Communication in Nebraska Communities

Ord Research Study Summary

Strategic Discussions for Nebraska, a research program in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communications (CoJMC), provides an opportunity for students and faculty to interact with fellow Nebraskans about topics vital to the state’s growth and quality of life. The SDN team also teaches students research and reporting skills. The students and their professors conduct research projects in Nebraska communities with the goal of helping them develop more effective internal and external communication with their current residents and potential visitors as well as with both prospective businesses and residents.

Background of the Ord Research Study

Between August 22 and December 15, 2009, students and faculty in two CoJMC courses combined to look at how information is received and shared in Ord, Nebraska. Dr. Linda Shipley and graduate students enrolled in her UNL Mass Communications Theory course (JGRD 915) conducted a qualitative study using telephone interviews, then evaluated the research results. Mary Garbacz, SDN coordinator, taught a course titled Communication in Nebraska Communities (JOUR 498/898) to graduate and undergraduate students who conducted journalistic telephone interviews with opinion leaders in Ord.

Ord, Nebraska is a community of 2,350 people in central Nebraska, located at the eastern base of the Nebraska Sandhills. Ord was selected for this communication study because its remote location compels its residents to be self-reliant; its reputation for proactive economic development has earned Ord the designation as one of 28 Nebraska Department of Economic Development Certified Communities; and it is the hometown of the original funder of Strategic Discussions for Nebraska, Robert G. James.

The 11 students in Shipley’s graduate course talked with a sample of 33 Ord-area residents randomly selected from the December 2008-2009 Sandhills Area Regional Telephone Directory. The interviews included questions about how news and information is acquired, consumed and shared in the Ord area, as well as queries related to their opinions about the community. The questions were approved by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Institutional Review Board (IRB), which ensures the safety and anonymity of human research subjects.

People in Ord

Ord-area residents said they like living and working in the community of Ord and are proud of the progress the town has made. Changes are seen as improvements, but some participants offered possibilities for additional improvements. Additionally, there is a small, sometimes vocal, group in the community that is not certain things are moving in the right direction.

The research results show there are three main groups living in Ord

1. Active Supporters
This group includes people who are actively involved in the community and who embrace change and support new initiatives and ideas. The people in this group make it their mission to move Ord forward. The community can usually count on this group to vote for positive change if they see it will benefit Ord and make the community more attractive to prospective residents and new businesses.

2. Contented Watchers
The people in this group are comfortable with the way things are, but are only somewhat involved in the community. They like Ord and want it to do well, but they aren’t visible, active supporters. They may go to public meetings once in awhile if a topic really interests them, but they aren’t actively involved in the ongoing decision-making process. Some of the contented watchers are commuters who may live in Ord and work elsewhere, or may live elsewhere and work in Ord. They are comfortable with the way things are going for the moment, but they will react if things start to make them feel uncomfortable, or if things look as if a change may benefit them. They are typical conservative Nebraskans who don’t like change, and chaos is uncomfortable for them. If the chaos becomes too unsettling, they will go against it. When an election approaches, the contented watchers will take the position they determine will serve their interests best, so Ord town leaders can’t always predict how this group will vote. It’s possible that these Contented Watchers may be the reason Ord, in recent years, has consistently had a 54% to 46% voting ratio. The key for Ord continuing to move forward may be to get this group more involved in various community activities.

3. Wary Outliers
This is a very small group and is where most of the negativity in the community originates. The word “outlier” is a term used by researchers to describe people or viewpoints that don’t fit in with the rest of the research data. In this study, the people in this group disagree with the way things are going in Ord. The wary outliers have strong opinions about how things should be, value their privacy and as a result, they are insular.  They don’t fit in with the community because their views differ from the majority. Even though they may be loners, there are enough of these outliers that they take support from each other. Their views are very different from others in the community but they want to make their views known, so they look for ways to do that such as offering those views on a website that allows anonymous postings.

How Do Ord Residents Obtain News and Information?

The results ofthis research study indicate that Ord-area residents obtain information from a variety of sources, including:

  1. The Ord Quiz, which is a weekly newspaper published in Ord each Wednesday
  2. The Ord Quiz website
  3. KNLV Radio AM/FM in Ord and its website
  4. Grand Island Independent newspaper, published daily in Grand Island
  5. Omaha World-Herald, published daily in Omaha
  6. Fox News
  7. KOLN/KGIN-TV (channels 10/11), originating in Lincoln, with coverage of greater Nebraska
  8. Gathering places such as Rosie’s Deli & Bakery, McDonald’s and Arby’s
  9. Area churches and schools

The Ord Quiz is read thoroughly by people who live in Ord, in the surrounding area and by people who live elsewhere but have ties to Ord. The newspaper contains many photos each week of people involved in business, activities and sporting events. The Quiz website was updated early in 2010 and now offers more interactivity than it did during the course of the study.

KNLV Radio plays in homes, businesses, vehicles and in combines and tractors. On the air 24 hours a day, it is a constant source of news and information. The KNLV website is frequently updated and offers news and interactivity; the management hopes to live stream local baseball games during the summer of 2010.
The Grand Island Independent is delivered to the Ord area each day. Grand Island is 71 miles from Ord and with a population of 41,000, is the nearest town with a significant population.

The Omaha World-Herald is still delivered to Ord, though delivery has been discontinued in much of greater Nebraska.  Subscribers outside the delivery area may still have the World-Herald mailed to them, but it arrives a day or two after the day it is printed. It is interesting to note that Ord survey participants did not indicate that the Lincoln Journal Star was one of the daily papers to which they subscribe, though Lincoln is closer to Ord than is Omaha.

FOX News is a cable and satellite news channel owned by the Fox Entertainment Group, Inc. In addition to news and other programming, FOX airs talk shows such as Glenn Beck, The O’Reilly Factor and Hannity, all of which have been shown to appeal to a conservative audience.

KOLN/KGIN-TV is a Nebraska-based television station that covers much of eastern and central Nebraska. With facilities and reporters in both Lincoln and Grand Island, KOLN/KGIN-TV offers news of interest to Ord residents in its large coverage area.

Gathering places such as Rosie’s Deli & Bakery, McDonald’s and Arby’s are locations where Ord residents meet to discuss local issues and controversy. The same people often meet at the same location at the same time every day, so there is a continual stream of information coming into and leaving each location.  It would appear that these gathering places act as a form of “social media” for many of the residents. 

Churches and schools also serve as major communication venues for many people in Ord, however, the topics may be different than those discussed in public meetings or in common gathering places.

Communication in Ord

Results of the study indicate that Ord residents use a variety of news and information sources to find out about what is happening in Ord, and elsewhere.  The content of the messageis what is important to them, not the particular medium or interpersonal source used to obtain it.  As a result, the key to successful communication with Ord residents is to present information that is important, relevant and useful to them as they go about their daily routines. 

The people in Ord and the surrounding area need, and look for, local news and information and will consistently go to the sources that provide that  information. Based on the research study findings, Ord residents want to keep up with what is happening in Ord.  They read the Ord Quiz and listen to the radio station, KNLV, in businesses, homes, vehicles and in motorized farm equipment.  In addition, The Quiz and KNLV websites are updated frequently and provide a means for people in the Ord area to interact online.  

Things Have Changed.  

In the past, one-way communication was the norm. People read newspapers, listened to the radio and watched television news at the time and in a place determined by the news provider.  Audiences were “told” the news and had few options for which newspaper they read or television station they watched.  That is no longer the case. 
People now expect more options for news sources and a more interactive communication style.  Many want to participate in the information gathering and dissemination process. The development of fast, portable computers, the World Wide Web, electronic devices and the accompanying software has changed information access and sharing. These developments allow individuals quick access to information, as well as a way to share personal opinions quickly and sometimes anonymously.

Suggestions for the Ord Quiz

If the Ord Quiz would like to promote more interactivity with Ord area residents and with the residents of other communities, the following suggestions may be useful:

  1. Contact Ord-area experts for answers to resident questions.
    Residents with troubling questions could send their queries to the newspaper and then a local expert -- the school superintendent, the head of the Loup Valley Rural Power District, the mayor, a banker, an accountant, a veterinarian, a pharmacist -- would be asked to provide answers to those questions.  The Quiz couldprovide a timeline of who will answer questions from the public on what dates, as well as a method and timeline for submission of questions. Ord-area residents would be invited to submit questions and the answers could appear in the paper and/or on the website.
  2. Run feature stories on new contributors to the community -- such as new business owners, new doctors, dentists or just new residents - and introduce them to the community. This could also bolster readership and advertising revenue.
  3. Contact the Omaha World-Herald and the Grand Island Independent, as well as other papers (weekly and daily), to have a discussion about an exchange of news, permission to reprint stories, etc--in other words, to establish an ongoing partnership. The result could be additional information for Ord-area residents, as well as additional advertising revenue.
  4. Find additional community correspondents in the Ord area, as well as outside the area. These individuals could provide information about clubs, group activities, or local area events that the Ord readership might find interesting.
  5. Continue to expand the Quiz website so it has wider coverage and is increasingly interactive.
  6. In order to cover additional news in the area, and to help the Quiz staff that is overextended, consider contacting the following people to ask them to cover events, then write stories and submit them to the Quiz staff for editing and publishing:
  7. High school students from Ord and nearby towns
  8. Students who work on the school newspaper
  9. Spokespersons for community organizations
  10. Consider including a column in the Quiz with a title such as “Something to Share” or similar.  Stories could be on various topics:
    - Historical stories (100 years ago this week, 75 years ago, 50, 25, 10, 5), using the Valley County Museum and the Ord Library as sources for interesting items featuring facts and people. 
    - Recipe exchange (“does anyone have the recipe for ________” or just good recipes to share
    - Stories about interesting trips or vacations.
    -Stories about famous people with Ord or Nebraska connections.  

Suggestions for KNLV

KNLV Radio is currently the Ord area’s mobile media. People listen to it in vehicles, tractors, combines; they listen to it in their homes; they listen to it at work. The following suggestions could foster more interactivity so the station can further meet its obligation to the public interest, convenience and necessity, which is the requirement of a radio station’s license with the Federal Communications Commission:

  1. Contact Ord-area leaders -- such as the mayor, a banker, an accountant, a veterinarian, a pharmacist, the school superintendent, the head of the Loup Valley Rural Power District - and have someone interviewed at a certain time on a set day. Listeners could call in questions or submit them through e-mail or on the KNLV website.
  2. Meet the community’s need to know about individuals who are new to the community, or are leading a new group or activity, by having these individuals interviewed on the air, especially if it is a business person or a health care specialist. Listeners would be encouraged to call in - and soon, they would talk with each other about this time slot on KNLV and the interesting things being discussed.
  3. Expand news coverage to include news from other parts of the state and include this on the KNLV website, as well.
  4. A program that allows listeners to call in with items for sale or with notifications of yard or garage sales could increase interactivity. A program of this nature would be perfect for a Saturday morning time slot.
  5. A program that allows listeners to ask for other listeners’ help in finding solutions to small problems such as where to find an item, how to remove a stain, etc. would be useful, especially if it were aired on the same day and same time each week. Additionally, if local businesses could be convinced to carry items or brands that are in demand, KNLV advertising revenue could be increased as a result.
  6. Commit to careful proofreading on the website for accuracy in facts, spelling, grammar and punctuation to be sure listeners will consider KNLV as a reliable source of information.

Professional Development

Professional development for media employees is available from a variety of sources and may be useful in continuing to serve the Ord area. Listed below are four ideas:

  1. The Ord Quiz is a newspaper member of the Nebraska Press Association and KNLV is a radio member of the Nebraska Broadcasters Association. Both organizations provide professional development workshops throughout the year. These organizations send out notifications of upcoming workshops that help media professionals to update their skills.
  2. The Central Community College system, which now has a satellite facility in Ord, may offer courses that would be useful; this could be a convenient option.
  3. University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension educators are often a good source of information about various training and educational options. The Valley County Extension Office is located in Ord, so it would be convenient.
  4. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communications offers half-day and one-day seminars on a variety of topics, including grammar and basic writing; writing for business; public relations; digital photography and using social media (such as Facebook, Twitter and Delicious) to reach a wider audience and/or improve business. To learn more about these seminars, contact Michelle Hassler at (402) 472-7050 or by e-mail at mhassler3@unl.edu. You may see the listings online at http://journalism.unl.edu/projects/oneday.shtml.

Strategic Discussions for Nebraska
Mary Garbacz, SDN Coordinator
Dr. Linda Shipley, Research Director
College of Journalism and Mass Communications
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
June, 2010

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