Users and producers : Online News as Mediated Participation

Abstract: The purpose of this thesis is to illuminate principles that guide mediated participation, taking place through the interplay between users and news producers. Therefore, the study focuses both how spaces for participation are structured (by news producers) and those that exert participatory practices (news users). The research design thus has an approach that ties together analytical strands that previously have been studied separately. The research questions concern how the conditions comprising mediated participation – in terms of opportunities for users’ participatory practices – differ between (1a) various types of online news sites, and (1b) various types of news, as well as how users exercise participatory practices (2a) on various types of news sites, and (2b) in connection to various types of news. The last research question (3) concerns how users express the connection to news producers, through participatory practices within participatory spaces. The thesis includes four papers, that together answer the research questions by applying content and text analyses to various types of news sites (big city national, local rural area, morning broadsheets and evening tabloids) and its content: news articles and features for user participation, such as comments and sharing news through social media (i.e., Facebook and Twitter).The results show that users and news producers take diverging approaches to user participation adjacent to online news. This is illustrated by the fact that the categories of news that users are most often permitted to interact with, coincide precisely with the news that users tend to decline to interact with, while the news categories that users tend to interact with (when given the chance) occur comparatively sparse. The results also show that news producers are much more prone to permit users to share news through social media, than to permit them to comment news on the news site. Almost all news are made to permit users to share news through Facebook and Twitter, whereas commenting news is substantially more restricted, and even more so among big city national news sites than among local rural area news sites. When it concerns user practices, users share news on Facebook 20 times more often than they share news through Twitter or comment news on news sites. Tweeting news almost only occurs in news sites affiliated with big city national newspapers, and most prominently so when it concerns evening tabloids. This means (when controlling for differences in circulation) that commenting as a user practice tend to have a more local character than tweeting news, with its more national focus.The connection between users and news producers is shaped by the approach these groups of actors take to each other, under different circumstances. Sharing news through Facebook and commenting on news sites, are not interchangeable practices. Nor is tweeting news from a news site affiliated with national tabloid compared to from a local morning newspaper. And although it is well known from extant research that producers hold hesitant views concerning users’ influence over content, users also express distrust when it concerns how professional media practices allow various actors salience in the media. These ideas primarily concern “elites” versus “commoners”, differences between public service and commercial media, regulations and media, including roles, genres, and formats. These ideas also concern whether representational principles should guide media representation or if certain views should be excluded, whether journalists’ political views affect media performance, and how crime news should be presented in terms of what events are published and representations of victims and perpetrators. Overall, the thesis illustrates that there are connections between various forms of electronic communication (i.e., commenting and sharing news through Facebook and Twitter), and the specific contextual and social settings that news sites are embedded within, with its specific situated audience, shaping the connections between users and news producers.

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