Young Millennials News Consumption
With the rise of internet, social media, and general media consumption usage, digitalization has affected general news consumption behavior. With the possibility to access more information, at any time, audiences now have the possibility – with help of algorithms – to decide what kind of content they are interested in, giving the possibility of consuming more news from different sources, or making it quite easy to avoid news all together (Ksiazek et al., 2010). Considering multiple sources Mitchell et al. (2014) as cited in Edgerly and Vraga (2019, p.810) found out in their study that alternative news media sources, such as shows like The Daily Show and Colbert Report (both shows produced in the US) present an alternative form of journalism, also known as ‘infotainment’. The audience (especially young audience) would consider those a source on where to get their news from, however, these shows also evade the norms of objectivity and professionalism of journalism, as the moderators of the show are sharing their personal views and opinions as well.
Young adult audiences especially have gravitated more and more toward online sources to gain news and information. On the one hand, a study by Antunovic et al. (2018) focused on the emerging processes of news consumption among college students within a large state university in the US, using focus group interviews to examine how they obtain news. Results show that their news consumption habits and routines show a pattern of having not enough time or not being able to fit their schedule, which overlaps with certain news channels on TV or how they had to adapt or change their routines, since they started going to college. Hence, they would miss out on the scheduled news reporting (mostly on TV) as well.
On the other hand, Edgerly’s (2017) study takes a closer look at the role media plays when it comes to young adults’ decision in informing themselves. Through in-depth interviews with 21 young adults within the age range of 18 to 27 (in comparison, this study focuses on the sample aged between 22-32), two strategy patterns were developed. The first set includes strategies that directly involve use of the news media, and the second set includes strategies that either avoid or indirectly involve the news media, which will be further explained in the ‘news avoidance’ section of this paper. When it comes to the first set of strategies, the participants were asked where they would look for more information about particular topics or in particular situations, and why. The following results emerged: participants had clear and detailed strategies when it came to locating information through news media without relying on solely one media source. Firstly, Wikipedia was used as a complementary source to news media, which would aid the learning process, as well as provide background information that news media was missing.
Secondly, only few named a specific source of credible information, whereas the belief that no single source offered credible information was more common. Common statements were that they would not trust just one source, but rather read about the same topic in several sources, such as the New York Times, Washington Post, and BBC, to form their own opinion. Many also made the conscious decision to invite news to their social media news feed, basically feeding their algorithm in a way that they would receive general news information on their social media homepage, such as Facebook. Other participants even stated they would rely on their social network sites to provide them with the most important information, giving them the possibility to choose whether to investigate this further (ibid.). This approach comes close to the news-find-me perception, which will be explained in the news avoidance chapter of this paper.
Boczkowski et al. (2018) conducted 50 in-depth interviews with participants aged 18-29 between March 2016 and July 2017 in Argentina. A diverse group in terms of gender, age group, and occupation was chosen. The focus of their study was to shed light on how incidental news consumption on social media happened among young people in Argentina, and their findings show four key traits that characterize young adults’ practices:
1. ‘Texto-materiality of the phenomenon’, meaning their omnipresent ‘use of mobile devices for various communication aspects of daily life, the almost constant connection to social media platforms, and the recurrent access to news stories on those platforms.’ (ibid., p.3533),
2. ‘Tempora-spatial coordination of anytime and anywhere’, where it is added that the participants of their study did not indicate a preferred time or space when it came to incidental learning about current events on social media (ibid.),
3. ‘Routinization’, meaning that ‘checking the news while on Facebook or Twitter is often part of larger social media habits, and those habits drive news consumption more than vice versa’ (ibid.), and
4. ‘Everyday sociability’, which showed that their interviewees were partly motivated to read about current events as a result of their wish to interact and be exposed to the information created and distributed by others (ibid.).
Boczkowski et al. (2018) conclude that “Incidental news consumption is not necessarily – and not primarily – about the news, but about exercising sociability and passing time.” (p.3533).
Keeping the focus on the audience, these studies show all together that young adults tend to search for news through several sources, being highly aware that they believe there is no single right source to trust and therefore having the ability to consume news in a critical manner. The findings presented above by Boczkowski et al. (2018) will be used as a model for analysis and its findings will be compared to those of this study in the analysis chapter.
News in Everyday Life
As it has been established in the previous chapter, young people have nowadays many possibilities to attain news (or to avoid them). However, Swart et al. (2017) found that it wasn’t clear yet how people would negotiate this fluctuating environment when it comes to deciding which news media to select or ignore, how they would assemble distinctive cross-media repertoires – referring to the endless seeming supply of media -, and what would make these compositions meaningful.
In their study 36 participants of mixed gender, age (not solely focusing on young people), and education level were recruited in three different regions. Data was collected in three phases from October to December in 2014.
Their findings showed that users would not organize their news media repertoires solely around devices but base their selection of combinations around four types of news media attributes which will be presented below including examples for each based on my interpretation:
1. ‘Regionally and nationally oriented repertoires’, where the focus lies on location, matching with topic-related repertoires found in other countries, e.g.: reports on the covid-19 pandemic which was relevant for every country although differently handled and reported on in different countries.
2. ‘Background-oriented repertoires’, which relate to the form or genre in which news is presented, e.g.: whether a report or article is presented in bullet form or contextualized in a long text.
3. ‘Laid-back repertoires’, that refer to the mode of use and users’ motivation for their repertoire choice’, e.g.: someone chooses to read the same newspaper as they have done for the past 15 years out of habit or someone who continues the news consumption habits they know from their family or friends.
4. ‘Platform-based repertoires’, which is organized around digital news use, and reflect current shifts in news exposure, e.g.: news consumption through social media and in what different ways one is exposed to news content (ibid., p.1356).
Furthermore, Bengtsson and Johansson (2021) introduced a theoretical approach based in ‘classic phenomenology’, which should open up further reconsideration of the concept as well as provide a potential basis for research on digital news consumption. This model emphasizes the fluidness of journalism, and the concept of news. The authors focused on the audiences’ perception on what they perceive as news-worthy and in what way they incorporate news in their every-day life, asking the following questions: What topics are important to them?, What do they do to stay informed about these topics?, Which sources do they trust and turn to? (ibid.). All questions were asked in a way without mentioning the word ‘news’ per se to open up the field for any kind of interpretation the interviewee might offer and to broaden the field of resulting findings, which could turn out to be literally anything. As Bengtsson and Johansson (2021) stated that “Phenomenology takes human existence as its vantage point and explores how human subjects exist and create meaning in their everyday lives in relation to basic categories such as time, space and (sociocultural) relevance.” (p.1).
In other words, phenomenology evolves around the concept of ‘Dasein’, which means translated from German ‘to exist’. Everyone who is alive does exist, it further then depends on which time in an individual life is measured, where (referring to ‘space’), and under which circumstances (referring to ‘sociocultural relevance’). What is the individuals’ intention in life? All these factors shape the perspective on how the individual perceives news practices.
Figure 1: ‘A phenomenology of news: A model of anlaysis’ by Bengtsson and Johansson (2021, p.9)
Each ring presents a dimension with all dimensions being connected to each other and most importantly every outer dimension affecting the perception of news an individual has.
As both studies conducted above relate to the overall concept of news perception in an everyday life of an individual, I’d like to use a combination of the phenomenology of news model and the repertoires established by Swart et al. (2017) for this study, as their concepts are aligned. The first ‘regionally and nationally oriented repertoires’ could be placed in the second outer dimension of the phenomenology of news model, showing the influence ‘space’ has on the perception of news. The second repertoire set of background-orientation is difficult to align to the phenomenology of news model, as the participants of this study each provide a different cultural background and therefore it is not possible to study the different genres and forms in which news are presented in their countries of origin within the scope of this thesis. And, therefore, it stands on its own in this paper. ‘Laid-back repertoires’ would align with ‘intentionality’, showing what causes an individual to choose a certain news source. The last repertoire set of ‘platform-based repertoires’ would align together with ‘lifeworld’ in the second inner dimension, as the repertoires are focused around digital news use, and millennials have grown up living through a world where digital news use has not always been so present, but becoming more popular and more advanced as they grew up.
Keeping these connections in mind for the thematic analysis later, I will summarize the findings according to themes, that align with the mentioned dimensions and repertoires.
The concept of news avoidance is a broad and complex field, even when broken down to specific behaviours or strategies. Researchers have been conducting studies on intentional versus unintentional news avoidance (Aharoni et al., 2021; Damstra et al., 2021), news avoidance impact on democracy and its relationship to civic participation (Ksiazek et al., 2010; Woodstock, 2014), as well as the familiar and socio-cultural context that impact news consumption and avoidance behaviour (Shehata, 2016; Villi et al., 2022).
Definitions on the term ‘news avoidance’ differ from study to study. In Skovsgaard’s and Andersen’s (2020) study for example, news avoidance would equally stand for no or only a limited amount of news consumption, not stating what is meant with ‘limited’.
Toff and Kalogeropoulos (2020, p.368) define news avoidance in their study more broadly as a behaviour: ‘[…] an intermittent practice that may occur at different rates among the public separate from overall rates of news exposure’. They also find that news avoidance and news use would be clearly intertwined, although not the same, as even heavy news consumers or news enthusiasts may also routinely avoid news. To have a clear line between those definitions, they decided to stick to ‘active news avoidance’ in their study for structural reasons, while recognizing that many instances of news exposure are not completely intentional or unintentional.
Edgerly (2021) stated one possible approach of explaining news avoidance as one being grounded in demographics. She explains the findings by Ksiazek et al. (2010), which showed that younger adults with lower levels of education, and lower income were more likely to be news avoiders. Referring to one of her previous studies: Edgerly (2015), she found out that a segment of news avoiders would be ‘non-white’, Republican and less educated. Therefore, based on demographic factors by participants, such as: younger age, lower levels of education and income would indicate an overall lower level of news consumption (Edgerly, 2021, p. 3).
In this thesis the concept of news avoidance remains broad, as I aim to find out under which circumstances the participants have avoided and would avoid news generally. It was intentional to not pick solely news avoiders for this study, as I, too, assumed as Toff and Kalogeropoulos (2020) did that news avoidance and news use are ‘intertwined’. For structural purposes, the definition for this study on news avoiders will be applicable to anyone who consumes the news once a week or less.
Incidental News Exposure and News-find-me (NFM)
Picking up from Edgerly (2017) study which takes a closer look at the role media plays when it comes to young adults’ decision in informing themselves, two strategy patterns were developed through in-depth interviews. The first set includes strategies that directly involve use of the news media, which was already explained in a previous section above. In this section, I focus on the second set that included strategies avoiding the news media.
Those who responded towards the second set of strategies relied heavily on Google, taking advantage of its simplicity, but at the same time being less aware of other sources. They also found other ‘functional alternatives to news media’, such as discussing certain events and topics with their friends and family, relying on their perspectives rather. When it comes to finding a credible source, those who tended to use strategies avoiding news media, were aware that not all sources of information can and should be trusted and wanted to avoid unreliable sources – ‘as such, they are primarily concerned with avoiding “bad” sources but have limited knowledge to point them toward the “good” sources’ (ibid., p.372). The last strategy takes the title ‘Important Information Will Find You’ which resembles the ‘News-find-me’-approach (Gil de Zúñiga et al., 2017). In those cases, participants expected to be informed through the outside, whether it is through a celebrity posting about a certain event (Edgerly & Vraga, 2019) or in general relying on personal contacts and social media without actively following traditional news media (Segado-Boj et al., 2019).
Strauß et al. (2021) conducted a study on why people believe that they don’t have to actively seek news anymore. Their results showed that more educated, older, and individuals belonging to the ethnic majority are less prone to develop the news-find-me perception, in short ‘NFM’. Social media (news) use, discussion frequency, incidental news exposure, and group affiliations would lead to a higher NFM-perception (ibid.). Another study on NFM-perception was made by Gil de Zúñiga et al. (2017) with their survey data showing that individuals who follow the NFM concept are less likely to use traditional news sources and are less knowledgeable about politics over time. The news-finds-me perception would be positively associated with news exposure on social media, however, the authors state that this behaviour doesn’t facilitate political learning. It is therefore suggested that news continues to enhance political knowledge best when actively sought (ibid.). Other reasons for low news consumption are being disinterested in politics, perceiving the news as not relevant enough, low news self-efficacy – referring to people’s low beliefs about their capability to manage control over their own news relating activities – and a general lack of knowledge about the news system (Edgerly, 2021).
In addition, recent studies show that ‘news fatigue’ has emerged especially in the context with crisis information, such as the pandemic of the Covid-19 virus (Vandenplas et al., 2021; Ytre-Arne & Moe, 2021) or the on-going war taking place in Ukraine. Though, not relating to this war, there are other studies, for example that question the impact of war reporting during the war in Afghanistan and Iraq (Ramazani, 2013). Aharoni et al. (2021) explored the varied motivations of young audiences to avoid news through a texto-material conceptualization of news avoidance as directed at both contents and objects. For this study, they conducted 36 in-depth interviews with young Israeli adults and created further three dimensions of news avoidance motivations and practices: content, medium, and user-oriented news avoidance. News avoidance motivations relating to ‘content’ are established due to their untrustworthiness, negativity, and its commercialized nature. ‘Medium’ refers to technological aspects of news consumptions, such as the inability to control mobile push notifications and live broadcasts. ‘User-oriented’ news avoidance – and the last dimension – demonstrated the ever-present exposure to news, warranted by digital devices may lead to a sense of ‘overuse and even to a fear of addiction’ (ibid., p.48). This last dimension resulted rather from the participants wish to reduce their media consumption in general.
To summarize this section, it can be said that the concept of news avoidance is very broad and shows that an individual does come across news content eventually – whether this is intentional or unintentional. This phenomenon on people trying to avoid news seems to never work 100%, as they can’t control on what topics their friends post on social media, nor whether their family members at home have certain routines to keep them up to date within the news world or not. The scope of this thesis study is not enough to fill all the gaps of the mentioned studies, nor to focus on all aspects that have been described so far.
Instead, when it comes to news avoidance, this study is focused on what role communication in the participants’ social circle has on their news consumption behaviour, as well as whether there have been certain situations that caused them to avoid certain news topics, and what their strategies were/are in those situations.
Table of contents :
2. Literature Review & Theoretical Framework(s)
2.1. What’s New(s)?
2.2. Young Millennials News Consumption
2.2.1. Obtaining News
2.2.2. News in Everyday Life
2.3. News Avoidance
2.3.2. Incidental News Exposure and News-find-me (NFM)
2.3.3. Intentional vs. Unintentional News Avoidance
2.4. Immigration in Stockholm, Sweden
2.4.1. Migrant, Emigrant, Immigrant
2.4.2. Immigrants’ News Habits
3.1. Research Gap
3.2. Research Aim & Question’s
4.1. Semi-structured Interviews
4.3. Research Ethics
4.5. Interview Design and Reflections
4.6. Data Analysis and Analytical Tools
4.7. Reliability and Validity
5. Results and Analysis
5.1. Staying ‘up to date’ – a responsibility or a given?
5.2. Obtaining News Content and its Challenges
5.3. News Knowledge and Trust in News Sources
5.4. News Avoidance and their Strategies
6. Discussion and Future Research