which news to run, including what will appear, where it will appear, and even
how it will appear (Lewin 1947; Shoemaker et al. 2001; Shoemaker and Vos 2009; White
However, the logic of the new media ecosystem introduces new reflections over the
role of media professionals as decision-makers when the public can now increasingly
be involved in such decisions (DeIuliis 2015). Using digital platforms and social media
applications as enabling factors, the public can privilege their own user-generated
content, advance their own interpretations of current events, or determine what they
think is newsworthy. They can also select their own preferred sources and change the
context of information, including its credibility and authenticity, based on their own
sharing habits. This has led to expanding concentrations of research on the role of citizens
in a more participatory journalistic environment based on the simple fact that users can
now generate their own content as either contributors or through evolving notions of
citizen journalism (Ali and Fahmy 2013; Catone 2007; Goode 2009; Lewis, Kaufhold, and
Lasorsa 2010; Marchionni 2013; Outing 2005; Paulussen et al. 2007).
One reason for this focus on publicly driven media participation is that emerging technologies, such as wireless mobile devices and social media platforms, make it easier for
both media professionals and users alike to retrieve, contribute, produce, moderate, and
deliver news content (Cameron 2009; Lindner 2016; Westlund 2013). This has led to scholarship that considers new forms of contextual arrangement, participation, proliferation,
and mediated experience (Chadwick 2013; Jenkins, Ford, and Green 2013; Papacharissi
and de Fatima Oliveira 2012; Thorson and Wells 2016), which highlights the networked
ability to distribute media content and speaks to the ability of individual news users to participate with, modulate, and control this transformed media content.
Bruns (2003, 2008) and Deuze (2008) similarly argue through their notions of ‘gatewatching’ and ‘collaborative redistributors,’ respectively, that the boundaries between production and consumption in this digital frontier are being rewritten through more
audience participation and user-generated content. They join a growing chorus of scholars
who agree that professional journalists are now being forced to monitor and control the
gates of information that swing in either direction, including retrieving, aggregating,
sifting, and filtering between their own original content and user-generated content for
publication, as well as providing context for the torrential flow of digital information
across social media platforms (Lewis, Kaufhold, and Lasorsa 2009; Lewis and Westlund
2015; Nguyen 2006; Stanoevska-Slabeva, Sacco, and Giardina 2012; Van Dijck, 2009).
Domingo et al. (2008) find the primary ways the public gets involved are reaction to
journalistic content in the forms of comments or by contributing user-generated
content that is used by journalists to produce their professional content. Tandoc (2014)
describes how journalists can use web analytics and data metrics to base their gatekeeping decisions less on news judgment and more through the tracking of audience behavior
and preferences. Hermida (2010) uses his concept of ‘ambient journalism’ to describe how
professional journalists can navigate the sentiment, news appetite, and interests of the
public by monitoring what is trending across Twitter feeds. Vujnovic et al. conclude that
such participatory journalism is done less as a democratizing function than out of
economic necessity, or what they call ‘the result of the market value of participation’
(2010, 3). However, most of these conversations largely frame the imperatives of the
issue by how increasing public engagement is affecting media professionals, their journalistic decisions, and their discrete functions as gatekeepers (Domingo et al. 2008; Nguyen
2006; Storm 2007; Williams and Delli Carpini 2004).
Studies that address digital news practices from an audience-centered approach have
found that news is becoming a more social experience based on sharing, personal interest,
and connectivity through social networks (DeIuliis 2015; Kilgo 2015; Olmstead, Mitchell,
and Rosenstiel 2011; Purcell et al. 2010). Hermida (2012) finds one indicator of this is
that digital news users show a preference for distributed, crowdsourced information
over the professional expertise of journalists in terms of validity and verification. Also significant is a burgeoning strain of research that concludes social media are becoming integral to the way people experience news, particularly in how users are increasingly filtering
their news through such social networks as Facebook, Tumblr, and Reddit (Coddington
and Holton 2014; DeIuliis 2015; Hermida et al. 2012; Kilgo 2015; Suran and Kilgo 2015).
A few studies have even looked at young adults’ attitudes towards news consumption,
news gathering, credibility, sharing, and agenda setting through social media platforms
(Gangadharbatla, Bright, and Logan 2014; Rosengard, Tucker-McLaughlin, and Brown
2014; Wohn and Bowe 2016).
This study builds upon and extends three forms of secondary gatekeeping frameworks,
including Hermida et al. (2012), who found that social media users showed a preference for
getting news from links or recommendations in their social networks; Singer’s (2014) idea
of user-generated visibility, in which users affect the visibility of news stories when they
redistribute content or through views, likes, social bookmarking, user recommendations,
and comments; and Barzilai-Nahon’s (2009) concept of network gatekeeping, which
invites more public agency in how information passes through the news gate but does
so by emphasizing the technological capabilities presented by a networked system.
These previous studies acquiesce that the gated have more agency and deserve more
attention in the networked gatekeeping process, but more exploration is required to
further understand how users make routine decisions in their digital news practices or
how they switch mantles from being the gated to gatekeepers. This study clarifies this
omission by examining the meaning gated millennials attribute to their navigational
and selective gatekeeping processes. Rather than a simple uses and gratifications
model, which helps to explain what users get out of their use of certain social media platforms, the intent here is to better understand the meaning users construct around their
own post-production digital news practices as they gather, interact with, distribute, and
re-contextualize news. In other words, whole new layers of interpretation are now fostered
through users’ digital news practices, making it less about what users get out of the news
than what they put into it.
What differentiates this study from previous literature is that it presents more in-depth
qualitative data examining millennial users’ attitudes, perceptions, motivations, and meanings they attribute to their post-production digital news practices. What emerges from this
study is a preliminary iteration for understanding news gathering and gatekeeping as
post-production user practices in the digital news landscape through what will be introduced as distributive news gathering and reciprocal gatekeeping. To accomplish this, this
study addresses the following research question:
RQ: How are millennial news users navigating, selecting, organizing, privileging, and interacting with digital news content, and what do these digital news practices mean to them in terms
of news gathering and gatekeeping?
The methodological approach to this study involves qualitative interviews, participant
observations, and thematic analysis. The in-depth interviews allow for the gathering of
self-reported and expressed perspectives of informants for analysis, while participant
observations enable the review of actual digital practices, processes, and pathways
being privileged. Thematic analysis was used to analyze the underlying themes that
emerged from interview and observation data, which were collected face-to-face in a
variety of settings, where discussions could be recorded and demonstrations of digital
news practices could be observed.
The intent of this project is to focus on which digital news activities millennial users are
privileging through the modalities they employ, as well as what meanings, interpretations,
and perspectives they attribute to their digital news practices. There is no attempt to generalize the results here because the research methods most appropriate are those that
provide more interpretive and situational explanation, which is why in-depth interviews
and participant observations were conducted in several stages over a year-and-a-half
between February 2015 and August 2016. During the in-person interviews, a semi-structured interview guide provided a framework of key topics, ideas, and subjects through
questions, follow-ups, and probes about digital news practices.
The informants to this study include 50 millennial-generation digital news users from
the western United States, recruited via referrals and personal requests. While the final
number of 50 informants was both ambitious and somewhat arbitrary, the range of informants was appropriate for this study because following an initial pilot study of 20 university communications majors, it was determined that a broader sample of millennial users
would yield richer findings. So I decided to more than double the number of informants in
this study and deemed reaching a sample threshold of 50 as a suitable cutoff point. That is
why this study includes a cross-section of 50 millennial digital news users, between 20 and
35 years old, representing different education levels, employment, ethnicities, races, and
equal representation of females and males, while providing a multiplicity of perspectives
and individual insights.
Though the gender, race, ethnicity, and education levels of participants were recorded
(see Appendix), such traits were not significant to the recruitment or selection process, nor
were there significant comparative differences between the groups represented in the
findings. A number of potential informants referred to the researcher were also not
included in the sample based on their relative lack of knowledge regarding the subject
or active participation with social media and digital news (defined here as more than
once daily). The final sample of informants selected for this study was based mostly on
the convenience factors of referrals and accessibility, with age and active participation
with social media and digital news the only purposive requirements for inclusion in the
Informants were also observed interacting with a variety of digital applications and
news content, while describing their decision-making processes. This method of data collection was intended to highlight how informants navigate these technologies and
revealed the rationale for their choices and meanings afforded to their practices. As a
result of these observations, I compiled detailed notes that I used to inform, substantiate,
and triangulate the available interview data and the discursive interpretations that are
revealed. These notes detailed information about observable behaviors, specific pathways
of digital activity, and further descriptions of interactions with specific news content. As
Wimmer and Dominick (2006) concede, field observations can be ‘particularly suitable
for a study of the gatekeeping process … because it is difficult to quantify gatekeeping’
(p. 122). So for the purposes of this study, one benefit was to observe how informants
make news gathering and gatekeeping decisions as they interact with these digital
portals and news content. The combination of in-depth interviews and field observations
yielded a variety of key insights into their motivations, thought processes, and discursive
interpretations of their activities.
As part of the qualitative research process, the aggregate data were then examined,
sorted, and organized into categorized groups that include key terms, meanings, and patterns for a thematic analysis (Aronson 1995). To accomplish this, I developed a coding
schema of what Talja (1999) call ‘interpretive repertoire,’ a set or cluster of codes,
themes, categories, and dynamic terms that describe versions of meaning. Recognizing
that there was a certain thematic consistency of dynamic terms, topics, and meanings
throughout the informants’ interviews allowed me to organize and categorize these emerging themes during the coding process.
In each case, I looked at the larger frame of the quote to determine where they would
best be situated according to the major themes and to find the right organizational structure, coherence, and narrative flow. As a result of this detailed process, I was able to gain
deeper insight into how informants discursively interpret their own activities and perspectives from the themes that emerged from this thematic analysis. The persistent themes
that emerged were Collection, Authentication, Discovery, and Involvement. Identifying
these central themes makes it possible to then catalog emerging patterns, produce
further inferences, and apply different explanations through this interpretive approach.
While the informed perspectives of these millennial digital news users provide key
insights to this under-examined topic and a useful baseline for comparison, there
remain certain limitations to this study as a result of the self-reported answers from informants, the overall limited size and demographics of the sample, as well as recruitment criteria and procedures. It is suggested, therefore, that future studies consider a larger sample
size and more attention to differences between other social, economic, political, and even
age characteristics as recruitment criteria. Despite these limitations, however, the following section details what themes emerged regarding what digital news activities these millennial users are privileging through the modalities they employ, as well as what
meanings, interpretations, and perspectives they attribute to their digital news practices.
The research data highlight how millennial informants to this study navigate digital news
platforms, reveal the rationale for their choices, and clarify the meaning afforded to their
practices, which emerge as the following persistent and coherent themes through thematic analysis: Collection, Authentication, Discovery, and Involvement.
Collection: the organizing principle
In considering standard notions of news gathering, the first consistent theme from informants involves a conceptual re-evaluation of how they collect and organize their own
digital news sources. These digital news users are finding ways to fashion their own
filing systems of news sources/content based on a variety of platforms, social curation
methods, and personal interests. In some cases, this refers to having preferred sources
of news, whether it be a traditional news organization, news aggregator site, news
apps, or user-generated social media platform. However, this organizing principle is also
discussed as a way to personalize the news they receive, where they store it, how they
access it, and may also determine what they choose to do with it based on available pathways and functions.
Some of the digital organizational methods through the use of smartphones, laptops,
tablets, and desktop computers include grouping apps, favoriting folders, bookmarking
content, creating news homepages, developing playlists, and organizing lists of links in
other documents to categorize topics for easy review and future reference. For
example, one informant chronicles his news gathering practices by ‘favoriting’ sources
and content, particularly on Twitter, so he can organize stories that pique his interest to
track and further delve into later.
It’s a way for me to tag something I find interesting. When things are tweeted or re-tweeted, if I
favorite it, it allows me to go back and look at it because with Twitter you can go to your favorites and it will pull up everything you’ve ever viewed and favorited. Plus, I can easily visit favorited accounts and go through their timeline to see what articles or updates I may have missed
while I was away. It is essentially my archiving process.
The fact that certain news aggregate sites compile stories from a variety of sources was
seen as beneficial for a few informants but significantly more (88%) preferred to identify
and aggregate their own sources according to which they trusted most. Others select
aggregate sites or social media platforms as a way to sort through and filter content
according to personal interests. All 50 (100%) of the informants indicate social media platforms as their preferred news sources while 32 (64%) also mention utilizing news banners
or alert tools as a way to highlight either breaking news stories or content of specific interest. Another thread of discussion among a significant majority of informants (82%) was the
ability for a simplified search process that allows users to peruse and get news across the
web and social media based on specific categories, keywords, or hashtags, which also gives
users more autonomy to avoid news topics not of their interest or those being privileged
by digital news sites. Every one of the 50 informants (100%) mentioned their preference for
the ease of which they now have the capacity to tailor their exposure to news according to
their own tastes and how they privilege their individual news curation techniques.
The main point is that users unwaveringly appreciate the on-demand convenience of
being able to select, organize, and curate news that is relevant and specific to their personal interests. In every case, there was some indication of a preferred strategy to cut
through the clutter of all the available online and social media stories or to navigate
digital sources by customizing their news gathering processes to best suit their individual
needs. Or as one informant concludes,
It is no secret that the consumption of digital, mobile news is more popular right now and
that’s simply because news has never been more accessible. It’s the convenience of anywhere,
anytime. We have the freedom to use platforms we trust, look up topics or stories that matter
most to us, and do whatever we want with them rather than being mere spectators.
Authentication: the rabbit hole effect
Informants also indicate that the ease of use and capabilities of navigating a networked
environment produces a type of engagement similar to going down the proverbial
rabbit hole when gathering and validating their digital news content. By this it is meant
that when users try to verify or authenticate information, to find trustworthy sources,
they often find themselves exploring links, websites, and other platforms in ways not heretofore possible in an analog news landscape.
This rabbit hole effect is repeatedly referred to as a consequence of the networked
environment because it is so easy to simply click on a link or image or video, or to even
jump to another website, such as a search engine, by opening a new tab. This capacity
is explained as being informative because so many other facts, details, perspectives,
and elements can be gained with a click, swipe or press of a button. Most informants
(94%) also insist that this rabbit hole effect, of prodigious web surfing as part of the
news gathering process is often a time-consuming result of either trying to get more information because of curiosity, personal interest, or to verify facts, while some (62%) acknowledge it can also simply be an arbitrary pursuit because the news content is accompanied
by a link they may feel tempted to explore.
These informants largely agreed (92%) the sheer array of information from both usergenerated and traditional news sites available at their fingertips now also requires even
more news gathering work on the part of users to verify authenticity, corroborate
details, or substantiate information. This point also deals with these millennial users’
choices to verify what they read as accurate but it was also discussed as either an exercise
in comparing traditional news sites to user-generated content or contrasting news frames.
According to one informant,
If I see a story that really intrigues me, I won’t just trust the first story I see on social media. I
might do additional research on Google to dig more into it by following their links and read
more from other websites so that I can compare the main elements to see if it can be trusted. It
doesn’t take much. You have the Internet at your fingertips so you can jump around through
apps or platforms to do some more research. But I usually start with Google.
A surprising majority of informants (96%) also indicate that when they see a news item
on social media they almost invariably refer it to a Google search to see if other items
appear, which seems to confirm and authenticate news information to this study’s
cohort, even without checking to see if the other links or articles found come from credible
or reliable news sources. To them, the simple fact that other articles are being shown on a
Google search result list provides a certain level of confirmation and legitimacy, making
Google’s search engine itself a primary news authenticator.
Information accuracy and credibility appear to be desirable goals but seem to be secondary criteria or considerations compared to source selection based on personal preference and pathway strategies. The millennial news users in this study each have their own
criteria of reliability when seeking sources to verify or authenticate news that is not based
on credibility, knowledge of the subject, or professional standing but instead based on
their own personal judgment of which sources they feel they can trust. The essential ingredient here is that these digital news users have developed their own strategies for where
to turn for what is newsworthy and credible based on their own criteria of personal relevance and judgment rather than professional expertise.
Discovery: reciprocal attention
Another strong current emerging from the interview data involves how informants’ attentions are directed less by the online presentation of news content and more through what
I term reciprocal gatekeeping. By this, it is meant that much like the two-step flow model of
communication (Katz and Lazarsfeld 1955), where individuals are more influenced by their
opinion leaders than the media producers or content, these millennial news users prefer
having their attentions directed by those in their social media networks, their sharing practices, and where the content is shared.
According to the data, what these millennial news users consider to be news worth
knowing is now occurring through repeat attention on social media feeds, what is
being shared on their social media networks, and as part of a reciprocal exchanging of
digital news content based on mutual interests. There is, in essence, an echo chamber,
a feedback loop, of trying to get others’ attentions with what one person finds interesting,
by creating awareness, or in expecting thoughtful responses from others through such
practices as content sharing, commenting, liking, tagging, and hashtagging.
For the purposes of this study, then, the notion of reciprocal gatekeeping means that
friends’ online sharing practices are capturing more attention than simply news headlines
in long lists of other headlines on traditional news or aggregate news sites. One particular
measure of this is that a significant majority of informants (86%) indicate they often direct
their attention to digital news content more frequently when shared by more than two
friends through their social media timelines or feeds, as well as for the added meaning
purposefully constructed by hashtags, or even if a certain social media platform has more
perceived social capital. Other interpretive factors mentioned by these informants include
the scope of activity surrounding digital news content within social networks, including
presumed credibility based on the number of likes and views, and the level of commenting exhibited at the end of articles.
Often there is less looking for news and more being directed by how others in one’s
social network are responding to digital content, from likes and comments to what is
being shared. Once everyone starts talking about a specific news story then there is
more motivation to delve into it further. This appears particularly true when articles
have been reacted to or shared by more than two of a user’s friends. As a result of
several new features on Facebook, in particular, users can now see certain shared
content in a grouped fashion, which shows users when multiple ‘friends’ have shared,
commented on, or liked certain content. But, in general, repeat posts by several in a
user’s social community appear to demand more attention. Also factored into this
decision-making is who posted it, where it was posted, how many people were reacting
to the post, and whether or not it was of interest to the user. The more people interacting
with that item through liking, commenting or sharing seems to create even more need to
explore the topic more so that users ‘feel in the know.’ Or as one informant put it,
We’re all drawn to something that may not be on our own news radar, even things we might
not normally find interesting, but we feel we have to pay attention simply because of what our
friends are looking at, liking, and sharing.
In this way, the choice of who to follow is also seen as being very important to these
millennial digital news users because they want to listen to voices they trust and feel
informed about something important to their social community. One informant explains
that her attention is increasingly swayed by her social networks simply because,
If a friend in my social network recommends a news story or specific content, I do not automatically validate it as being more legitimate but I do find it to be more interesting … mostly
because I would assume that the friend who is recommending the story knows what interests
or matters most to me.
Involvement: multimodal participation
Another significant theme emerging from the data is regarding the millennials’ attitudes
toward their multimodal practices, about how and why they participate with digital news
content. To be clear, these multimodal practices refer to how users interact with digital
news content in different locations, across different devices, platforms, and networks.
Such activities might include tagging, liking, favoriting, commenting on, or sharing. One
consistent thread of conversation deals with how, when, and why sharing or posting
content serves as a primary function of this distributive news gathering environment.
For the purposes of this study, the concept of distributive news gathering being introduced
here distinguishes the fact that millennial users interviewed for this study express spending as much time and effort distributing digital news content that interests them as they
do gathering it for their own interest.
In many cases, the purpose of posting or sharing content is expressed as a way to
initiate awareness of topics, generate reaction, indicate their opinion about the subject,
or simply be engaged in the public conversation. The act of posting or sharing a news story
also is discussed as itself being a marker for how important an issue is deemed simply by
the fact a user is putting it out there for others’ consideration. Most informants (92%)
express hope that by posting or sharing content a broader conversation over meaning
or meaningful interaction might ensue. The careful selection of hashtags to use on
stories, photos, or videos can also, as one informant explains, ‘narrowly define the conversation or shape the meaning for people.’
Several informants (12%) cautioned that a news story might lose value or context if too
much attention is paid to views, likes, comments, and shares instead of what the story is
about. However, commenting was by far deemed the most inhospitable and least useful
participatory activity because of the inability to maintain context over the resulting conversations. The millennials in this study unanimously share the perception that there is
simply too much vitriol, negativity, anger, and uninformed opinion in comments sections,
leading one informant to liken commenting to ‘dipping toes in a poisonous pond.’ While
the potential for commenting to create communities of likeminded connectedness and
informative dialogue was recognized, there was broad agreement that comment
threads were too often cesspools of trollish behavior and aggressive language that do
not add to the conversation or interpretation of news content, regardless of informants’
gender or political affiliation.
Choices made over which platform to post or share, with whom to share the content,
and how it is interacted with were also significant markers for this study’s participants to
help spread awareness, influence how that information is understood, or to otherwise participate in how that content is interpreted. This seems to be a key point, as these users are
not simply saying, ‘look at this,’ but rather are trying to shape the meaning and interpretation of that content based on their choice of platform. Where something is shared was
mentioned by nearly everyone interviewed (96%) as being particularly important
because it shaped what could be talked about, how, and with whom. Also, initially nonnews-related social media platforms, such as Instagram, Snapchat and Reddit, were mentioned as now being popular conduits for digital news content because ‘followers’ within
those social networks already have their full attentions, share similar interests, and can
indicate meaning through the use of hashtags.
As one informant explains, the more these users get to make decisions about their own
digital news practices, the more they feel are contributing to social awareness, providing
additional perspective, or perhaps introducing critical points not intended by the original
authors about issues important to them. She says,
I think it is a positive and wonderful thing that one can interact with digital news stories.
Whether it be through commenting, favoriting, or re-blogging a story, it allows ultimately
everyone who comes across the story not only to have a better experience with digital
news but to have a voice.
The underlying principle here is that digital news practices come with the expectation
that users will be noticed for their efforts, be contributing to the conversation among the
public sphere, and have an impact on how content is understood or even what is considered newsworthy. In essence, much like standard notions of news gathering and gatekeeping, they are also deciding who gets to see it, where they see it, and influencing what
they should be thinking about.
Discussion and concluding thoughts
The findings of this study suggest it is important for communications and media studies
research to focus on digital news practices and recognize that news gathering and gatekeeping should now be studied as user-centric activities that re-contextualize and reinterpret news just as much as they have historically been understood as professional decisions
for making the news. Beginning this conversation through interviews with millennial
digital news users proves informative because we gain further insight about which activities they are privileging, what they think changing practices of multimodal participation
mean, and how changes in their roles and activities might affect the construction of
meaning for the news. While the informed perspectives of these millennial digital news
users provide key insights to this under-examined topic and a useful baseline for comparison, it is suggested that continuing studies look at a sample of informants with broader
age, social, and professional characteristics; overall larger sample sizes; and even
employ a variety of methods that might include surveys, experiments, or digital ethnographies. Another recommendation for future research might also look more closely at how
participants’ digital news practices are informed by their political affiliation or leanings,
especially in relation to the discovery, authentication, and distribution of potential ‘fake
news.’ That being said, expanding the conversation, available data, and methodological
approaches beyond this initial study would only foster broader understanding for a
topic that deserves greater attention.
However, this current study does contribute several concepts to the field of media
studies and communications research. It is proposed here that we consider these activities
as distributive news gathering, a term that should be used to describe users’ digital practices of organizing, interacting with, and distributing digital news content in a post-production, networked environment. Distributive news gathering reimagines the ways in
which digital news users can now gather, authenticate, modify, and distribute digital
news content after it is published that re-contextualizes the meaning of news and
extends the journalistic process in this new digital order. It is apparent that digital news
users can invoke new multimodal forms of excavation and explanation that extend the
life and meaning of digital news content, and the suggestions from this study are that
these millennial digital news users are spending as much time distributing as they are collecting what news is of interest to them.
Another redefinition of journalistic norms this paper proposes is that of reciprocal gatekeeping, an explanatory framework for understanding how digital news practices are transforming established gatekeeping practices. Millennials in this study report their attentions
are directed less by headlines or the online presentation of news content than the sharing
practices of their friends and followers, including who is sharing it, how often it is shared,
and where it is being shared through social media. These millennial digital news users also
want to feel that news is tailor-made for and being directed at them not from media professionals or algorithms as much as people they feel best to know their interests.
Thus, at stake for the future of journalism in this digital order is whose voice will be the
most prominent in the future articulation of the news. The findings suggest millennials in
this study do not consider themselves to be recipient audiences or consumers of digital
news. They see themselves taking a much more active role in minding the back gates,
determining what information gets through, where it is shown, how it is shown, and
influencing what people think about based on their own digital news practices. These millennials want to be part of the conversation, not just be told, ‘Here’s what you need to
know today.’ They want to participate, contribute, add their own interpretation, and
make sure that they increase awareness about a subject or be newsmakers themselves
by being the first people to alert their social networks about a topic or news item. They
want to circulate news and initiate a discussion about what they think is important
while factoring in how that information is also received by their social community. They
want to be one of the many voices being heard and gauge their success on social
media attention through likes, comments, followers, views, etc.
Because there is such an inundation of information in this new media ecology, these
millennial digital news users see themselves as having to take on the mantle of news gatherers and gatekeepers to sift through the assemblage of digital news content rather than
simply letting media professionals use their professional judgment to select, interpret, and
authenticate for them. Considering the prevalence of fake news being circulated, the
hyper-partisan political echo chambers, and the process of winnowing social network
friends and followers to match like-minded opinions, interests, and prerogatives, the
results of digital news users at the back gates and their digital news practices have significant implications for public opinion, political engagement, civil discourse, media literacy,
and social responsibility. There are also questions that remain about how news values, priorities, and practices will shift in an environment where digital news users believe they are
the experts and only want to be exposed to information that interests or agrees with them.
One informant concludes: ‘Media professionals were once the authorities and now each of
us is our own authority, assuming we are the best ones to make these decisions for ourselves because we only want to hear what we want to hear.’
Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.
Notes on contributor
Dr Burkey’s research consistently focuses on digital practices in journalism, cultural heritage, digital
humanities, and social media. Other areas of specialty in his research and teaching include media
memory studies, digital culture, media literacy, media criticism, media history, media ethics, multimedia reporting, and media production.
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Appendix. Informant sample demographics
African American
Age range
Average age
College graduates
Non-college graduates
Environmental Communication
ISSN: 1752-4032 (Print) 1752-4040 (Online) Journal homepage:
Applying the Theory of Planned Behavior and
Media Dependency Theory: Predictors of Public
Pro-environmental Behavioral Intentions in
Shirley S. Ho, Youqing Liao & Sonny Rosenthal
To cite this article: Shirley S. Ho, Youqing Liao & Sonny Rosenthal (2015) Applying the
Theory of Planned Behavior and Media Dependency Theory: Predictors of Public Proenvironmental Behavioral Intentions in Singapore, Environmental Communication, 9:1, 77-99, DOI:
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Environmental Communication, 2015
Vol. 9, No. 1, 77–99,
Applying the Theory of Planned
Behavior and Media Dependency
Theory: Predictors of Public Proenvironmental Behavioral Intentions
in Singapore
Shirley S. Ho, Youqing Liao & Sonny Rosenthal
Applying the theory of planned behavior and media dependency theory, this study
examines the effects of attitude, subjective norms, perceived behavioral control (PBC),
media dependency, traditional media attention, Internet attention, and interpersonal
communication on two types of pro-environmental behaviors (PEBs)—green-buying
and environmental civic engagement. Regression analysis of a nationally representative
survey of adult Singaporeans (N = 1168) indicated that attitude, PBC, media
dependency, traditional media attention, and interpersonal communication were
positively associated with green-buying. Notably, traditional media attention, as well
as interpersonal communication, moderated the influence of media dependency on
green-buying behavior. In addition, attitude, descriptive norms, media dependency,
Internet attention, and interpersonal communication positively predicted environmental civic engagement. Findings suggest the importance of communication factors in
the adoption of the two PEBs.
Keywords: theory of planned behavior; pro-environmental behavior; media dependency; media attention; Internet; interpersonal communication
Shirley S. Ho (PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison) is an Assistant Professor, Youqing Liao is a graduate
student (Bachelor of Communication Studies, Nanyang Technological University), and Sonny Rosenthal (PhD,
University of Texas at Austin) is an Assistant Professor in the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and
Information at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Correspondence to: Shirley S. Ho, Wee Kim Wee
School of Communication and Information, Nanyang Technological University, 31 Nanyang Link, Rm 03-50,
Singapore 637718, Singapore. E-mail:
A previous version of this article won a top faculty paper (second place) award at the 2013 annual convention of
the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, Washington, DC.
© 2014 Taylor & Francis
S. S. Ho et al.
Global climate change has contributed to serious environmental disasters that have
claimed many lives and led to over US$200 billion in annual losses worldwide
(Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2012). As many environmental
problems are related to human activities, individuals have some responsibility to
mitigate climate change (Vandenberg, 2004). Individuals can adopt various environmentally responsible behaviors including changes in consumption patterns and
environmental activism to sustain the environment (Fielding, McDonald, & Louis,
2008). For example, the increased availability of green consumer products has given
individuals more opportunities to purchase ecologically safe products to facilitate
environmental protection (Alsmadi, 2007). Despite the urgent need for widespread
behavioral changes, interventions to encourage these changes have met with limited
success (Ockwell, Whitmarsh, & O’Neill, 2009).
With a few exceptions (e.g., Chan, 1998; Lowe et al., 2006), existing studies have
focused narrowly on the role of knowledge in public pro-environmental behaviors
(PEBs) and have not considered other factors that may influence behaviors, such as
subjective norms, mass media use, interpersonal communication, and media
dependency (Semenza et al., 2008). Chan (1998) found that attitudes, subjective
norms, and perceived behavioral control (PBC) predicted people’s intentions to
recycle waste, and demonstrated mass media as an important source of subjective
norms among Hong Kong residents. However, the study did not examine media
dependency as a predictor of PEB intentions. Moreover, few studies have examined
issues regarding environmental communication outside the context of Western
societies. Lee (2008) suggests that examining environmental patterns in non-Western
societies enables evaluation of how cultural context can influence individuals’ PEBs.
Thus, differences in sociocultural values and media environments make it worthwhile
to examine factors that can motivate individuals to engage in PEBs in non-Western
contexts, such as Singapore.
This study applies the theory of planned behavior (TPB; Ajzen, 1991) and media
dependency theory (MDT; Ball-Rokeach & DeFleur, 1976)—which considers how
attitudes, social norms, and PBC, as well as media use and dependency, influence
behavioral intentions. MDT assumes that people will rely more on the mass media for
information under certain conditions, such as the ready availability of alternative
information sources (Ball-Rokeach & DeFleur, 1976; Loges, 1994). Such dependence
on the media has been shown to predict changes in people’s attitudes and behaviors
(Lowrey, 2004).
We broadly define PEB as a behavior that could make a considerable difference or
impact on the environment by either minimizing damages or maximizing benefits to
the environment (Steg & Vlek, 2009). Stern (2000) classifies PEBs according to their
occurrence in public and private spheres. Public-sphere behaviors include citizenship
behaviors such as signing petitions to protect the environment. Private-sphere
behaviors aim to affect the environment more directly by changing consumption
patterns. Public- and private-sphere behaviors may require different communication
Media Dependency and Pro-environmental Behaviors
strategies to bring about positive behavioral outcomes. Steg and Vlek (2009) highlight
factors such as normative concerns and contexts that could differentially affect
various PEBs. To maximize effectiveness of pro-environmental interventions,
communication messages should be carefully tailored to the target behavior and
address specific underlying factors. This study will examine two categories of PEBs—
environmental civic engagement and green-buying—that may further distinguish
public- and private-sphere behaviors, respectively.
Study Context
Our study examines PEB in Singapore, a city-state of around 5 million residents,
comprising Chinese, Malays, Indians, and several racial minorities (Singapore
Department of Statistics, DOS, 2011). As one of the most globalized cities in the
world, Singapore is westernized and cosmopolitan (Foreign Policy, 2010). Nonetheless, Singapore retains some of its Asian roots. The ruling government institutes a
set of “Asian values,” which emphasizes preference for social harmony and consensus,
collective well-being, and respect for authority (Dalton & Ong, 2003). Singapore’s mix
of East and West offers a unique context to study effects of the media system and
societal norms on individuals’ PEBs.
As an urbanized, low-lying tropical island, Singapore is susceptible to the problem
of rising sea levels and other effects of climate change (National Climate Change
Secretariat, NCCS, 2012b). The environmental authorities in Singapore have
leveraged on the mass media to initiate campaigns aimed at raising awareness and
motivating environmentally responsible behavior among the public (e.g. National
Environmental Agency, NEA, 2010).
Furthermore, Singapore is one of the most wired countries globally (Kluver &
Banerjee, 2005). Government regulation of the Internet has been minimal (George,
2003). New media have given citizens more opportunities to express their political
viewpoints (George & Raman, 2008), thus facilitating greater civic engagement
among Singaporeans (Skoric & Poor, 2013). Therefore, new media may also influence
issue-specific participation in environmental protection.
According to a public opinion poll conducted by the Singapore NCCS, 86% of
Singaporeans believe that they play a part in taking action on climate change and 56%
believe that individuals are most responsible for taking action (NCCS, 2012a).
Rosenthal, Lee, Ho, and Detenber (2013) compared Singapore public opinion with
the results of a Pew survey in the U.S., and found that over 90% of Singaporeans
believed the Earth is getting warmer, whereas less than two-thirds of Americans
expressed the same view. Despite this, Singapore recorded the highest carbon
footprint among Asia-Pacific countries (World Wildlife Fund, 2012). Therefore, it is
worthwhile to apply the TPB and MDT to examine how social-psychological factors
will motivate Singaporeans to engage in PEBs. Findings of this study may benefit the
development of pro-environmental intervention strategies.
S. S. Ho et al.
Theory of Planned Behavior
Ajzen (1991) developed the TPB to understand the psychological underpinnings of
volitional behavior. The TPB proposes three key antecedents of behavioral intention:
attitudes, subjective norms, and PBC. It assumes that behavioral intention is a good
proxy for actual behavior, which researchers have validated (e.g., Ajzen & Fishbein, 2005).
Attitudes are an individual’s degree of liking or disliking a behavior object that
guides consistent behavioral responses (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975). Attitudes can reflect
instrumental qualities (e.g., usefulness) and experiential qualities (e.g., pleasantness) of
a behavior (Ajzen & Driver, 1992). Perceived utility drives some behaviors (e.g.,
brushing teeth), whereas enjoyment drives others (e.g., watching a movie); though,
many behaviors reflect both orientations (Bellows-Riecken, Rhodes, & Hoffert, 2008).
Subjective norms are people’s perception of the occurrence of a behavior among
others, and the perception of others’ approval or disapproval of certain behavior.
Respectively, TPB labels these perceptions as descriptive norms and injunctive norms.
Descriptive and injunctive norms can exist on both personal and societal levels.
People can hold perceptions of the level of support of a certain behavior among their
important referent groups and in society (e.g., Park, Klein, Smith, & Martell, 2009).
Since people often make social comparisons of their behavior with their referent
groups, they are more likely to be affected by beliefs about in-group than out-group
behaviors (Yanovitzky, Stewart, & Lederman, 2006). Given the general finding that
descriptive and injunctive norms have varying impacts on behavioral intentions (e.g.,
Ho, Poorisat, Neo, & Detenber, 2014; Park & Smith, 2007), it is meaningful to
examine them as distinct factors.
PBC is individuals’ judgments of their ability to perform specific actions, which
can vary across situations (Ajzen, 1991). This concept is similar to perceived selfefficacy from social cognitive theory (Bandura, 1982). PBC predicts environmentally
responsible behaviors (e.g., Tang, Chen, & Luo, 2011). A study of 27 countries found
that perceived control over PEB significantly predicted people’s willingness to
sacrifice, which, in turn, predicted recycling behavior, refraining from driving, and
environmental citizenship (Oreg & Katz-Gerro, 2006). Tikir and Lehman (2011)
found that attitudes toward using public transportation and subjective norms
explained about 30% of the variance in individuals’ intention to use public
transportation as a way of being environmentally friendly.
Numerous cross-cultural studies have shown that the TPB framework is generalizable to most contexts (e.g., Cheng & Ng, 2006; Hagger et al., 2007). Nonetheless, a
few studies have demonstrated variations across cultures. For instance, Lee, Hubbard,
O’Riordan, and Kim (2006) found that people in more collectivistic societies tend to
place greater weight on subjective norms, while those in more individualistic societies
tend to emphasize PBC with respect to smoking cessation. Nonetheless, the relative
importance of each TPB component seems to rely more on the characteristic of the
target behaviors under inquiry rather than cross-cultural differences (Cheng &
Ng, 2006).
Media Dependency and Pro-environmental Behaviors
Since previous studies have shown the usefulness of TPB in describing the
antecedents of PEB (e.g., Bamberg, Ajzen, & Schmidt, 2003; Kaiser, Hübner, &
Bogner, 2005) and empirical evidence has supported the cross-cultural generalizability of TPB, we posit the following:
H1: Attitude toward pro-environmental behaviors is positively related to (a) greenbuying and (b) civic engagement behavioral intentions.
H2: Descriptive norm is positively related to (a) green-buying and (b) civic
engagement behavioral intentions.
H3: Injunctive norm is positively related to (a) green-buying and (b) civic
engagement behavioral intentions.
H4: Perceived behavioral control is positively related to (a) green-buying and
(b) civic engagement behavioral intentions.
Communication and PEB
Communication can play a role in motivating environmentally responsible behaviors,
which researchers have noted of both the mass media (e.g., Hansen, 2011;
Leiserowitz, 2004) and interpersonal communication (Nixon & Saphores, 2009).
Furthermore, the extent to which people rely on media, or media dependency, can
motivate behavior change (Lowrey, 2004). Therefore, it is worthwhile to examine the
influence of communication factors on PEBs, in addition to the TPB constructs.
Media Attention
Media attention refers to people’s tendency to consciously devote cognitive effort to
particular types of media messages (Slater, Goodall, & Hayes, 2009). Several models
of information processing and persuasion, such as the elaboration likelihood model
(Petty & Cacioppo, 1986), propose that attention to message content is a necessary
condition for persuasive effects. Eveland (2001) proposed in the cognitive mediation
model that attention precedes cognitive elaboration and learning from media content.
Thus, people’s attention to media messages can affect persuasive and learning effects.
Consequently, media attention has been regarded as an important predictor of
message influence (Slater et al., 2009).
Recent studies have shown positive relationships between media use and PEBs.
Holbert, Kwak, and Shah (2003) found that viewing of public affairs television
content and fact-based programs such as nature documentaries generated positive
effects on people’s PEBs. Similarly, moviegoers reported higher motivation to engage
in environmentally friendly behaviors after watching The Day After Tomorrow
(Leiserowitz, 2004). Lowe et al. (2006) found that watching the film yielded shortterm effects on people’s attitudes toward climate change and their motivation to take
mitigation action.
Pro-environmental media messages include news coverage and public intervention campaigns seeking to promote awareness of environmental issues and adoption
of PEBs. We propose that people who attend more to environmental news are more
S. S. Ho et al.
likely to elaborate on and acquire knowledge from the content. Similarly, attention to
campaign messages can increase the likelihood of persuasive effects. Hence, we
propose the following hypothesis:
H5: Attention to pro-environmental messages in traditional media is positively
related to (a) green-buying and (b) civic engagement behavioral intentions.
We posit that attention to online content can yield similar media effects on PEBs.
Zhao (2009) found that frequent users of the Internet tend to be more knowledgeable
about environmental issues. The Internet allows environmental institutions to
promote their campaigns to a diverse audience, and offers an online platform to
deliberate about environmental issues and mobilize action (Zelwietro, 1998). People
can easily participate in environmental causes online, for instance, by petitioning for
an environmental cause (Schäfer, 2012). Websites with high interactivity and regular
updates are particularly effective at enhancing environmental activities of online
communities (Park & Yang, 2012). Online participation tends to extend to offline
participation as well (Wellman, Haase, Witte, & Hampton, 2001). Therefore, we posit
the following hypothesis:
H6: Attention to pro-environmental messages on the Internet is positively related
to (a) green-buying and (b) civic engagement behavioral intentions.
Interpersonal Communication
Interpersonal communication can displace mass communication as a source of
information to influence people’s behaviors (Rogers, 2003). Research suggests that
interpersonal discussion of topics such as health issues is related to risk perceptions,
but does not offer enough insight regarding the direction of the relationship (Dunlop,
Wakefield, & Kashima, 2008). Other research has recognized interpersonal communication as a source of social norms and perceived efficacy and has demonstrated
its effects on people’s attitudes and behaviors (e.g., de Groot & Steg, 2007;
Kahlor, 2007).
Nixon and Saphores (2009) found that people who received information about
recycling from family and friends were three times more likely to recycle than were
people who received no information. This odds ratio was higher than that for any
other information source. Moreover, people who discuss public affairs more
frequently with others display higher levels of civic engagement (Ho et al., 2011;
Scheufele, 2000). Therefore, we posit the following hypothesis:
H7: Interpersonal communication about the environment is positively related to
(a) green-buying and (c) civic engagement behavioral intentions.
Media Dependency
Media attention alone is insufficient to model the effects of media on environmentally
responsible behaviors. Some people may pay attention to media, but not feel that it
instructs their behavior. The concept of media dependency can explain instrumental
Media Dependency and Pro-environmental Behaviors
media uses toward forming and performing PEB. Ball-Rokeach and DeFleur (1976)
conceptualized MDT for application to multiple levels of analysis. The macro level is
concerned with structural dependency relations between audiences, the mass media,
and other social systems. MDT proposes that people will rely more on the mass
media for information under conditions of uncertainty and societal disruptions, such
as during natural disasters.
At the micro level, media dependency has an asymmetrical effect where the
attainment of the goals and needs of individuals is contingent on the information
resources controlled by social and media institutions (Ball-Rokeach, 1985). MDT
suggests that certain factors can increase individuals’ reliance on the media and,
consequently, message effects, including the availability of alternative information
sources and social contextual factors, such as the presence of threat (Morton &
Duck, 2001).
However, few studies on media dependency at the individual level have
considered these enhanced effects on people’s attitudes and behaviors. Lowrey
(2004) surveyed residents of a large U.S. city to examine media dependency following
the September 11 terrorist attacks. Findings showed that individual-level media
dependency significantly predicted changes in respondents’ attitudes and behaviors.
Media coverage of contradicting perspectives and choice of news frames has
contributed to public uncertainty about the causes and effects of climate change
(Schuldt, Konrath, & Schwarz, 2011). Nonetheless, it is plausible that extensive news
coverage of environmental issues might cultivate a climate of perceived risk in society
by increasing public awareness about the impacts of climate change and other
environmental problems (Hansen, 2011). Hence, we posit the following hypothesis:
H8: Media dependency is positively related to (a) green-buying and (b) civic
engagement behavioral intentions.
MDT also suggests increased media effects on individuals, when media dependency is intensified due to increased attention during media exposure, as well as the
likelihood of communication about the message after exposure (Ball-Rokeach,
Rokeach, & Grube, 1984). However, due to the dearth of research on the interaction
between media attention and media dependency, and also on the interaction between
interpersonal communication and media dependency, we propose the following
research questions:
RQ1: Do different levels of attention to traditional media differentially affect the
relationship between media dependency and (a) green-buying and (b) civic
engagement behavioral intention?
RQ2: Do different levels of attention to the Internet differentially affect the
relationship between media dependency and (a) green-buying and (b) civic
engagement behavioral intention?
RQ3: Do different levels of interpersonal communication differentially affect the
relationship between media dependency and (a) green-buying and (b) civic
engagement behavioral intention?
S. S. Ho et al.
We collected survey responses using random-digit-dialed computer assisted telephone interviews for one week in January 2011. The interviewers were trained
undergraduates from a large public university in Singapore. The survey was
conducted in the most frequently spoken languages in Singapore—English, Mandarin, and Malay—to ensure the inclusion of most Singaporeans’ opinions (DOS,
2011). For each connected household, interviewers asked to speak with the youngest
male, aged 18 years or above, who was at home. If no eligible male was present at the
time of the call, interviewers asked to speak to the oldest female in the household.
This within-household sampling technique has been effective in yielding nationally
representative samples comparable with the population parameters in countries
including the U.S. (Kennedy, 1993) and Singapore (Ho, Detenber, Malik, & Neo,
2012). In total, 1168 respondents completed the survey, with a response rate of 33.4%
using AAPOR Formula 3. The age, gender distribution, and education of our sample
were comparable to that of the general population.1
To measure respondents’ PEB intentions, we modified nine items from the General
Ecological Behavior scale (Kaiser, Doka, Hofstetter, & Ranney, 2003). Maximum
likelihood exploratory factor analysis with oblique rotation returned two factors with
eigenvalues greater than 1. The pattern matrix showed good simple structure. Items
for each behavior had strong loadings on a single factor (mean λ = .72), and weak
loadings on the other factor (mean λ = .03). The distinct factors corresponded with
the concepts of “green-buying intentions” and “civic engagement intentions.” For
these and other composite measures, we used item averages.
Green-buying intentions
Five items measured respondents’ intentions to engage in green-buying behaviors in the
next 6 months. Respondents indicated their agreement with statements (1 = strongly
disagree, 7 = strongly agree) about their intentions to buy products in refillable packages,
products with green labels, products that come with minimal packaging, paper and
plastic products that are made from recycled materials, and to avoid buying products
which have potentially harmful environmental effects (M = 4.88, SD = 1.43, Cronbach’s
α = .88).
Civic engagement intentions
Respondents indicated their agreement (1 = strongly disagree, 7 = strongly agree) with
four items regarding their intentions to contribute money to support an environmental group or organization, boycott companies known to harm the environment,
Media Dependency and Pro-environmental Behaviors
write a letter to the editor of a newspaper about the environment, and sign a petition
in support of promoting the environment (M = 3.60, SD = 1.42, Cronbach’s α = .78).
Attitudes toward PEBs
We adapted four items from a study by Ajzen (2006), which assessed respondents’ belief
that engaging in PEBs is enjoyable, beneficial, important, and pleasant (1 = strongly
disagree, 7 = strongly agree; M = 5.08, SD = 1.42, Cronbach’s α = .91).
Subjective norms
We modified six items from Park and Smith (2007) to measure descriptive and
injunctive norms. To measure descriptive norms, respondents were asked to indicate
their agreement with the statements that their family members, close friends, and the
general public “engage in PEBs on a regular basis” (1 = strongly disagree, 7 = strongly
agree; M = 3.97, SD = 1.26, Cronbach’s α = .71). The measure of injunctive norms asked
respondents to indicate their agreement with the statements that their family members,
close friends, and the general public would approve of their engagement in PEBs
(1 = strongly disagree, 7 = strongly agree; M = 4.67, SD = 1.35, Cronbach’s α = .82).
Respondents indicated their agreement (1 = strongly disagree, 7 = strongly agree) with
the following five statements: “it is possible for me to adopt…,” “it is up to me
whether I adopt…,” “I believe I have complete control over adopting…,” “if I wanted
to, I could adopt…,” and “I have the financial ability to adopt…” PEBs on a regular
basis (M = 4.93, SD = 1.25, Cronbach’s α = .85).
Attention to pro-environmental messages
Respondents reported how much attention they pay to pro-environmental messages
in television, print newspapers, and the Internet (1 = no attention at all, 7 = very close
attention). Three items referenced general pro-environmental messages, news about
local environmental crises, and news about global environmental crises for each
medium. We computed one variable to reflect attention to pro-environmental
messages in traditional media (M = 4.45, SD = 1.48, Cronbach’s α = .87) and one
to reflect attention to pro-environmental messages on the Internet (M = 3.62, SD =
1.84, Cronbach’s α = .96).
Interpersonal communication
Respondents reported the frequency of their interpersonal discussion with friends,
family, and colleagues about environmental issues (1 = never, 7 = all the time; M =
3.37, SD = 1.47, Cronbach’s α = .84).
S. S. Ho et al.
Media dependency
We adapted eight items from Loges (1994) to measure respondents’ reliance on print
newspapers and television news. Respondents indicated their agreement with the four
statements: Reading newspapers/watching television “helps me find out about climate
change,” “helps me observe how others deal with climate change,” “gives me ideas
about how to discuss the issue of climate change with others,” and “helps me figure
out how I can conserve the environment” (1 = strongly disagree, 7 = strongly agree;
M = 4.81, SD = 1.30, Cronbach’s α = .91).
Control variables
We included age (M = 39.39, SD = 14.23), gender (1 = female, 2 = male; 56.8% females),
education level2 (Mdn = 6 or “A-level,” SD = 2.00), household income level (Mdn = 4 or
“$3001 to $4000,” SD = 3.04), and religious guidance as control variables. A single item
measured religious guidance: “How much guidance does religion play in your everyday
life?” (1 = no guidance at all, 7 = a great deal of guidance; M = 4.42, SD = 2.16).
Analytical Approach
We conducted ordinary least squares hierarchical regression analysis in SPSS. We
analyzed two criterion variables—intentions to engage in (1) green-buying behavior
and (2) environmental civic engagement—and four groups of predictor variables
incrementally in the regression model. The four groups of predictor variables were
(a) demographic variables; (b) TPB variables—attitudes, subjective norms, and PBC;
(c) communication variables—interpersonal communication, Internet attention,
traditional media attention, and media dependency; and (d) the interaction terms.
We computed the interaction terms by multiplying the standardized scores of the
communication variables with the standardized score of media dependency.
Table 1 displays the hierarchical regression model predicting green-buying intention.
We report coefficients for the final model and R2 change for each step. Income was
positively related to green-buying intention (β = .06, p < .05). Females were more likely than males to indicate green-buying intention (β = −.10, p < .001). Age, education, and religious guidance were not significantly related to green-buying intention. The demographic variables accounted for 8.20% of the variance in greenbuying intention. Regarding the TPB variables, attitude (β = .28, p < .001) and PBC (β = .08, p < .05) were positively associated with green-buying intention, supporting H1a and H4a. Descriptive and injunctive norms were not associated with green-buying intention. H2a and H3a were not supported. The TPB block explained 27.0% of the variance in green-buying intention. Table 1. Hierarchical multiple regression predicting green-buying intention. Model 1 Variable .07* −.16*** .08** .13*** .19*** .53*** .42*** .42*** .47*** B(SE) .01 −.43 .04 .06 .12 (.00) (.08) (.02) (.02) (.02) β .07* −.15*** .06 .12*** .18*** 8.20*** B(SE) Model 3 β B(SE) .00 −.31 .05 .03 .03 (.00) (.07) (.02) (.01) (.02) .01 −.11*** .07* .07* .05 .00 −.29 .02 .03 .01 (.00) (.07) (.02) (.01) (.02) .00 −.10*** .03 .06* .02 .34 .18 .03 .11 (.04) (.04) (.04) (.04) .35*** .16*** .03 .10** 27.0*** .28 .08 .03 .09 (.03) (.04) (.04) (.04) .28*** .07 .03 .08* .19 .03 .11 .12 (.04) (.02) (.03) (.04) .14*** .04 .12*** .08** 5.60*** −.06 (.03) −.22 (.03) −.07 (.03) −.05* −.02 −.06* .40*** 41.2*** .43*** .18*** .44*** .42*** −.14*** −.12*** −.13*** β Note: Cell entries are final standardized regression coefficients for Blocks 1, 2, and 3, and before-entry standardized regression coefficient for Block 4. *p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001. Media Dependency and Pro-environmental Behaviors Block 1: Demographics Age Gender (1 = female, 2 = male) Education Income Religious guidance ΔR2 (%) Block 2: TPB variables Attitude Descriptive norm Injunctive norm PBC ΔR2(%) Block 3: Communication Traditional media attention Internet attention Interpersonal communication Media dependency ΔR2(%) Block 4: Interactions Traditional media attention × media dependency Internet attention × media dependency Interpersonal communication × media dependency ΔR2(%) Total R2(%) Zero-order correlation Model 2 87 88 S. S. Ho et al. 6.2 Green-buying intention 5.8 5.4 High media attention Medium media attention Low media attention 5 4.6 4.2 3.8 Low media dependency High media dependency Figure 1. Interaction between media dependency and traditional media attention on green-buying intention. Next, traditional media attention (β = .14, p < .001), interpersonal communication (β = .12, p < .001), and media dependency (β = .08, p < .01) were positively related to green-buying intention, which supported H5a, H7a, and H8a. However, Internet attention was not associated with green-buying, failing to support H6a. The communication block explained 5.60% of the variance in green-buying intention. Finally, the model tested for interaction effects. The interaction of traditional media attention and media dependency (β = −.05, p < .05), and the interaction of interpersonal communication and media dependency (β = −.06, p < .05) were significantly associated with green-buying intention. However, the interaction between Internet attention and media dependency on the outcome variable was not significant. Figure 1 depicts the regression of green-buying intention on media dependency at three levels of media attention. The figure shows that media dependency had the strongest positive effect on green-buying when media attention was low. Put simply, the relationship between media dependency and green-buying was stronger for those who pay less attention to traditional media than for those who pay more attention. Likewise, Figure 2 shows the regression of green-buying intention on media dependency at three levels of interpersonal communication. Media dependency had the strongest positive effect on green-buying intention when interpersonal communication was low. The overall regression model accounted for 41.2% of the variance in green-buying intention. Table 2 shows the hierarchical regression model predicting environmental civic engagement intention. Among the control variables, age (β = .06, p < .05) and religious guidance (β = .08, p < .001) were positively, and education (β = −.07, p < .01) was negatively related to civic engagement. Gender and income were not Media Dependency and Pro-environmental Behaviors 89 6.2 Green-buying intention 5.8 5.4 High interpersonal communication Medium interpersonal communication Low interpersonal communication 5 4.6 4.2 3.8 Low media dependency High media dependency Figure 2. Interaction between media dependency and interpersonal communication on green-buying intention. Note: Estimated values, which controlled for all the demographic and independent variables, are depicted in the figures. Scale ranges were only partially displayed on the Yaxis for both figures. significantly related to civic engagement. The demographic variables accounted for 8.40% of the variance in civic engagement intention. Regarding the TPB variables, attitude (β = .23, p < .001) and descriptive norms (β = .20, p < .001) were positively related to civic engagement intention, supporting H1b and H2b. However, injunctive norm and PBC were not significantly related to civic engagement intention. H3b and H4b were not supported. The TPB block explained 25.9% of the variance in civic engagement intention. For the communication variables, Internet attention (β = .10, p < .001), interpersonal communication (β = .19, p < .001), and media dependency (β = .12, p < .001) were positively associated with civic engagement intention, supporting H6b, H7b, and H8b. Traditional media attention, however, was not associated with civic engagement. H5b was not supported. The communication block explained an additional 6.40% of the variance in civic engagement intention. For RQ1b, RQ2b, and RQ3b, none of the interaction effects on civic engagement was significant. The regression model explained a total of 40.8% of the variance in civic engagement intention. Discussion This study contributed to existing research by considering communication variables with TPB variables that might motivate green-buying and environmental civic engagement. Results indicated that attitude, PBC, media dependency, traditional 90 Table 2. Hierarchical multiple regression predicting environmental civic engagement. Variable Block 1: Demographics Age Gender (1 = female, 2 = male) Education Income Religious guidance ΔR2 (%) Block 2: TPB variables Attitude Descriptive norm Injunctive norm PBC ΔR2(%) Block 3: Communication Traditional media attention Internet attention Interpersonal communication Media dependency ΔR2(%) Block 4: Interaction Traditional media attention × media dependency Internet attention × media dependency Interpersonal communication × media dependency ΔR2(%) Total R2(%) Zero-order correlations .14*** −.07* −.08** −.02 .26*** .49*** .50*** .43*** .38*** B(SE) .01 −.10 .04 .01 .16 (.00) (.08) (.02) (.02) (.02) Model 2 β .10*** −.04 −.05 .02 .24*** 8.40*** B(SE) Model 3 β B(SE) .01 .07 .02 −.00 .07 (.00) (.07) (.02) (.01) (.02) .05 .01 −.03 −.01 .11*** .01 .05 −.05 −.01 .05 (.00) (.07) (.02) (.01) (.02) .06* .02 −.07** −.01 .08*** .30 .35 .03 −.03 (.04) (.04) (.04) (.04) .30*** .31*** .03 −.02 25.9*** .23 .22 .04 −.05 (.03) (.04) (.04) (.04) .23*** .20*** .03 −.04 .02 .08 .18 .17 (.04) (.02) (.03) (.04) .01 .10*** .19*** .12*** 6.40*** .37*** .18*** .48*** .41*** −.07* −.11 −.05 β −.02 (.03) −.06 (.03) −.01 (.03) Note: Cell entries are final standardized regression coefficients for Blocks 1, 2, and 3, and before-entry standardized regression coefficient for Block 4. *p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001. −.02 −.04 −.01 .00 40.8*** S. S. Ho et al. Model 1 Media Dependency and Pro-environmental Behaviors 91 media attention, and interpersonal communication were positively associated with green-buying intention. Furthermore, traditional media attention and interpersonal communication moderated the influence of media dependency on green-buying. Attitude, descriptive norms, media dependency, Internet attention, and interpersonal communication positively predicted civic engagement intention. Overall, our findings partially supported the TPB in predicting PEB intention. Consistent with findings of previous studies (Gatersleben, Steg, & Vlek, 2002; Litvine & Wüstenhagen, 2011), attitude and PBC positively predicted green-buying intention. These results suggest that Singaporeans are more likely to engage in green-buying if they associate green-buying with positive outcomes and feel it is within their control. We suspect that perceptions of behavioral control may reflect the increased availability of green label consumer products in the marketplace, though we cannot be certain of this effect without a longitudinal study. Contrary to our expectations, we found that descriptive and injunctive norms were not related to green-buying. One possible explanation may lie in how people learn about environmental issues. Since green-buying is a private-sphere behavior, people are often limited in their opportunities to directly observe how other people engage in green-buying. Thus, people’s observations of others making environmentally friendly purchases may be indirect, coming largely from the mass media or from hearing other people talk about it. Descriptive norm was significantly correlated with all the communication variables, indicating possible shared variance between the two sets of variables. As observation of others is the basis of a descriptive norm, it is unsurprising that communication variables explained away the effect of descriptive norm on green-buying intention. These findings are consistent with previous studies that show attitude to be a much stronger and consistent predictor of behavioral intention than subjective norm (Armitage & Conner, 2001). Overall, our findings highlight the importance of attitude and PBC in the context of green-buying. Both attitudes and descriptive norm positively predicted civic engagement, which concurs with previous studies (e.g., Fielding et al., 2008) and suggests that attitude plays a role in motivating environmental civic engagement among Singaporeans. The positive association between descriptive norm and civic engagement suggests that individuals are more likely to engage in environmental activism if they believe that others are doing so. However, our findings showed that injunctive norm and PBC were unrelated to civic engagement. The political climate of Singapore might explain the non-significant association between PBC and civic engagement. Singaporeans might perceive engagement in environmental activism to be challenging—a belief that stems from reluctance to engage in civic activities in general. Hence, perceived barriers might account for the non-significant association between PBC and civic engagement behavior in the context of climate change. Overall, our findings show that the predictive power of the TPB model varies among sub-types of PEBs. Future research might seek to identify characteristics that differentiate various sub-types and clarify antecedents of PEB intention and actual behavior. 92 S. S. Ho et al. We found that various communication factors can influence green-buying and environmental civic engagement intentions. Our analyses yielded mixed results for the effects of traditional media attention and Internet attention on our two outcome variables. Attention to pro-environmental messages in newspapers and on television predicted green-buying, while attention to pro-environmental messages on the Internet predicted civic engagement. These findings suggest that communication factors can be important determinants of PEB, though their influence varies across sub-types of PEB. Nonetheless, our findings corroborate current views of the importance of mass media in shaping public opinion and behavior regarding the environment (Hansen, 2011). The mass media in Singapore frequently run campaigns to raise public awareness of environmental conservation and to offer environmental friendly guidelines to the public. Since research has shown that individuals who pay attention to media content tend to elaborate and learn from media messages (Eveland, 2001; Ho, Peh, & Soh, 2013), it is unsurprising that attention to proenvironmental messages in traditional media predicts green-buying. However, we found that Internet attention, instead of traditional media attention, predicted environmental civic engagement. This finding comports with prior findings that Internet us...

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