Hujanen & Pietikainen 2004 Interactive Uses Of Journalism Crossing Between Technological Potential And Young Peoples News Using Practices

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  • 1. New Media & Society Interactive Uses of Journalism: Crossing Between Technological Potential and Young People’s News-Using Practices Jaana Hujanen and Sari Pietikäinen New Media Society 2004; 6; 383 DOI: 10.1177/1461444804042521 The online version of this article can be found at: Published by: Additional services and information for New Media & Society can be found at: Email Alerts: Subscriptions: Reprints: Permissions: Citations (this article cites 11 articles hosted on the SAGE Journals Online and HighWire Press platforms): Downloaded from at University of the West of Scotland on October 7, 2008
  • 2. ........................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................ new media & society Copyright © 2004 SAGE Publications London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi Vol6(3):383–401 DOI: 10.1177/1461444804042521 ARTICLE Interactive uses of journalism: crossing between technological potential and young people’s news-using practices ............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................ JAANA HUJANEN ¨ SARI PIETIKAINEN University of Jyvaskyla, Finland ............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................ Abstract The article examines the interactive uses of journalism, focusing on the changes brought by new communication technology in the everyday news media uses of young Finns. The study is based on a survey and in-depth interviews. The results indicate that even though young Finns have easy access to new communication technology, journalism is still predominantly used via television and printed newspapers. While nearly all subjects followed news regularly, a fifth of the respondents had taken advantage of participatory activities offered by the news media. Consequently, technology alone does not seem to alter news practices. The interactive usage of journalism thus seems to be individualized entertainment for the majority of the young people that were studied, and only for few was it a platform for active citizenship. The everyday practices of using journalism via new media point towards heterogeneous activity and the conflicting meanings given to them. 383 Downloaded from at University of the West of Scotland on October 7, 2008
  • 3. New Media & Society 6(3) Key words everyday life • interactivity • journalism • new media • news • participation • young people INTRODUCTION New communication technologies are believed to bring about changes in journalism: to attract younger generations of users, increase media supply, and change practices of using and making news. One of the most frequently-discussed changes is interactivity – the increasing opportunity to communicate across ‘old’ boundaries of time and place, and between journalists and citizens. These real or potential changes are significant as news is an important part of contemporary western societies. As with journalism, which is not only about informing people about recent ‘factual’ events but also a profoundly cultural sense-making practice of modernity (Hartley, 1996), not only does news provide stories on recent events, but through ritualized performance and consumption they affect social life as well as the everyday life of the citizens (Allan, 1999). The shortage of everyday experiences and research results of the impact of new communication technology on journalism has left room for various speculations on the nature and direction of these changes. Characteristically, discussion has been polarized, either focusing on the positive potential of new communication technologies or on their negative consequences. The positive potential is seen to lie in the possibility to transform ‘mere’ consumers of news into participants, even makers of their own media texts and journalism (Heinonen, 1999: 82), whereas the ‘downside’ is believed to manifest itself in further fragmentation of audiences and losing a sense of community, shared citizenship and common public sphere (Buckingham, 1998). The underpinning argument is that if new communication technology enhances citizens’ willingness and ability to participate, the distance between the elite and citizens should become shorter. Likewise, both journalists and audience would be closer to each other. Ideally, meaningful public discussion within the platform of journalism would be reinforced: today’s rather elitist, conflict-centred news would be transformed into a source of, and an arena for, vivid dialogue between citizens and authorities and politicians. Ultimately the news, for its own part, would revive and strengthen democracy. This line of thinking stems from the ideology of public journalism, where the task is not only to inform citizens but also to enhance meaningful public discussion and participation (Heikkil¨ anda Kunelius, 1997; Rosen, 1991; Sirienni and Friedland, 2001). Although these goals may well be idealistic, this kind of journalism is needed: the critique of journalism – voiced in journalism research as well as by the decreasing numbers of news users – points out that the news tends to position citizens 384 Downloaded from at University of the West of Scotland on October 7, 2008
  • 4. Hujanen & Pietikainen: Interactive uses of journalism ¨ as outsiders and bystanders. Thus, it ignores the potential for meaningful dialogue and participation among people (Hujanen, 2000: 250–251; Pietik¨ inen and Hujanen, 2003). a There is little research on interactive journalism from the perspective of media use practices. The challenges and opportunities created by the development of new communication technologies in journalism are evident, but what remains open is what is changing – if anything – and how. One important way in which to examine this is to study the needs and motivations of people to take up this potential, and the conditions enhancing or limiting these processes. After all, changes in the practice of using journalism reflect not so much technological developments than sociocultural ones. Consequently, we believe that citizens play a pivotal role in determining how, and to what extent, new communication technology changes journalism. In this article, we are interested in the possible changes in the usage of journalism that are brought about by new communication technology in people’s everyday lives,1 here, we focus on the relationship between this and young Finns. Given the critique of journalism and the promise of new communication technologies, we are interested in examining whether new communication technologies have powerful potential: whether they can increase interaction, transform news users into news-makers and enhance public discussion on news sites. We study the kinds of conditions in which this potential is realized, as well as what limits or prevents such changes from occurring. We trace possible changes in the everyday news media use of young Finns by asking them how they use journalism and what the role of new communication technologies is. We focus on young people, as they are believed to be in the vanguard of new media change. Young people are often referred to as active and competent users of new technology, and talked about as ‘the new media generation’ (Buckingham, 1998; Drotner, 2000; Johnsson-Smaragdi and J¨ nsson, 2001; S¨ ss, 2001). They are also believed to be interested in new o u technologies, enthusiastic to try new forms of media and capable of quickly learning the necessary new skills. Consequently, their everyday use of the new media within the context of journalism could indicate possible future developments and changes. Finland offers a particularly interesting social context in which to study new media usage: it is among the highest ranking countries in the world in terms of mobile phones, internet access and use as well as reading newspapers. As the home country of Nokia, Finnish people form the testing ground for latest innovations. Some have even claimed Finland to be an example of a virtual society (Castells and Himanen, 2001). In addition, the Finnish news media has utilized new technology in making journalism: newspapers, television news and current affairs programmes all produce 385 Downloaded from at University of the West of Scotland on October 7, 2008
  • 5. New Media & Society 6(3) online news and invite people to participate in news through online discussion forums and polls. Our data consists of a large survey conducted among young Finns, and of in-depth interviews of some of these young people. The statistical findings establish general patterns and tendencies of the interactive use of journalism among young Finns. By analysing interviewees’ discussions, we examine the meanings that they give to the interactive use of journalism and the limitations and conditions that they find important either in hindering or reinforcing interaction. We begin by examining the discussion on the new media within the context of journalism, public discussion and citizenship. Next, we give a brief description of our data and methods used. Then we move on to present our findings regarding the participation of young Finns in the news media and the role of new communication technology in interaction. Finally, we discuss the transitions brought about by the new media in the everyday use of journalism among the young Finns on the verge of the new millennium. We also ponder on the consequences of these transitions, or lack of them, within the context of the new media, journalism and practices of citizens’ everyday lives. NEW COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGIES IN JOURNALISM The complex processes through which new technological inventions integrate into the everyday lives of citizens, practices of institutions and wider cultural practices, are essentially discursive. That is to say that an essential part of these processes is how and what people say, read and hear about new communication technologies, what kind of representations are circulated, and which of them are preferred and dominant. Consequently, changes – real, hypothetical, partial – exist not only as materialized ‘reality’ but also as discursive phenomena (Fairclough, 1992). Much of the technological development thus takes place within and through discourse: new technologies are introduced, debated over and signified in language use. The implication is that discourse is part of social practice and has influential signifying power (Foucault, 1972; Mills, 1997). Consequently, the social and language are seen as interrelated: on the one hand, the use of language constructs the social, and on the other hand, the social underpins, constrains and manifests itself in the use of language (Pietik¨ inen, 2000). This kind of a discourse analytical framework is a fruitful starting point for examining the symbolic aspects of interactive journalism and their relevance for everyday practices of using news. As a theoretical device, the concept of discourse helps us to differentiate the various perspectives from which interactive journalism is constructed and consequently, the makers, users and the role of new technology are 386 Downloaded from at University of the West of Scotland on October 7, 2008
  • 6. Hujanen & Pietikainen: Interactive uses of journalism ¨ positioned. By a discourse we mean the language used in representing a given social practice from a particular angle (Fairclough, 1992; Hall, 1997). Thus, discourses are ways of signifying particular domains of knowledge or social actions from particular points of view. Since discourses are about making sense of the social, it follows that there are always various views, and consequently, different discourses about the social. The discourses themselves are structured and interrelated. Some are more prestigious and legitimate, while others have to struggle to gain recognition. (Hall, 1997; Pietik¨ inen, 2000). a A more analytical use of the concept helps us to illuminate the interrelated and complex aspects of the discursive construction of interactive journalism and practices of its everyday use. Importantly, each discourse suggests a different kind of subject position for social actors related to this domain. Therefore, there are various discourses available, each positioning people and the relationship between groups of people differently. Depending on whether journalism is seen, for example, through discourses of information, entertainment or democracy, people are positioned differently, as (news) consumers or citizens. Of course, individuals may or may not reject such a position in their everyday practices of using journalism, but they are forced to take a stand. By drawing on previous research we have identified three discourses that, in our opinion, are relevant in discussing new technology, journalism and practices of news consumption. The discourses are: ‘pick and choose’, ‘user in transition’ and ’multivoicing journalism’. We do not think that these are the only discourses that contribute to constructing interactive journalism, but they are relevant in examining the possible changes brought by new technology within practices of using journalism. Although these discourses are closely intertwined, each captures a different aspect of possible or realised changes in interactive usage of journalism. ‘Pick and choose’ highlights changes in supply and demand, whereas ‘user in transition’ concentrates on the activation and expansion of a ‘mere’ recipient of news into an active participant. Finally, ‘multivoicing journalism’ centres on wider transitions towards more interactive and dialogic journalism. Next, we move on to discuss each discourse more in detail. ‘Pick and choose’ This discourse is dominant in marketing new forms of journalism available through new communication technologies, such as online newspapers or mobile phone news. It sets up dual representation of journalism and its users. On the one hand, journalism is represented as a service for eager consumers. New communication technology would improve news services as supply expands and opportunities for individualized practices of using news according to one’s own schedule and priorities increase (Heinonen, 387 Downloaded from at University of the West of Scotland on October 7, 2008
  • 7. New Media & Society 6(3) 1999: 81). Relevant to our interests is that the users are positioned as individual consumers, who are well-served with a wide choice of news according to their taste, interest and time. On the other hand, ‘pick and choose’ discourse focuses on concerns threatening the quality of journalism. The main concern is that instead of striving for better journalism with the help of new technologies, new innovations are used mainly on economic grounds, to increase the market and lower production costs. The goals of increasing dialogue in journalism and facilitating public participation would be set aside and the direction of the development would be the opposite: practices of using news would be steered to an even more fragmented and entertaining direction, thus undermining the very purpose of journalism (Bardoel, 1996: 292; Papacharissi, 2002). As the new media is not available to everyone, technological changes may increase inequality among citizens (Tambini, 1999: 306). Then, new technologies in journalism would weaken its role as an arena for public discussion. ‘User in transition’ This discourse focuses on the potential increase of the interactive use of journalism and the idea of increased blurring between making and using the media (texts). Digital media is represented in particular as almost inherently interactive, whereas ‘old’ media is easily seen as non-interactive and one- dimensional (Bardoel, 1996: 287; Bucy and Gregson, 2001; Heinonen, 1999: 37–9; Tambini, 1999). As new communication technologies are portrayed in this way, media making and using practices also become interactive. In journalism, news users would not only read or watch news or listen to it, but would be interested in making contact with newsrooms and journalists. Hence, this discourse positions news users at the verge of transition – a change from ‘mere’ users into participants, makers of media texts and journalism, and ultimately, into active citizens in society. In a positive reading, not only is communication between audience and journalists believed to increase but also the dialogue between citizens and decision-makers. From the viewpoint of our study, an essential feature of this discourse is its focus on young people, who are believed to be particularly enthusiastic to try out new, interactive ways of using the media. In other words, young people (more than anyone else) would be the part of the audience that would make the most of technological changes, in contacting people virtually, discussing, commenting and participating. At the same time, the vision of news users becoming makers of their own media texts is seen as utopian. A critical version of ‘user in transition’ discourse brings up the implementations of everyday usage needed for interactive use of the new media: mere technology does not result in interactivity – users’ motivation, competence and actions are needed also (Forn¨ s, 1999; Heinonen et al., 2001: 125–6; N¨ r¨ nen, 1999; Tambini, a aa 388 Downloaded from at University of the West of Scotland on October 7, 2008
  • 8. Hujanen & Pietikainen: Interactive uses of journalism ¨ 1999: 322). Another critical point arising in this discourse is that the interactive use of the ‘old’ media is often downplayed (Pietil¨ , 2001: 19). In a addition, it may well be that the attraction of journalism is still within its organized, familiar structure (Kuusisto and Sirkkunen, 1999). Professional practice and journalists’ privilege to make news may also collide with citizens’ attempts to contribute to news-making. Multivoicing journalism This discourse represents a new kind of journalism: instead of one- dimensional, monologic news, journalism would become – via the interaction of people that is prompted by new communication technologies – multivoiced, entailing multiple voices and perspectives (Heinonen, 1999: 82). In this discourse, journalism is portrayed as a resource for citizenship. Also, the main task of the news media is seen to be a forum for public debate. Typically, the viewers and readers of the news are positioned in the discourse as citizens and people who are motivated to participate in public discussion and act for the common good. These representations are familiar from discussion on public journalism (Friedland, 1996: 201–6; Sirienni and Friedland, 2001: 188–93) and on participatory research projects in which the roles of journalism and new communication technologies have been studied. For example, the focus has been on how interactive journalism reinforces and strengthens public discussion and local participation of citizens (Heinonen et al., 2001). However, it can be argued that much of the ideals of civic journalism are unrealistic: people’s possibilities and competence to participate in journalism and public affairs vary drastically. For us, an essential critical point relates to the question of people’s motivation to participate in public discussion and, thus, to contribute to multivoicing journalism. Further, what would be the result if most citizens participated in journalism by voicing their opinions and making their own texts? THE STUDY IN CONTEXT The data of the study was collected in two phases, comprising a large survey and in-depth interviews. The survey was conducted in autumn 1999 among young Finns, who were recruited from the population in central Finland born in 1980, 1982, 1984 and 1986. A total of 800 people and 100 respondents of each sex per age group were selected at random, contacted and asked to participate in the survey. A total of 700 young people returned the questionnaire, and two were discarded, thus forming a group of 698 respondents representing a response rate of 87 percent. The sample included 337 male and 361 female respondents. As regards their media environment, the respondents represent young Finnish people, apart from those living in 389 Downloaded from at University of the West of Scotland on October 7, 2008
  • 9. New Media & Society 6(3) the northern part of the country or in the capital, where access to media is different. The majority of the respondents were pupils or students and still living with their parents. They had access to a large variety of different media, varying from newspapers and television to mobile phones and the internet. Nearly all of them had a television, radio, stereo and telephone at home. In their personal possession or use, a majority had a mobile phone, three- quarters had a computer and almost a half had access to the internet at home. The survey included 121 questions regarding e.g. media ownership, uses of different media and media texts. Here, we focus on findings regarding participation in the media, particularly the news media. The survey was coded for SPSS-database and analysed statistically (for details, see Luukka et al., 2001). In the second phase, qualitative interviews were carried out among the respondents. We used the survey findings to detect young people that had indicated their interest in news (Hujanen and Pietik¨ inen, 2001) and had a just begun, or were on the verge of beginning, to lead an independent life, thus being free to make their own media choices. We interviewed 11 of them. In addition, we interviewed three young people outside the sample in order to make sure that a rich spectrum of experiences of using and making sense of the (new) media was included in the data. The interviewees were 19–26-years-old; half of them were girls and half were boys. For the interviews, we used the survey findings of each interviewee as background as well as biographical information. This allowed a dialogue between the quantitative and qualitative methods and findings. During the interview the young Finns were asked about the role of news in their lives, the significance of new communication technology in using news, and about participating in making journalistic texts. The interviews were conducted in summer to autumn 2001 and each lasted between one and two hours. The interviews were taped and transcribed, and the data analysed using qualitative text analysis. In the analysis, we focused on moments where the interviewees talked about their interactive uses of the news media, meanings, conditions and limitations. With these two different kinds of data our aim is to examine both the general patterns as well as individual experiences of using journalism at a time when the availability of the news via new media was a new reality. Although we are aware of the possible incompatibility of quantitative and qualitative data, we believe that the two can be complementary and result in a rich, interesting picture of the impact of new communication technologies on the everyday use of journalism among young people. Further, to highlight the relationship between the young people’s practices of using journalism and the discursive construction of interactive journalism, we look at our findings in relation to the three discourses introduced above. By 390 Downloaded from at University of the West of Scotland on October 7, 2008
  • 10. Hujanen & Pietikainen: Interactive uses of journalism ¨ doing this, we hope to explore how, and to what extent, the everyday usage of journalism reflects, reinforces, legitimizes or challenges the user positions suggested in the discourses. Next, we present our findings regarding the participation of young Finns in television, newspapers and online newspapers. By participation we mean ways in which ‘mere’ reception of news texts transforms into more interactive action. In practice this could mean, for example, writing texts, participating in polls or giving feedback to journalists. As our aim is to examine the possible changes brought by the new media in practices of using journalism, we will present findings indicating such changes, or the lack of them. In order to do this, we will focus on the instances of new technology in everyday use of journalism, as well as on the absence of the impact of the new media on usage of news. We look at the potential moments or locations of change in forums of news usage, frequency, methods and motivation for participating in journalism. We will discuss each of these in turn. RESULTS Forums of news usage In the light of our findings, new communication technologies have not changed the usage of journalism radically among young Finns at the turn of the millennium. Regardless of the availability of, and possibilities to follow, the news in digital forums, as alluringly described in ‘Pick and choose’ discourse, the vast majority of young Finns preferred printed newspapers and television news as their primary forum of following news. Of the young Finns, 42 percent followed television news daily and an almost equal number (39%) read news in a newspaper daily. In contrast, young Finns used digital forums for following news much less frequently, although three out of four had access to the internet at home, and two out of three had their own mobile phone. Even though 65 percent were familiar with news on the internet, only very few (3%) read news on the internet daily. For example, only two respondents said that they read online newspaper news daily, and nine youngsters used mobile phone news daily. As for the interviewees, the digital news forums did not appear attractive either. Although all of them were familiar with news sites and had visited them as part of school assignments or had come across them while surfing the internet, following news via new communication technology was not common. Reasons for this were, for example, that the news were not ‘that interesting’ (Pekka) and ‘why bother, since everything is offered nicely in television news or in newspapers’ (Jouni). A major factor in preferring print journalism to the online version was that paper was considered to be more user-friendly – the interviewees felt that it was easier and nicer to read news stories on paper than on-screen. As one of the interviewees (Pete) explained: 391 Downloaded from at University of the West of Scotland on October 7, 2008
  • 11. New Media & Society 6(3) ‘it is hard to take the computer with you on the bus or train whereas you can easily carry a paper and throw it away if necessary.’ Thus, the technical nature of digital forums also contributed to favouring the more traditional news media among the young Finns. The participants also had misconceptions regarding charges to use news sites: I’ve never visited it since you have to pay for reading it. (Juho) Alternatively, they felt that the sites were difficult to find and that in the end, they did not offer anything special: I don’t think they offer anything new, not so much that it would make sense visiting them. (Akseli) The disadvantage with the Net is that if you don’t know a particular address, sites are difficult [to find]. (Kaisa) Only exceptional events, such as the Jolo hostage situation with Finnish hostages, had prompted a few youngsters to browse the news on the internet. Making contact The often-repeated claim, conveyed by the ‘user in transition’ discourse, is that new communication technologies prompt media users to make contact, give feedback and write their own news stories. Our findings of the interactive usage of new communication technologies in journalism indicate that the reality is more contradictory. The young Finns were familiar with new communication technologies and recognized their potential for easier interactive communication. Still, new communication technologies were not used interactively to any greater extent in everyday consumption of news. The possibility of contacting the news media intrigued a relatively small number of young people; while nearly all young Finns followed the news media regularly (85%), 18 percent of them had contacted the news media. Interestingly, interaction with newsrooms was an action favoured among young Finnish girls, particularly those aged 17–19. Among our respondents, 25 percent of 17–19-year-old girls and 22 percent of 13–15-year-old girls had contacted the news media, whereas only 15 percent of older boys and 10 percent of younger boys had done the same. However, among those who had been in touch with the news media, only very few had contacted them several times. If we turn to the means of making contact (N = 375), the ambivalence becomes even more evident. The often-repeated claim that new ways to contact the media gradually replace traditional means of communication was not true in everyday life of young Finns. Namely, one-third (34%) of all 392 Downloaded from at University of the West of Scotland on October 7, 2008
  • 12. Hujanen & Pietikainen: Interactive uses of journalism ¨ contact took place via email. Traditional means of communication had not been replaced, since one-third of contact (33% ) took place by sending a card or writing a letter. Further, even though a vast majority of the respondents had a mobile phone, only one-fifth (19%) of the contact was made by a mobile phone. Text messages (short messaging service, or SMS) were used even less: although a great majority reported that they ‘texted’ daily, only 6 percent of contact with the news media took place through SMS. As targets for contact, the traditional news media were more popular than the new news media; young Finns experienced a need for media participation more often with newspapers and television than their virtual counterparts. The majority of contact was directed towards newspapers (50%), followed by television (27%). Every fifth (23%) contact was made to online newspapers. The youngsters who were interviewed emphasized the benefits of new communication technology in terms of easiness and rapidity, even if they did not use it regularly. The following extracts from interviews with two young Finnish girls illustrate this: The net is actually very easy to use and it’s quick. So yeah, it definitely is [preferred to writing a letter]. (Kaija) I guess the threshold [to write] would be lower if you were connected, on the net you can start writing just like that. But since I don’t have access at home, if you start writing something here [at the library], there’s really no time or possibility. (Kirsi) These comments bring up an important aspect of interactive usage, namely, that an increase in technological solutions does not result directly in an increase in actual contact – as the critical version of ‘user in transition’ discourse has suggested. Although new ways to make contact are ‘easier’ and ‘better than using pen and paper’, the young people interviewed hardly ever used the new communication technology in communicating with the newsroom. This points towards other kinds of constraints and limitations for making contact. In our case, the idea of contacting newsrooms was simply alien and unnecessary for many young Finns, regardless of many attempts by news-makers to invite people to get in touch, and all the new technologies available. The following examples illustrate this: Kaija: Well, I guess some people who want [to contact others], they want to speak their minds or complain about something, then I guess they write on the net that this and that wasn’t right. Interviewer: Hmmm, have you ever done that yourself? Kaija: No. [laughs] Interviewer: Have you ever considered contacting a journalist? 393 Downloaded from at University of the West of Scotland on October 7, 2008
  • 13. New Media & Society 6(3) Pekka: No, I haven’t contacted them. Interviewer: Can you see yourself doing that, if for instance you read or heard something interesting or annoying on TV, do you think you could then email or phone the reporter? Pekka: hmmm, no I don’t think I’d do that. Maybe I’d talk about it with my mates but I don’t think I’d ever contact anyone. Kaija and Pekka’s dialogue illustrates that while they are aware of technological opportunities to contact news-makers, it is ‘someone else’, ‘others’, who make such contacts, not themselves. This does not mean, however, that journalism does not facilitate discussion. Discussion only takes place in one’s immediate environment, among friends and family, not with journalists. So far, the existence of new communication technologies does not appear to have changed this. Participation activities New communication technology has invested heavily in new, easier and more equal possibilities to participate in the media. By participation in the making of the news media (texts) we mean taking up any of the activities that are available for news users, such as participating in competitions, polls, questionnaires, writing a letter to the editor, participating in an online discussion group, giving one’s own opinion to a current affairs programme questionnaire, giving feedback to journalists, sending them hints or questions for new stories or even writing one’s own news texts. These activities may be grouped as quizzing, voicing one’s own opinion and commenting on journalism. We discuss each activity group in turn. Quizzing Out of the inquired possibilities to participate in journalism, young Finns were most intrigued by the possibility of taking part in competitions, polls and questionnaires. Out of all the participatory activities, 37 percent (N = 345) comprised this kind of participation. Of the respondents, 18 percent had taken part in competitions or polls. Further, competing and answering polls and questionnaires was the most popular way to participate in each news media: as for print media, online newspaper and television news, one- half of the activities was comprised of taking part in competitions. This kind of participation in the news media can be called entertainment, such as quizzes which offer an easy-going, harmless way to spend time. A young Finnish girl’s comments indicate the lightness of this kind of participation: Anniina: I always checked on the quizzes there [in the tabloids] [laughs]. First I read the horoscope and all sorts of gossip and celebrity news and stories, but I don’t think I read the opinions. Interviewer: Do you remember what kind of quizzes? 394 Downloaded from at University of the West of Scotland on October 7, 2008
  • 14. Hujanen & Pietikainen: Interactive uses of journalism ¨ Anniina: No, I can’t remember, I dunno. Age seemed to enhance the attraction towards polls and questionnaires: the majority of those who had answered them were 17–19-years-old. Girls were more active than boys, and the most eager participants proved to be older girls. Voicing one’s own opinion Another way to participate in making the news media (texts) involves expressing one’s own opinions. In practice, this was realised by writing a letter to the editor or the youth section, or participating in an online discussion group. Among young Finns, giving one’s own opinion was the second most frequent way to participate in the news media: it formed 30 percent of all participatory activity (N = 345). Out of all the respondents, 14 percent had participated in this manner. Thus only a rather small minority of young people were interested in voicing their own opinion regarding current events and topics. The most popular form of contact was through writing. Of the young people, 11 percent had written a letter to the editor or contributed to a youth section. However, the motivation for this type of activity is, at least partly, explained by the life situation of the respondent: it may have been a school assignment, as the following extract illustrates: Sometimes at school one has had to write letters to an editor and then the teacher sends them to the Keskisuomalainen [the local newspaper], and some are published. But it’s nothing more than that. It’s just practice, in case we need to write something like that sometimes. (Eriikka) It also seems that even when a young person had motivation to write their own stories or opinions, it was not always important to get them published. Yeah, I have written texts to send to a newspaper but I’ve never sent them. [laughter] (Kirsi) Digital fora for expressing opinions were alien to the vast majority of youngsters: only 3 percent had written to discussion fora in the online news media. The comments of a young Finnish boy who had participated in a current affairs programme by SMS illustrates well how (once the motivation for participating exists) the new technology facilitates participation, hence fulfilling the promises described in the ‘multivoicing journalism’ discourse: Interviewer: . . . that these new technologies would somehow lower the threshold to participate in the programmes. What do you think? Matti: Well they have. Really, at least I think so. Actually it’s quite good to be able to take part every now and then. 395 Downloaded from at University of the West of Scotland on October 7, 2008
  • 15. New Media & Society 6(3) Interviewer: Yes. Have you ever contacted them? Matti: Not that much, a couple of times I’ve sent to Channel Four, to that whatsit, twenty or something like that. Just that, not that often. Interviewer: You mean that vote Matti: mmm Interviewer: By a text message? Matti: Yes. Interviewer: Do you think that they have influenced, or why have you sent those? Matti: Yes, I think they have. I want to have my say. Interviewer: Right, and you think it’s a good way, do you think you could do that also in the future? Matti: I guess so, if there are interesting topics. Interviewer: And do you think that the new technologies are the reason for participating, that you wouldn’t write a letter or postcard? Matti: No, I don’t think I’d write, it’s easier this way. Since it’s so quick, then why not do it. Interviewer: Do you think it’s young people sending these messages? Matti: Depends on the topic. If the topic interests the young, then I guess they also send messages. Commenting on journalism Other ways to participate in journalism include giving feedback to journalists, or sending them hints or questions for new stories. This kind of participation may be interpreted as a desire to have an impact on journalism. Of all the participatory activity, 22 percent comprised this kind of action. However, among the young Finns examined, commenting was rare; 11 percent of them had participated in journalism in this way. The distribution of activity among various ways of commenting on journalism was rather even; 5 percent had given feedback, 3 percent had sent hints for journalists, and 2 percent had sent questions. In addition, the findings suggest that similarly to giving an opinion, the young participated this way more often with printed newspapers than online versions or television news. One explanation for the unfamiliarity of this kind of participation can be found in young people’s understanding of news and its role. The interviewees’ comments suggest that they saw news as ‘untouchable’ – a particular area of journalistic expertise that is not meant (nor needs) to be interactive. In their eyes, critical contribution to journalism could be ‘John Doe fussing about’, which would only result in twisting facts or interfering with the work of journalists: 396 Downloaded from at University of the West of Scotland on October 7, 2008
  • 16. Hujanen & Pietikainen: Interactive uses of journalism ¨ I think there are enough possibilities to comment and give feedback, if the journalists have already decided what to write and know their topic, and then some John Doe, who hasn’t a clue, interfere . . . I think that things might get twisted. (Anniina) Let those who know the job, also do it. They are quite good at it, there’s no need to try to mess with it. (Pekka) I don’t want to stick my nose into other people’s business. (Eriikka) I haven’t much commented on news to their writers. If I have, then it’s been about the pages, how readable they are and how they work with different browsers. (Marianne) Tied in with the view of news as a special area of journalistic expertise, the young Finns also doubted the relevance of their viewpoints and comments: I don’t know if I’d ever come up with the idea that I’d suggest to someone, why don’t you write a story about this. It wouldn’t occur to me that something would make a good piece of news. (Eriikka) However, participation in making journalism in the future was an option – once one’s competence and capacity had been increased. For the time being, many young people felt marginal, and ill-prepared to participate in journalism: Maybe when I’m older, I think that they don’t really listen to youngsters at this age. I think you need to be older and have more authority, so anyone would listen to you. (Anne) Once motivation and a sense of the relevance of one’s own opinions and knowledge (adulthood) are achieved, new communication technology appears to play a role in more interactive news-using practices. This can be read, for example, in the following comments explicating how, in the long run, new communication technology can strengthen the practice of commenting on the work of journalists. In an online paper it [feedback] could work better but maybe when you think of an ordinary newspaper, very few people think that someone gets so agitated that they’d write to the journalist. I don’t think it happens too often. (Pete) It’s easier to send it [feedback] on the net via email, you just click and there it goes, and it’s quicker. (Kaisa) DISCUSSION Our findings on the interactive usage of journalism among young Finns form a heterogeneous and somewhat conflicting picture. Although young 397 Downloaded from at University of the West of Scotland on October 7, 2008
  • 17. New Media & Society 6(3) Finns have relatively easy access to new communication technology, are familiar with using it and are keen on knowing recent world events, these three activities do not intermingle to any greater extent. In other words, while the youngsters use new communication technologies particularly for social contact, journalism is accessed predominantly via traditional means, i.e. television and newspapers. With increased opportunity to follow news individually according to one’s own time and taste – as marketed in ‘pick and choose’ discourse – the young Finns preferred the national news media. This result indicates that, regardless of an increasing news supply, the attraction of news still lies at least partly in its power to offer moments of communal attachment and a sense of shared experience. While nearly all the young Finns followed the news media regularly at the turn of the millennium, almost one-fifth had participated in the news media. This number can be interpreted in different ways. On the one hand, given the novelty of many of the means of participation and the genre of news, the number of participants can be regarded as quite considerable. This reading of the result lends support to the positional changes of news readers and viewers: the prediction of a gradual transition of ‘mere’ news recipients to active participation brought up in ‘user in transition’ discourse seems to materialize partially. On the other hand, if audience activation is borne in mind, every fifth participant is a relatively small part of youth in general. Our findings indicate more heterogeneous transitions in youth participation than is often assumed in ‘user in transition’ discourse; while the young Finns used ‘old’ and ‘new’ means to participate to the same extent, the ‘traditional’ news media were clearly preferred by the youngsters as a target of participation. Consequently, participation does not only occur through new technology and in a virtual environment, but the ‘old’ and new possibilities and arenas overlap and coexist. The findings show that participation by the young Finns is a mixture of heterogeneous activities, including quizzing, voicing opinions and commenting on journalism. For them, interactive use of journalism took place most often in the world of virtual quizzes, polls and questionnaires. This rather easy-going type of participation can be interpreted as proof that journalism is becoming more entertaining and lighter when it comes to audience participation. The same applies to the characteristic usage of journalism on the internet. On the one hand, interactive usage seems to be individualized entertainment rather than a platform for active citizenship. On the other hand, for few young Finns the motivation for interactive usage lies precisely in voicing one’s own opinion and making a difference. These instances indicate that at times the potential of the new media to enhance public discussion and participation of citizens is materialized – as suggested in the multivoicing journalism discourse. 398 Downloaded from at University of the West of Scotland on October 7, 2008
  • 18. Hujanen & Pietikainen: Interactive uses of journalism ¨ The fact that some young Finns participated in the news media gives neither an indication of the significance of such activity for them, nor does the type of activity automatically reveal the motivation for such participation; while taking part in chat is entertaining babble for one, the same activity may be influencing and participating in public discussion for another. As with various discourses which overlap and together form a complex – and, to an extent, contradictory – representation of the new media in journalism, the everyday practices of using journalism via the new media point towards the heterogeneous activity and conflicting meanings given to them. We were impressed by how effortlessly the young Finns adapt and move along within and between the multiple and relatively rapidly changing (subject) positions available in the new(s) media world. It seems to us, therefore, that it is unfruitful to discuss interactive usage of the news media among young Finns through polarized positions of either interactive or not interactive, but rather to perceive the changing news world as an emerging and transforming continuum of possibilities which are taken up by some and bypassed by others, and which have different kinds of meanings for different people at different moments. Even if the potential of the new media may not be realised, or is realised differently in people’s everyday media use, in the light of our findings we consider the existence of new communication technology to be a chance for journalism to maintain and develop its role as a significant public discussion arena and as a resource for citizenship. Note The article is part of a larger research project: ‘Emerging Finnish media culture: encounters between makers, texts and young people at the millennium’. The multi- disciplinary project is a three-year research project on changing Finnish media culture, examining the media usage of young Finns. The project is funded by the Academy of Finland. References Allan, S. (1999) News Culture. Buckingham: Open University Press. Bardoel, J. (1996) ‘Beyond Journalism. A Profession Between Information Society and Civil Society’, European Journal of Communication 11(3): 283–302. Buckingham, D. (1998) ‘Muuttuvat lapsuudet, muuttuva media’ [Changing Childhoods, Changing Media], Tiedotustutkimus 21(1): 4–15. Bucy, E.P. and K. S. Gregson (2001) ‘Media Participation. A Legitimizing Mechanism of Mass Democracy’, New Media & Society 3(3): 357–80. Castells, M. and P. Himanen (2001) Suomen tietoyhteiskuntamalli [The Finnish Model of the Information Society]. Helsinki: WSOY. Drotner, K. (2000) ‘Differences and Diversity. Trends in Young Dane’s Media Uses’, Media, Culture & Society 22(3): 149–66. Fairclough, N. (1992) Discourse and Social Change. Cambridge: Polity Press. Forn¨ s, J. (1999) ‘Digitaaliset rajaseudut. Identiteetti ja vuorovaikutteisuus kulttuurissa, a mediassa ja viestinn¨ ss¨ ’ [Digital Borderlands. Identity and Interaction in Culture, a a 399 Downloaded from at University of the West of Scotland on October 7, 2008
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  • 20. Hujanen & Pietikainen: Interactive uses of journalism ¨ Rosen, J. (1991) ‘Making Journalism More Public’, Communication 12(4): 267–84. Sirienni, C. and L. Friedland (2001) Civil Innovation in America. Community Empowerment, Public Policy, and the Movement for Civic Renewal and Civic Innovation in America. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press. S¨ ss, D. (2001) ‘Computers and the Internet in School: Closing the Knowledge Gap’, in u S. Livingstone and M. Bovill (eds) Children and Their Changing Media Environment. A European Comparative Study, pp. 221–41. London: Lawrence Erlbaum. Tambini, D. (1999) ‘New Media and Democracy: the Civic Networking Movement’, New Media & Society 1(3): 305–29. JAANA HUJANEN is a researcher in the Department of Communication at the University of Jyvaskyla, Finland. Her areas of interest include intertwined questions on journalism, ¨ ¨ citizenship and local identities, as well as young people’s practices of reading new(s) media texts. She has published several articles about these themes. Currently she is involved in a research project studying dialogue and citizens’ participant identity in journalism. Address: Department of Communication, University of Jyvaskyla , PO Box 35, FIN-40351 ¨ ¨ Jyvaskyla, Finland. [email: ¨ ¨ ¨ SARI PIETIKAINEN is a researcher in the Department of Communication at the University of Jyvaskyla, Finland. Her research interests lie in critical discourse analysis, practices of making ¨ ¨ and using journalism and questions of identity. Her recent articles are about ethnic representations in the media and practices of making and using television news. She is also a co-editor (with Sirkka Laihiala-Kankainen and Hannele Dufva) of a recently published book, Multivoiced Finland. Currently she is researching Finnish ethnic media, with an emphasis on the possibilities of using the internet for building digital bridges between diasporic minorities, and participant identity in journalism – a theme developed in this article. The research is funded by the Academy of Finland. Address: Department of Communication, University of Jyvaskyla, PO Box 35, FIN-40351 ¨ ¨ Jyvakyla. [email:] ¨ ¨ 401 Downloaded from at University of the West of Scotland on October 7, 2008