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Transforming journalism, transforming audiences? Audience-centred research on news use in the omnipresent news environment

(2020)
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Abstract
The initiating point of this dissertation is the omnipresence of news characterising the current complex news media landscape. Digitalisation has influenced not only journalism as a profession, its production process, distribution strategies and content, but has inevitably also changed how audiences consume, or use, news. This is the focus of the current dissertation: understanding how audiences consume news when news is everywhere. To do so, we take a radical audience-centred approach, where audiences themselves shape our understanding of, and approaches to, news use. As such, the main research question of this thesis was: How can we study news audiences in the omnipresent news landscape from a radical audience-centred approach? Chapter 1 sets the tone of this dissertation by positioning the research within the broader field of journalism studies. It introduces the starting point of the dissertation: the omnipresence of news, and presents the central aim of the dissertation and its research question. In addition, the industrial, societal, and scholarly relevance of this context is addressed. Next, the chapter provides an overview of the research approach and the primary concepts of the thesis: critical realism, the audience, and news (use). Finally, an outline of the structure of the dissertation will be presented. Chapter 2 gives a conceptual overview of this dissertation and introduces an analytical model for studying news use in an omnipresent news environment. We propose studying news use by distinguishing between three types of news use: focused news use, which is intentional and engaged with the content; routine news use, which relies on news repertoires; and incidental news use, which audiences do not initiate. Chapter 3 outlines the methodological approach to news audience research, where we advocate a mixed-methods approach based on research philosophy and an intention for methodological advancement. Our main argument for doing so is complementarity, and the enhancement of the results because each method provides unique insights. Also, it introduces a new type of mixed-methods design we developed during the course of this dissertation, the ‘rich single-source mixed-methods’ design, where detailed quantitative data from identified people are combined with qualitative insights of the same people. Next, the chapter provides an overview of the mixed-methods research designs of the empirical studies in the following chapter and how they fit into the analytical model. Chapter 4 collects five empirical studies. These studies are not presented in chronological order but rather grouped by type of news use, as described in Chapter 2. One study investigates news engagement during focused news use. Two studies focus on news repertoires in order to understand routine news use, and two studies investigate how news audiences assess incidental news in an omnipresent news environment. Chapter 5 summarises the main findings of the thesis and outlines the methodological, conceptual and practical contributions of the research. The theoretical contributions lies in refinement of the situational circumstances of news use, and how these shape how audience consume and make sense of news. Based on our work, this news use situation is defined by both the intention of news use (i.e. the internal situation), and the physical context in which the news use occurs (i.e. the external situation). The conceptual contributions lie primarily in adding nuance to existing concepts. First, we proposed to make a distinction based on news use type in order to study news use in the omnipresent news environment. As scholars are paying more attention to the audience, there is a need to systematise news audience research. By making a distinction and focussing on three dimensions, we avoid making conclusions on news use based on levels that may be somewhat related but in fact analytically quite distinct. Second, this dissertation helped to understand incidental news use better. While the concept is gaining scholarly intention due to the algorithmic culture, little was known about what incidental news exactly refers to, especially to audiences. Our study revealed that audiences conceptualise incidental news use as a wider pallet of practices than accounted for by scholars. In our view, the main contribution of this dissertation lies in its methodological contributions. As argued, all news use is situational, and as a consequence, grasping the situation in which news use occurs is crucial in understanding news use. Our work provides three ways to grasp the news use contest. First, the analytical model from Chapter 2 offers researchers a way to distinguish between the different ways audiences meet with news as it allows for researchers to adopt a more systematically approach to news audience inquiry. By making a distinction, we avoid making conclusions on news use based on levels that may be somewhat related but in fact analytically quite. Second, we provide an operationalisation for grasping various news use contexts, which is divided into three strongly coinciding levels: time, location and social context. Third, our work contributes to the field by offering a way to approach audiences in different ways in one design by employing mixed-methods research. Our main argument for combining quantitative and qualitative research methods into one design is complementarity and the enhancement of the results. Based on these two studies, we also developed a new type of mixed-methods audience research: rich single-source mixed-methods, which combine rich, quantitative measurements of identified people’s news use behaviour from digital traces, with the qualitative articulations of the same people. To summarise, this dissertation contributed to the field of by taking radical audience-centred approach. Researchers (and news producers) often oversimplify, and even underestimate audiences, by classifying them in groups, often based on sociodemographic characteristics. We argued that all news use is situational and, as a consequence, grasping the situation in which news use occurs is crucial in understanding news use. As the same people engage with news in different ways, scholars should not only acknowledge these types exist but also understand the fluidity of the audiences towards them. Each type of news use may lead to other types of news use, both in the short and long term. As such, even though distinguishing between different news uses, they are all closely entangled, as they evolve into one another. Our analytical model provides one step towards building a more comprehensive theory of news audiences in the omnipresent news landscape.
Keywords
news use, audience studies, journalism studies, mixed-methods research

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Citation

Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:

MLA
Van Damme, Kristin. Transforming Journalism, Transforming Audiences? Audience-Centred Research on News Use in the Omnipresent News Environment. Universiteit Gent. Faculteit Politieke en Sociale Wetenschappen, 2020.
APA
Van Damme, K. (2020). Transforming journalism, transforming audiences? Audience-centred research on news use in the omnipresent news environment. Universiteit Gent. Faculteit Politieke en Sociale Wetenschappen.
Chicago author-date
Van Damme, Kristin. 2020. “Transforming Journalism, Transforming Audiences? Audience-Centred Research on News Use in the Omnipresent News Environment.” Universiteit Gent. Faculteit Politieke en Sociale Wetenschappen.
Chicago author-date (all authors)
Van Damme, Kristin. 2020. “Transforming Journalism, Transforming Audiences? Audience-Centred Research on News Use in the Omnipresent News Environment.” Universiteit Gent. Faculteit Politieke en Sociale Wetenschappen.
Vancouver
1.
Van Damme K. Transforming journalism, transforming audiences? Audience-centred research on news use in the omnipresent news environment. Universiteit Gent. Faculteit Politieke en Sociale Wetenschappen; 2020.
IEEE
[1]
K. Van Damme, “Transforming journalism, transforming audiences? Audience-centred research on news use in the omnipresent news environment,” Universiteit Gent. Faculteit Politieke en Sociale Wetenschappen, 2020.
@phdthesis{8665200,
  abstract     = {The initiating point of this dissertation is the omnipresence of news characterising the current complex news media landscape. Digitalisation has influenced not only journalism as a profession, its production process, distribution strategies and content, but has inevitably also changed how audiences consume, or use, news. This is the focus of the current dissertation: understanding how audiences consume news when news is everywhere. To do so, we take a radical audience-centred approach, where audiences themselves shape our understanding of, and approaches to, news use. As such, the main research question of this thesis was: How can we study news audiences in the omnipresent news landscape from a radical audience-centred approach?

Chapter 1 sets the tone of this dissertation by positioning the research within the broader field of journalism studies. It introduces the starting point of the dissertation: the omnipresence of news, and presents the central aim of the dissertation and its research question. In addition, the industrial, societal, and scholarly relevance of this context is addressed. Next, the chapter provides an overview of the research approach and the primary concepts of the thesis: critical realism, the audience, and news (use). Finally, an outline of the structure of the dissertation will be presented.

Chapter 2 gives a conceptual overview of this dissertation and introduces an analytical model for studying news use in an omnipresent news environment. We propose studying news use by distinguishing between three types of news use: focused news use, which is intentional and engaged with the content; routine news use, which relies on news repertoires; and incidental news use, which audiences do not initiate.

Chapter 3 outlines the methodological approach to news audience research, where we advocate a mixed-methods approach based on research philosophy and an intention for methodological advancement. Our main argument for doing so is complementarity, and the enhancement of the results because each method provides unique insights. Also, it introduces a new type of mixed-methods design we developed during the course of this dissertation, the ‘rich single-source mixed-methods’ design, where detailed quantitative data from identified people are combined with qualitative insights of the same people. Next, the chapter provides an overview of the mixed-methods research designs of the empirical studies in the following chapter and how they fit into the analytical model. 

Chapter 4 collects five empirical studies. These studies are not presented in chronological order but rather grouped by type of news use, as described in Chapter 2. One study investigates news engagement during focused news use. Two studies focus on news repertoires in order to understand routine news use, and two studies investigate how news audiences assess incidental news in an omnipresent news environment. 

Chapter 5 summarises the main findings of the thesis and outlines the methodological, conceptual and practical contributions of the research. 

The theoretical contributions lies in refinement of the situational circumstances of news use, and how these shape how audience consume and make sense of news. Based on our work, this news use situation is defined by both the intention of news use (i.e. the internal situation), and the physical context in which the news use occurs (i.e. the external situation). 
The conceptual contributions lie primarily in adding nuance to existing concepts. First, we proposed to make a distinction based on news use type in order to study news use in the omnipresent news environment. As scholars are paying more attention to the audience, there is a need to systematise news audience research. By making a distinction and focussing on three dimensions, we avoid making conclusions on news use based on levels that may be somewhat related but in fact analytically quite distinct. Second, this dissertation helped to understand incidental news use better. While the concept is gaining scholarly intention due to the algorithmic culture, little was known about what incidental news exactly refers to, especially to audiences. Our study revealed that audiences conceptualise incidental news use as a wider pallet of practices than accounted for by scholars. 
In our view, the main contribution of this dissertation lies in its methodological contributions. As argued, all news use is situational, and as a consequence, grasping the situation in which news use occurs is crucial in understanding news use. Our work provides three ways to grasp the news use contest. First, the analytical model from Chapter 2 offers researchers a way to distinguish between the different ways audiences meet with news as it allows for researchers to adopt a more systematically approach to news audience inquiry. By making a distinction, we avoid making conclusions on news use based on levels that may be somewhat related but in fact analytically quite. Second, we provide an operationalisation for grasping various news use contexts, which is divided into three strongly coinciding levels: time, location and social context. Third, our work contributes to the field by offering a way to approach audiences in different ways in one design by employing mixed-methods research. Our main argument for combining quantitative and qualitative research methods into one design is complementarity and the enhancement of the results. Based on these two studies, we also developed a new type of mixed-methods audience research: rich single-source mixed-methods, which combine rich, quantitative measurements of identified people’s news use behaviour from digital traces, with the qualitative articulations of the same people. 

To summarise, this dissertation contributed to the field of by taking radical audience-centred approach. Researchers (and news producers) often oversimplify, and even underestimate audiences, by classifying them in groups, often based on sociodemographic characteristics. We argued that all news use is situational and, as a consequence, grasping the situation in which news use occurs is crucial in understanding news use. As the same people engage with news in different ways, scholars should not only acknowledge these types exist but also understand the fluidity of the audiences towards them. Each type of news use may lead to other types of news use, both in the short and long term. As such, even though distinguishing between different news uses, they are all closely entangled, as they evolve into one another. Our analytical model provides one step towards building a more comprehensive theory of news audiences in the omnipresent news landscape.},
  author       = {Van Damme, Kristin},
  keywords     = {news use,audience studies,journalism studies,mixed-methods research},
  language     = {eng},
  pages        = {198},
  publisher    = {Universiteit Gent. Faculteit Politieke en Sociale Wetenschappen},
  school       = {Ghent University},
  title        = {Transforming journalism, transforming audiences? Audience-centred research on news use in the omnipresent news environment},
  year         = {2020},
}