The Rural-Urban Gap in Community Newspaper Editors' Use of
Douglas Blanks Hindman
Department of Communication
North Dakota State University
P.O. Box 5075
Fargo, ND 58105-5075
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Department of Agriculture Communication
North Dakota State University
Department of Communication
North Dakota State University
Paper submitted for presentation at the August, 1998, meeting of the
Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, Baltimore, MD.
Running head: The Rural-Urban Gap The Rural-Urban Gap in Community
Use of Information Technologies
This paper is an exploration of community newspaper editors' use of two
information technologies that are a) compatible with, and b) incompatible with
production of the newspaper. Findings were that indicators of social status
associated with editor's use of incompatible technologies. Nationally, gaps
between rural and
urban communities with on-line newspapers appear to be widening. The
Rural-Urban Gap in Community Newspaper Editors' Use of
Information technologies are often discussed in terms of their potential to
or narrow gaps in knowledge and power between higher and lower status segments
(Ettema, 1984; Katzman, 1974; Rogers, 1986; Scherer, 1989). Similarly,
technologies are often discussed in terms of the potential to either exacerbate
geographic inequities between urban and distant rural communities (Gillespie &
Hudson & Parker, 1990). The existence of inequities in the availability and use
information technologies is particularly important in a society in which
increasingly tied to profits and power (Bell, 1976; Tichenor, Donohue, & Olien,
This is an exploratory study of the social context in which editors use
of information technologies. Of primary interest is the use of information
editors of newspapers in homogenous rural communities, and by editors in more
urban communities. Editor's use of two main types of technologies were also
technologies used in the routine production of the newspaper, and technology
transform the newspaper into an on-line version. The two types of technology
this study correspond with what Rogers (1983) defined as compatible and
innovations. Compatibility is defined as the degree to which an innovation is
consistent with the values, experiences, and needs of adopters (p. 223).
Information technology use by journalists
Recent studies of the use of information technologies by journalists show
adoption and increasing levels of use. In a September, 1997, mail survey of
newspaper editors and broadcast news managers, 93% of respondents said they or
use on-line services at least occasionally. Almost half the respondents say
they or their staff
go on-line every day, and 55% of respondents say their publication, or portions
of it, are on-line (Ross & Middleberg, 1997). Niekamp (1997) showed that
television web sites with links
within news stories tended to receive greater use than other types of
Redmond (1996) examined 1500 television and radio web sites showed that radio
stations were providing very limited community service information on their web
self-promotion. In contrast, Grubman and Greer (1997) showed that the 89% of
of newspaper web pages included local news, but only 15.7% of the newspapers
writing style to fit the medium by including linked boxes or non-traditional
In one of the few studies that examine the social context of technology
and Greer (1997) found that larger newspapers' on-line products had more
than those of smaller newspapers. Larger newspapers' on-line products had news
the first screen, included national news, provided links to news wires, updated
frequently, used more non-traditional news writing styles, used multimedia in
provided e-mail addresses, offered on-line discussion forums, allowed searching
advertising, and had more comprehensive news archives.
The present study is an exploration of the social context of community
editor use of
different types of information technologies. Specifically, editor use of
technologies would be expected to be related to the social characteristics of
the newspaper, and the editor.
Information technologies and rural communities
Compared to urban communities, residents of rural communities are
both economic terms, and in terms of access to information1. Economic
include lower income levels, greater economic specialization making the
to boom-bust cycles, lower levels of educational attainment, and lower levels of
education (Hudson & Parker, 1990; U.S. Congress Office of Technology
Rural residents have less access to diverse sources of information relevant to
than urban residents. In a study of community-related differences in exposure
about cardiovascular disease, it was shown that residents of suburbs had greater
exposure to a
diversity of sources than residents of regional or small cities (Finnegan,
Viswanath, Kahn, &
Hannan, 1993). Nationally, metropolitan daily newspapers no longer provide home
in most rural communities, further diminishing the availability of
(Donohue, Tichenor, and Olien 1986).
Rural communities are also disadvantaged in terms of development of
technology infrastructure. The lack of communication infrastructure is the
result of the
greater return on investment associated with placing information technologies in
(Dillman, Beck, & Allen, 1989, pp. 24-25). However, communities that build the
infrastructure to make information technologies more widely available in the
experience mixed results. Widespread development of information technologies in
communities may also allow metropolitan businesses to gain better access to
New technologies do not simply reduce spatial inequalities; they also allow
transnational corporations access to the local market (Gillespie & Robins,
Camacho, Weinstock, and O'Gorman (1997) argued that simply providing access to
served communities does not necessarily lead to widespread use, particularly
information available does not appear to be relevant to low income, and minority
Information technologies are similar to a long list of innovations in
communication that both de-centralize and re-centralize communities, but that
result in rural communities being absorbed into metropolitan dominance (Carey,
Ultimately, the community implications of adoption of information technologies
are clear only
for those communities that don't adopt: those that don't adopt may be left
& Hollifield, 1997).
Information technologies in the social context
Rural and urban areas are expected to show different patterns of use of
technologies. Other social contexts would also be expected to be relevant.
available technologies such as mass media have been shown to contribute to
widening gaps in
knowledge among citizens with different levels of socioeconomic status
and Olien, 1970; McLeod and Perse, 1994; Viswanath and Finnegan, 1996).
Information technologies are also expected to contribute to widening gaps
society's information rich and information poor (Katzman, 1974). Gaps are
develop because information technologies are often designed for higher status
because the high cost of early adoption favors groups with more resources
As an innovation such as personal computers becomes more widely diffused in
social system, the gap between early and late adopters can be expected to close
1984). Personal computers have declined in cost in recent years. In 1998,
computers are expected to sell for $600, further deepening the penetration of
among U.S. households. Eventually, 60% of U.S. households are expected to have
computers. In a December, 1997, survey for Business Week, 41% of respondents
used computers at home (Hammonds, 1998).
Early adopters of all types of innovations are typically younger,
wealthier, and more
educated than later adopters (Rogers, 1983). The same characteristics are
early adoption of information technologies. Reese, Shoemaker, & Danielson
that older respondents held more negative and pessimistic views about
technologies. Abbott (1989) showed that the diffusion of teletext/videotext
a typical pattern with early adopters having higher incomes and being younger
nonadopters. Scherer (1989) showed that early adopters of videocassette
younger and more educated. Further, higher status groups tended to use the
recorders to strengthen their control over the information environment.
groups tended to use VCR's as entertainment substitutes for TV news, news
nonfiction books (Scherer, 1989, p. 101-102). Lin (1996) showed that income
associated with whether an individual was an owner of a personal computer, and
(non owners) of personal computers had lower incomes than adopters.
A group of studies has questioned the value of social categories such as
socioeconomic status in explaining use of information technologies. Ettema
that adopters of an agricultural teletext system were younger, more educated and
incomes, but the best predictors of use of the technology were innovativeness
and the ability
to see the importance of the information offered by the system (p. 394).
Similarly, Jeffres and Atkin (1996) expected that demographics would play a
significant role in predicting use of electronic mail and a 500 channel cable
the authors argued that attitudes play an important role in determining use of
technologies which characterize the new media environment (Jeffres and Atkin,
1996, p. 328).
Another study showing that social factors did not explain use of
technologies analyzed rural and nonrural respondent use of 18 information
including personal computers, telephone credit cards, and toll free 800 numbers.
strongest predictors were number of telecommunications terminals in the home,
time spent on information tasks on the job, and attitudes towards computers
One way of addressing the mixed findings regarding the relationships among
indicators of social resources and use of information technologies is to observe
different types of technologies by the respondents. Some technologies are
expected to be
adopted on the basis of perceived usefulness. Other types of information
less certain benefits to respondents. Traditional characteristics of early
adopters might be
more associated with what Rogers (1983) described as incompatible innovations.
which show that demographics don't explain adoption and use of information
may be based on compatible innovations, defined by Rogers as innovations that
as consistent with the existing values, past experiences and needs of potential
(Rogers, 1983, p. 223).
To further understand the relationships among technology type and social
each of the research questions will be explored using a wide range of
technologies, including technologies that might be perceived as compatible, and
that might be incompatible with the routines of news production.
Previous studies have shown that individuals with higher educations are
more likely to
be early adopters and heavy users of information technologies (Ettema, 1984;
Mettler, 1989) and are more likely to have optimistic attitudes toward
technologies (Reese, Shoemaker, & Danielson, 1986). Following Tichenor,
Olien (1970) education will be used as an indicator of editor's socioeconomic
RQ1. Will the editors' educational levels will be positively associated
with use of both
compatible and incompatible information technologies?
Editors are also constrained by the size and complexity of the newspaper
parent organization. Editors from smaller, locally-owned newspapers tend to be
concerned with maintaining the economic viability of the organization (Olien,
Donohue, 1988). Similarly, larger, corporate-owned newspapers would be more
likely to take
the economic risks associated with early adoption of information technologies,
those technologies are required by the parent organization. Smaller
organizations would be
less likely to risk adopting technologies that are incompatible with the
newspaper's need to
maintain economic viability. Demers (1996) argues that newspapers with
corporate forms of
organization are more profitable because of greater economies of scale, but the
corporate newspapers are less occupied with concerns about their organization's
Editors in newspapers with corporate forms of organization have greater
role specialization, more separation from ownership, and greater commitment to
values; editors with in-state ownership tend to place greater emphasis on
1996; Donohue, Olien, & Tichenor, 1989). The second research question
organizational complexity as a factor that would be expected to affect use of
technologies. Organizational complexity is based on what Demers (1996) defined
"corporate forms of organization." A newspaper is more organizationally complex
if it is
larger and is owned by a large-scale corporation with out of state headquarters.
RQ2. Will the newspapers' level of organizational complexity will be
associated with the editors' use of both compatible and incompatible
This research question suggests that organizational size and complexity
provide advantages which are related to the use of information technologies.
organizations are in a better position to absorb losses resulting from early
technologies that are not successful, and are in a better position to realize
from technologies that are successful (Rogers, 1983).
The final constraint confronting editors is the community itself. Social
constrains or enables individuals and organizations in systematic ways that
observable patterns of social behavior. Media organizations in one structural
perform differently than organizations in another structural environment.
structural pluralism is defined as the "degree of differentiation in the social
institutional and specialized interest group lines, in a way that determines the
sources of organized social power" (Tichenor, Donohue, and Olien, 1980, p. 16).
indicator goes beyond population-based definitions of "rural" and "urban" under
assumption that population alone does not fully describe a community.
small populations can be quite diverse, as in the case of small communities that
dominated by a major university. Community structural pluralism is expected to
use of information technologies because of the limitations posed by the lack of
telecommunications infrastructure in smaller communities, and because the type
information available through information technologies may not seem to be
community residents (Dillman, Beck, & Allen, 1989).
RQ3. Will editors from small, homogenous, rural communities be less likely
both compatible and incompatible information technologies than editors from
pluralistic communities ?
If gaps are occurring between groups with different levels of resources,
differences would be expected to become greater over time. In the original
formulation of the
knowledge gap hypothesis, Tichenor, Donohue, and Olien (1970) argued that
"... segments of the population with higher socioeconomic status tend to
information at a faster rate than the lower status segments, so that the
knowledge between these segments tends to increase rather than decrease..."
Applying this hypothesis to the current study, the gap between newspapers
and less pluralistic communities would be expected to widen over time,
particularly in regard
to incompatible technologies.
RQ4. Will newspapers from more pluralistic communities adopt information
technologies at a faster rate than newspapers from less pluralistic
Two main data sets were used for this analysis: a statewide data set and a
data set. The statewide data set was used for research questions 1, 2, and 3,
and the national
data set was used for research question 4.
The statewide data set represents data from a mail survey of a sample of
editors from 74 communities in a Midwestern state. The communities represented
range of structural characteristics within a relatively rural, agriculturally
ethnically homogenous state, and does not constitute a random sample. The
conducted between June 4 and August 4, 1997, and the response rate was 89%. The
was conducted in cooperation with the state newspaper association, and included
a number of
items related to the editor's adoption and use of information technologies,
computers used in laying out the pages of the newspaper, use of database
use of electronic news sources, use of on-line services, type of computer
connection used, use
of e-mail, and whether the newspaper has a presence on the world wide web.
The national data set used for this analysis was newspapers from a sample
of 461 U.S.
counties. Twenty-four states were chosen first to represent the four main
sections of the
country. Within each state, a systematic sample of counties was drawn. The
home county of
the major metropolitan newspaper was added if it had not already been chosen
with the above
method. A list of all daily and all weekly newspapers in the county was
prepared and used
for research questions regarding the relationship between community structural
use of information technology.
Independent variables: Statewide data set
The main independent variables used in exploring the research questions
statewide data set were editor's education level, the newspaper's organizational
and the community's structural pluralism. Educational level was determined by
"What is your highest level of education" and providing seven categories between
school graduate" and "doctorate, professional degree, or equivalent".
about editor's individual characteristics were measured, but were not included
in this analysis.
The additional items included editor age, gender, years in the newspaper
primary duties at the newspaper.
Newspaper organizational complexity was indicated by a summated index
standardized measures of the editor's report of the newspaper's circulation, the
sum of the
number of other media the editor said was held by the owners of the newspaper
other in-state newspapers, other out-of state newspapers, in-state radio
stations, etc.) and a
three level measure of ownership type. Ownership type was determined by asking
"Which of the below best describes your newspaper's ownership? independently
part of a newspaper group, part of newspaper group with headquarters in state,
or part of
newspaper group with headquarters out of state (Donohue, Olien & Tichenor,
reliability of the organizational complexity index was .68.
Community structural pluralism in the statewide data set included
measures of city population, county population, percent of the county work force
in agricultural, forestry or fisheries occupations, and number of county
residents with a
bachelor's degree. All data were from the 1990 U.S. Census. Multiple measures
are used to
indicate the level of community structural pluralism. Community and county
when combined with average per-capita income, are measures which can indicate
of the region to support a greater degree of division of labor and more complex
which can be expected to lead to an increase in formalization of social
interaction. The work
force measure is an indicator of the degree to which the community has
diversified the local
economy beyond a basic dependence on agriculture. The education measure, when
with the other measures, is expected to indicate the potential for development
of social power
among diverse groups within the community. The reliability of the index was
Dependent variables: Statewide data set
The dependent variables for research questions one through three were use
information technologies. Two main types of technology were explored:
in the routine production of the newspaper, and a measure of whether or not the
had a presence on the World Wide Web. In Rogers (1983) terms, production
can be conceptualized as being compatible with the values, experiences and needs
and producing an on-line version of the newspaper can be conceptualized as being
compatible with the editor's daily routines. Producing an on-line version of
requires the editor perform additional tasks beyond the daily routine such as
versions of the text and graphics and updating the content more frequently.
Technologies used in the routine production of the newspaper paper were
an index was computed which included the sum of standardized measures of:
number of electronic sources of news received by the newspaper
use of on-line services by the newspaper
type of computer connection used by the newspaper
use of e-mail by individuals within the newspaper
The reliability of the index was: .79. Editor's use of other technologies
with routine production of the news were measured, but were not included in the
because of the widespread adoption of the technology. These technologies
computers used in putting the newspaper together and word processing software.
An indicator of the editor's use of an incompatible technology was
coding the editor's response to the question, "does your newspaper have a home
page on the
world wide web?" Positive responses were coded as 1, and negative responses
coded as zero.
Table 1 shows the distribution of the dependent variables within the statewide
Table 1. Use of various information technologies by editors in statewide data
Indicators of information
percent of newspapers receiving at
least one source of electronic news
percent of newspapers with a
modem or other type of computer
percent of newspapers using at least
one on-line service
percent of newspapers with
individuals using e-mail
percent of newspapers with a
presence on the world wide web
Table 1 shows that all of the technologies that are conceptualized as being
with the routine production of the newspaper were more widely used by editors
indicator of whether or not the newspaper has a presence on the world wide web.
Technologies such as electronic sources of news, on-line services, modems and
provide obvious cost savings for editors looking for ways to more economically
information. However, an on-line version of the newspaper may provide less
benefits, while requiring a new set of skills and routines.
Independent variables: National data set
The national data set was used in testing the research question about gaps
communities. The independent variables were county structural pluralism and
structural pluralism was computed as the sum of standardized values of county
county seat population. Chronbach's alpha was .76. The index was used to
sample into two groups representing counties with lower and higher levels of
pluralism. In the national data set, the structural pluralism index did not
include indicators of
county employment or indicators of county educational levels because the
the index reliability. Because a dichotomous transformation of the index was
omission of the two indicators would be expected to have minimal impact on the
communities were grouped.
The other independent variable used in testing research question four was
observations of the dependent variable, described below, were made. The first
was in March, 1996, and the second was March, 1998. The limitation of this
measure it can
only show linear relationships, whereas there is some indication that knowledge
diffusion curves are not linear phenomena (Moore, 1987; Rogers, 1986).
Dependent variables: National data set
The main dependent variable for the national data set was whether or not
had at least one daily or weekly newspaper with a presence on the world wide
web. A listing
of daily and non-daily newspapers with web sites was searched in March of 1996
in March of 1998 (American Journalism Review, 1998). Daily and non-daily
listed as providing full service that were within one of the 461 sample counties
included. The obvious limitation of this methodology is that not all on-line
listed on American Journalism Review's Newslink web site. However, in order to
1986 and 1988 lists comparable, only newspapers appearing on the Newslink site
included in the study.
This study sought to explore the use of different types of technologies by
different social characteristics.
The first three research questions were tested by correlating the
with indicators of both types of information technology. Correlations of
technology use with
editor education (RQ1); the newspaper's organizational complexity index (RQ2);
community structural pluralism index (RQ3) are shown in Table 2. Although all
correlations were in the expected direction, community structural pluralism was
independent variable that was significantly associated with both measures of use
Table 2. Pearson's correlations of use of two types of information
education level, newspaper organizational complexity, and community structural
(newspaper web presence)
editor's education level
* p < .05, one tail
*** p < .001
Table 2 shows support for the idea that the structural pluralism of the
positively associated with use of both types of information technologies. Thus,
the editors of
smaller, rural, less pluralistic communities use fewer information technologies
electronic sources of news, on-line services, modems or other computer
and are less likely to have an on-line version of the newspaper. The relatively
correlation coefficients for the information technology index indicates that the
correlates of early adoption: educational level of the editor, and the size and
the organization; were not significant predictors of use of the technologies
which comprise the
index. This is perhaps because the index technologies (electronic sources of
services, modems, and e-mail) are not innovations, but are rather technologies
that have been
available for quite some time, and that are compatible with existing routines in
of the newspaper. Editor decisions about using these technologies may be
function of factors
not measured in this study, such as perceived usefulness of the technology
Jeffres and Atkin, 1996).
Whether or not the newspaper produces an on-line version, however, more
the expected patterns. Level of education, size and complexity of the
structural pluralism of the community are all positively associated with the
likelihood of having a home page on the world wide web. It appears, then, that
constraints of educational level and organizational size are less likely to
use of technologies that support the normal functioning of the newspaper.
production of a home page on the world wide web may require greater change in
the way a
local newspaper conducts daily business, and thus the traditional constraints
come into play
The fourth research question was stated as:
Will newspapers from more pluralistic communities adopt and use information
technologies at a faster rate than newspapers from less pluralistic
Table 3 shows the gap is growing between less and more pluralistic counties
contain at least one newspaper with a web presence. Table 3. Counties
containing at least one local newspaper with a web presence, by structural
pluralism, and by year, in percent.
1996 chi-square = 21.1, p < .001
1998 chi-square = 73.9, p < .001
Between 1996 and 1998, an increasing percentage of all counties included
with home pages on the world wide web. The percentage of all counties grew from
percent in 1996 to 19.5 percent in 1998. Among the less pluralistic counties,
with web newspapers grew from 1.3 percent to 3.5 percent. Among the more
counties, the percentage grew from 12.6 percent to 35.7 percent. In 1996, the
less pluralistic counties and more pluralistic counties was 11.3 percentage
points. In 1998,
the gap had grown to 32.2 percentage points. Even though nearly all newspapers
eventually adopt the innovation, the early adoption trends seem to follow the
patterns, and also seem to indicate the presence of a gap between more and less
Summary and discussion
The community in which the newspaper is located persists as a barrier to
newspaper's ability to adopt and use information technologies. Two main types
information technology were examined: a) technologies compatible with the
routines, and b), a technology that is not compatible with the daily functioning
-- particularly newspapers that are concerned with profitability and economic
use of technologies that were compatible with existing functions of the
newspaper, such as
pagination and acquisition of information from news wires, were not highly
traditional predictors of early adoption. However, whether or not the newspaper
had an on-line version was highly correlated with all the measures of social
resources included in this
study: editor's education, the newspaper's organizational complexity, and the
Producing an on-line version of the newspaper may provide less obvious
the editor, and may be less compatible with the normal operation of a community
particularly among smaller newspapers in small, rural, homogenous communities.
As a result,
the gap between rural and urban communities that contain a newspaper with an
version appears to be widening.
In many communities, the local newspaper is as old as the community itself.
newspapers have survived decades of community change. However, it is
for newspapers to survive in communities with declining populations,
economic bases, and dwindling retail businesses. The adoption and use of
technologies may be another way in which newspapers in rural communities can
operate in the face of declining local resources. For example, as residents
community, many might like to use an on-line version of the hometown paper to
touch with the community. However, if the current trend continues, newspapers
rural communities will miss out on what might become a significant source of
and if, on-line versions of local newspapers become profitable.
The unique aspects of digital forms of communication, while promising to
differences among all forms of communication, appear to be less likely to remove
fundamental constraints facing local mass media in small rural communities.
1. Rural is defined here as those counties with fewer than 50,000 people living
in towns and
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