Setting the stage for news engagement : a case study of news audiences in Sweden
Abstract: How audiences engage with news has not always gotten a lot of attention in academic and industry research; and, even then, it is often studied in terms of exposure and interaction. This does not fully capture the dynamism and multidimensionality of this phenomenon; and industry attempts to apply market principles to engagement risks depoliticizing and reducing it to economic values. Rather than poking a stick at audiences from a distance, it is best to contextualize their engagement (and disengagement) within their lived experiences. It is not enough that news is available for people to give it attention but that it has to be embedded in a meaningful and compelling way in their day-to-day lives. What this thesis sets out to do is to situate news engagement within the lived experiences of Swedish audiences; and look into the ways in which cognitive and affective engagement plays into their performance as a news audience. It adopts Dahlgren and Hill’s parameters of media engagement model to map this phenomenon across six dimensions of contexts, motivations, modalities, intensities, forms and consequences. In doing so, it approaches engagement not simply as an isolated encounter with news but something that happens at the intersection of personal, political and socio-cultural circumstances. Taking a qualitative approach in the study of news audiences allows for them to elaborate upon their subjective experiences with such content. Sweden makes for a unique setting to study the multidimensionality of news engagement given its history with public service broadcasting; and the commercialization of broadcasting and digitalization of news within the last three decades. Furthermore, this digitalisation has changed how news is found and gets around; and the subsequent ‘scale game’ in the news industry has contributed to a surplus that has led to news fatigue, analysis paralysis and even disengagement. Sorting through this information has become just as much the responsibility of audiences as it is of an editorial staff. This thesis finds that how they engage with news is not just a means to get information but a cognitive and affective experience that is constitutive of their identities as news audiences. In an individualistic society, how they come to check and follow the news becomes demonstrative of how they see themselves as news audiences: well-informed versus ignorant, critical versus gullible. However, there can be no tangible outcomes to such news practices. They cannot be caught up on all the news and, no matter how many sources they check, all they can achieve is a fragmented and selective representation of what is being reported in the news. It is through the affects that are patterned along with how they engage with news that they come to feel, in their own ways, that they have kept up or been critical enough of it. When considered alongside other competing or complementary affects of engagement, their performance as an audience becomes an ongoing negotiation of how responsible they should be about keeping up and being critical of the news.
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