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»It’s just not my thing«
Why audience members don’t use participatory features of
(online) news media – insights from four German case studies.
Nele Heise, Julius Reimer, Jan-Hinrik Schmidt, Wiebke Loosen
4th European Communication Conference, Lisbon
November 15, 2014
(Re-)discovering the audience.
Journalism under social media conditions.
Funded by the German Research Foundation (2011-2014)
Blog: http://jpub20.hans-bredow-institut.de/
Twitter: @jpub20team
From consumption to participation?
• Increasing participation in and through media (Carpentier et
al. 2013) via various features in (online) journalism, e.g.
discussion boards, feedback forms, social media profiles,
traditional feedback channels
• Research indicates a certain reluctance or hesitance to
engage with these features (Larsson 2012)  participation an
»interactive illusion« (Jönsson/Örnebring 2011)?
• RQ: What are reasons and causes for not using participatory
features and which (potential) participation barriers can be
identified from the user perspective?
3 of 12
The jPub20 project: 4 German case studies
daily, information oriented weekly, debate oriented
TV
Print
Political talk show
Exploring non-usage of participatory features
• Multi-method case study design: standardized and non-
standardized methods, including journalists, audience
members and journalistic content
• Online user surveys: set of 16 items (cf. Springer/Pfaffinger
2012, Engesser 2010) and open answer field (exploration) 
respondents who do not – or rarely – use participatory
features or functions (e.g. giving feedback, commenting,
sharing/recommending, rating, …)
• In-depth interviews: interviews with ›passive‹/not active
audience members plus non-usage as guideline element [six
to eight per case study]
5 of 12
Amount of non-usage
6 of 12
Daily
newscast
Weekly political
talk show
Daily
newspaper
Weekly print
magazine
N = 4.686 354 525 257
% of non-
usage*
49.3 43.4 27.0 12.5
Differences e.g. due to:
• number and types of participatory features offered,
• familiarity with (visible) audience ›traces‹ in journalistic products
(e.g. letters-to-the-editor)
* „non-usage« i.e. respondents that did not (or not anymore) use participartory features/functions
Surveys: Reasons for not using participatory features
7 of 12
3.02
3.28
3.58
3.05
3.23
3.4
2.65
2.87
3.47
2.91
3.09
3.48
1 2 3 4 5
… it is no fun to me«
… it takes too much effort/time«
... I don't want to register« Daily newscast
(n=2.249)
Weekly political talk
(n=155)
Daily newspaper
(n=322)
Weekly print magazine
(n=43)
• … I don‘t want to discuss with strangers« (lower at PT);
• … the discussion standards are too low« (lower at WM);
• … it is not the right medium for participation« (higher at TV case studies)
5-point Likert scale: 1=“disagree completely” to 5=“fully agree”; displayed are mean values
»I do not use participatory features, because
• Lowest agreement: »I do not use participatory features, because
• … I had technical problems while uploading files or comments.«
• … the journalists do not reply, answer or respond.«
• (… I prefer to participate on other media websites or online
services, e.g. social media, blogs, forums etc.«)
• Differences between user groups point to digital inequalities or
a »digital production gap« (Schradie 2011), particularly
regarding: education (e.g. technical problems and usability, not
daring to participate), age and – at the print cases studies –
gender (e.g. not daring to participate)
8 of 12
Surveys: Reasons for not using participatory features
Complementary findings: qualitative data
• Further aspects as articulated in open answer fields and the in-
depth interviews:
• People are not aware of different options for participation or do
not feel invited/engaged to participate (usability)
• Satisfaction with the trusted medium and ›passive‹ recipient role,
no motivation or need to add something
• »Lurking«: observing discussions and opinions of others
• Critical views of participatory functions in general; users feel
overwhelmed; (online) participation is perceived as ineffective
• Users and their concerns/feedback are not taken seriously
• Lacking transparency of participatory conditions (e.g. comment
moderation, selection of readers’ letters)
9 of 12
• Costs of participation (registration/personal data, effort/time
etc.) as barriers that might outweigh potential benefits, esp. for
those who do not enjoy it (»it‘s just not my thing«) or prefer
›passive‹ media usage  ›lurking‹ as meaningful activity
• Negative perception of and/or experiences in comment
sections as potential inhibitor of participation
• Open questions regarding the differences between different
types of news media (print vs. TV, information vs. debate
oriented, daily vs. weekly)
• Shift of perspectives: putting the motives, expectations and
conditions on the part of the audience in a more central
position
Conclusion
10 of 12
Thank you.
Wiebke Loosen, Jan-Hinrik Schmidt, Nele Heise, Julius Reimer
http://jpub20.hans-bredow-institut.de/
@jpub20team
References
• Borger, M., van Hoof, A., Costera Meijer, I., & Sanders, J. (2013). Constructing participatory journalism as a
scholarly object. Digital Journalism, 1 (1), 117–134.
• Bergström, A. (2008). The Reluctant Audience. Online Participation in the Swedish Journalistic Context.
Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture, 5 (2), 60–79.
• Carpentier, N., Dahlgren, P., & Pasquali, F. (2013). Waves of Media Democratization: A Brief History of
Contemporary Participatory Practices in the Media Sphere. Convergence: The International Journal of Research
into New Media Technologies, 19 (3), 287–294, doi:10.1177/1354856513486529.
• Engesser, S. (2010). Barrieren medialer Partizipation: Ergebnisse eines explorativen Feldexperiments. In
Wolling, J., Seifert, M., & Emmer, M. (Ed.), Politik 2.0? Die Wirkung computervermittelter Kommunikation auf
den politischen Prozess (pp. 151–167). Baden-Baden: Nomos.
• Jönsson, A. M., & Örnebring, H. (2011). User-Generated Content and the News: Empowerment of Citizens or
Interactive Illusion? Journalism Practice, 5 (2),127–144, doi:10.1080/17512786.2010.501155.
• Larsson, A. O. (2012). Understanding nonuse of interactivity in online newspapers: Insights from structuration
theory. The Information Society, 28 (4), 253–263.
• Loosen, W., & Schmidt, J.-H. (2012). (Re-)Discovering the audience: The relationship between journalism and
audience in networked digital media. Information, Communication & Society, 15(6), 867-887.
• Schradie, J. (2011). The digital production gap: The digital divide and Web 2.0 collide. Poetics, 39 (2), 145–168.
• Springer, N., & Pfaffinger, C. (2012). Why users comment on online news and why they don’t. Paper presented
at the 62nd Annual Conference of the International Communication Association. May 24-28. Phoenix.
• Weber, P. (2014). Discussions in the comments section: Factors influencing participation and interactivity in
online newspapers’ reader comments. New Media & Society, 16, 641-957, doi: 10.1177/1461444813495165.

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"It's just not my thing" Why audience members don't use participatory features of (online) news media. Insights from four German case studies

  • 1. »It’s just not my thing« Why audience members don’t use participatory features of (online) news media – insights from four German case studies. Nele Heise, Julius Reimer, Jan-Hinrik Schmidt, Wiebke Loosen 4th European Communication Conference, Lisbon November 15, 2014
  • 2. (Re-)discovering the audience. Journalism under social media conditions. Funded by the German Research Foundation (2011-2014) Blog: http://jpub20.hans-bredow-institut.de/ Twitter: @jpub20team
  • 3. From consumption to participation? • Increasing participation in and through media (Carpentier et al. 2013) via various features in (online) journalism, e.g. discussion boards, feedback forms, social media profiles, traditional feedback channels • Research indicates a certain reluctance or hesitance to engage with these features (Larsson 2012)  participation an »interactive illusion« (Jönsson/Örnebring 2011)? • RQ: What are reasons and causes for not using participatory features and which (potential) participation barriers can be identified from the user perspective? 3 of 12
  • 4. The jPub20 project: 4 German case studies daily, information oriented weekly, debate oriented TV Print Political talk show
  • 5. Exploring non-usage of participatory features • Multi-method case study design: standardized and non- standardized methods, including journalists, audience members and journalistic content • Online user surveys: set of 16 items (cf. Springer/Pfaffinger 2012, Engesser 2010) and open answer field (exploration)  respondents who do not – or rarely – use participatory features or functions (e.g. giving feedback, commenting, sharing/recommending, rating, …) • In-depth interviews: interviews with ›passive‹/not active audience members plus non-usage as guideline element [six to eight per case study] 5 of 12
  • 6. Amount of non-usage 6 of 12 Daily newscast Weekly political talk show Daily newspaper Weekly print magazine N = 4.686 354 525 257 % of non- usage* 49.3 43.4 27.0 12.5 Differences e.g. due to: • number and types of participatory features offered, • familiarity with (visible) audience ›traces‹ in journalistic products (e.g. letters-to-the-editor) * „non-usage« i.e. respondents that did not (or not anymore) use participartory features/functions
  • 7. Surveys: Reasons for not using participatory features 7 of 12 3.02 3.28 3.58 3.05 3.23 3.4 2.65 2.87 3.47 2.91 3.09 3.48 1 2 3 4 5 … it is no fun to me« … it takes too much effort/time« ... I don't want to register« Daily newscast (n=2.249) Weekly political talk (n=155) Daily newspaper (n=322) Weekly print magazine (n=43) • … I don‘t want to discuss with strangers« (lower at PT); • … the discussion standards are too low« (lower at WM); • … it is not the right medium for participation« (higher at TV case studies) 5-point Likert scale: 1=“disagree completely” to 5=“fully agree”; displayed are mean values »I do not use participatory features, because
  • 8. • Lowest agreement: »I do not use participatory features, because • … I had technical problems while uploading files or comments.« • … the journalists do not reply, answer or respond.« • (… I prefer to participate on other media websites or online services, e.g. social media, blogs, forums etc.«) • Differences between user groups point to digital inequalities or a »digital production gap« (Schradie 2011), particularly regarding: education (e.g. technical problems and usability, not daring to participate), age and – at the print cases studies – gender (e.g. not daring to participate) 8 of 12 Surveys: Reasons for not using participatory features
  • 9. Complementary findings: qualitative data • Further aspects as articulated in open answer fields and the in- depth interviews: • People are not aware of different options for participation or do not feel invited/engaged to participate (usability) • Satisfaction with the trusted medium and ›passive‹ recipient role, no motivation or need to add something • »Lurking«: observing discussions and opinions of others • Critical views of participatory functions in general; users feel overwhelmed; (online) participation is perceived as ineffective • Users and their concerns/feedback are not taken seriously • Lacking transparency of participatory conditions (e.g. comment moderation, selection of readers’ letters) 9 of 12
  • 10. • Costs of participation (registration/personal data, effort/time etc.) as barriers that might outweigh potential benefits, esp. for those who do not enjoy it (»it‘s just not my thing«) or prefer ›passive‹ media usage  ›lurking‹ as meaningful activity • Negative perception of and/or experiences in comment sections as potential inhibitor of participation • Open questions regarding the differences between different types of news media (print vs. TV, information vs. debate oriented, daily vs. weekly) • Shift of perspectives: putting the motives, expectations and conditions on the part of the audience in a more central position Conclusion 10 of 12
  • 11. Thank you. Wiebke Loosen, Jan-Hinrik Schmidt, Nele Heise, Julius Reimer http://jpub20.hans-bredow-institut.de/ @jpub20team
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