The association between audience fragmentation and journalism is an intricate one. On the one hand, the word “audience” refers to an assembly of a group of consumers, such as book or magazine readers, moviegoers, radio or podcast listeners, television viewers, and website visitors, and they are primarily distinguished by the particular media product, genre, or outlet that they choose to consume. Webster stated in 2016 that oftentimes the purpose and consequence of audience research are financial—i.e., book publishers tend to break down their market by readers of different genres, which allows them to better tailor their content and promotions to relevant audiences in order to maximize book sales—and thus the goal of audience research in such contexts lies in finding the balance between capturing the largest number of media users who share similar consumption patterns and the narrowest content clusters—i.e., those separated by topic or genres. On the other hand, whereas the purpose of audience conceptualization fundamentally revolves around fragmentation, the motivation for journalism in democratic societies is arguably the opposite. That is, if one were to believe, as Kovach and Rosenstiel posited in 2007, that the purpose of journalism is to inform and educate the people so they can self-govern and make better civil decisions in democratic societies, then it follows that the primary objective of journalism lies in serving as many citizens with the same information as possible. In short, the purpose of audience fragmentation and journalism is—in many ways—ontologically contradictory, with the former being more pluralistic in nature. The topic of audience fragmentation is approached primarily from a commercial perspective, and in the context of the US market. It should be acknowledged, however, that this topic can and has been approached differently, via critical studies and across other markets. The end of this article offers a cursory comparative analysis between the USA and other Western countries to help contextualize findings from the USA in a global context. For those with deeper interest in such other inquiries, the recommended readings provided at the end of this article may offer a good starting point. It should be noted that one of the biggest obstacles in the study of audience fragmentation, at least in the USA, lies in the fact that large-scale media reports of such data (e.g., those published by the Pew Research Center) often compare apples and oranges (e.g., either using survey questions with different operationalizations as the basis for comparison or reporting on different facets of audience fragmentation in its longitudinal studies, as this article will explain). To this end, this article is a first step in offering a baseline cross-sectional overview of how American audiences are consuming the news in 2018 via analysis of select Pew data files with comparable sampling method and survey instruments.
Audience Fragmentation and Journalism in the U.S. Context
Angela M. Lee
Dark Participation: A Critical Overview
Thorsten Quandt and Johanna Klapproth
The profound sociopolitical transformation processes that characterize the second decade of the 21st century have also led to a focus on new topics and a reconsideration of previously established approaches in communication studies. In particular, the academic discussion of online communication has drastically changed in tone and focus. While the new possibilities of online participation were initially described from a predominantly optimistic perspective stressing the high potential for deliberative democracy, work in communication studies at the end of the second decade of the 21st century paints a rather dystopian picture of the online world. The growing attention paid to problematic forms of user participation has led to various new concepts describing phenomena such as toxicity, disinformation, or hate speech. The concept of “dark participation” introduced by Thorsten Quandt takes up the profound change in perspective with a systematization of negative forms of participation in a unifying umbrella model. This generalistic model delineates the variants of dark participation according to five dimensions: the actors, the reasons for their behavior, the targets or objects of their participation, the intended audiences, and the structure of the process. In addition to this systematic categorization of negative participatory forms, the term dark participation also serves as a rhetorical device for commenting on the observable change in perspective: The original publication encourages a process of critical reflection on normativity in the discussion of participation and, by calling for more balance in the analysis of online participation, warns against reducing complex social communication phenomena to a one-sided positive or negative perspective. Since its initial publication, the concept of dark participation has served as a theoretical point of reference for various empirical studies. Due to its use as a rhetorical device and the critical examination of previous participation approaches, the original publication also stimulated an intensive discussion about the proposed concept. In addition to the critique regarding the theoretical assumptions and the distinction between “dark” and positive participatory forms, some authors also demand an extension, a different contextualization, or an elaboration of specific details. As a universal concept with a deliberate openness to such further delimitations, dark participation can serve as a starting point for theoretical extensions, especially in the research field of (digital) journalism and social media, and as an impulse for transfers to other related fields.
Online Comments and Journalism
J. David Wolfgang
Shortly after its emergence as a tool for participatory journalism, online commenting became a popular format for audience public discourse and a subject of controversy for professional journalists. The early 21st century has seen a constant growth in research considering how online comments have influenced journalism by providing new ways to understand the perspective of the audience, by changing the routines and practices of the newsroom, and by encouraging a reconsideration of how content influences readers. News audiences, generally, have been relatively quiet and passive in the past, but online comments have given them the opportunity to speak alongside journalists on professional platforms. This shift in news-mediated public discourse has the potential to reshape the journalist−audience relationship in substantial ways. The research on commenting has provided new evidence on how journalistic practices are changing, how people perceive and process information online, and how journalists negotiate technological change while trying not to upend the profession. However, there is a need for more research that explores critical questions related to comment quality, changing journalistic norms, and the relationship between journalist identity and technology. Online commenting has the potential to help fulfill the journalistic norms of providing a space for public discourse and promoting diverse views from within the community. This potential, however, is reliant upon journalists who uphold the civic function of journalism’s role.
Science journalism is a specialized form of journalism predominantly covering issues such as science, medicine, and technology; it only professionalized in the second half of the 20th century. For many people, print, audiovisual and online media are the main source they use to get to know something about these fields; hence, science journalism has an important role for the society. However, when looking at science journalism and the research in that area more closely, then a variety of different approaches paint a rather dark picture. Firstly, there is a lot of research criticizing science journalism and science journalists. What these studies focus on is science journalists’ work and role for the society, their routines and practices, their reporting on specific scientific issues, as well as the relationship between journalists and scientists. Secondly, in some countries, science journalism seems to be in a crisis due to increasing digitization and changing media landscapes. Science journalism is declining in these countries and many journalists have lost their jobs. However, assessing the quality and appropriateness of science journalism should be based on journalistic and not on scientific criteria, and these criteria should be used when trying to describe what science journalism is and what not, how science journalism operates and how not, and how best to describe the role science journalism has for the society. In addition, although increasing digitization may change routines and practices of science journalists, these specialized journalists may be able to adapt to new media landscapes and still maintain their important role for the society as the most disinterested source that informs about science, medicine, and technology.
Transnational News Flows
Daya Kishan Thussu
The international flow of news has traditionally been dominated by that from North to South, with the West being at the core. Within the West itself, news flow is dominated by Anglo-American media, a situation which has its roots in the way that journalism developed historically. The historical context of global news begins with the introduction of the telegraph and undersea cables in the nineteenth century, which created a global market for news. Major players emerged—including news agencies—and shaped the transnational news flows. What emerges is that, in all ages, key innovations in transnational news flows have been closely linked to commerce, geopolitics, and war, from the telegraph to online news outlets. The increasing availability and use of news media, from major non-Western countries, are now affecting transnational news flows. Global journalism has been transformed in the digital age by internet-based communication and the rise of digital media opportunities—allowing for multi-directional news flows for growing global news audiences.
Accountability in Journalism
In the past decade, academic and professional debates about media accountability have spread around the globe – but have done so in a fundamentally different framework. In many Western democracies, trust in media – along with trust in politics and trust in institutions – as eroded dramatically. Fundamental shifts regarding the patterns of media use and the structure of media and revenue markets have made media and journalism more exposed to criticism from various stakeholders, and more vulnerable to the strategic influence of national and international actors. While many “Western” media professionals have reacted to these challenges to its credibility by new initiatives to demonstrate accountability and transparency, policy makers in other countries even in the “Global North” have tightened their grip on independent media and gradually weakened the concept of self-control. At the same time, an ongoing democratization in many parts of the world, along with a de-regulation of media markets, has created a growing demand for self-regulation and media accountability in countries formerly characterized by rigid press control. Claude-Jean Bertrand defined the development and current structures of accountability in journalism as “any non-State means of making media responsible towards the public.” Key aims of media accountability are “to improve the services of the media to the public; restore the prestige of media in the eyes of the population; diversely protect freedom of speech and press; obtain, for the profession, the autonomy that it needs to play its part in the expansion of democracy and the betterment of the fate of mankind.” Journalists and news outlets have a wide array of responses to professional, public, and political criticisms via press councils, ombudsmen, media criticism, and digital forms of media accountability, while online and offline media accountability instruments have distinct traditions in different media systems and journalism cultures.
Native advertising has become an increasingly important revenue component for many online journalism publications. Because Web consumers engage in advertising avoidance strategies when using the Web, advertisers have gradually come to rely increasingly on paid advertising that resembles in format, appearance, and content non-advertising content on websites. On news websites, native advertising forms include sponsored content, sponsored homepage links, and sponsored article-referral links. The spread of native advertising news content has led to concern that news consumers fail to recognize it as advertising, and questions about whether it is unethical or deceptive. Contemporary native advertising is not the first content delivered alongside news that blurs the boundaries between editorial and paid promotional content. Print advertorials, which took root in newspapers and magazines in the mid-20th century, are a direct analogue, but host-read ads on radio and television programs, text-based search engine result advertising, and newspaper special advertising sections can all be seen as advertising content designed to feel like non-paid content. However, because contemporary native advertising takes so many different forms, and because practices of disclosure to the user are so varied, there has been a rise in public concern and academic inquiry into the prevalence and effects of native advertising. Native advertising on online news sites has generated a number of ethical concerns from practitioners, media critics, and consumers. On the production side, scholars and practitioners worry that the creation of content on behalf of, or in partnership with, advertisers may erode norms of editorial independence that have governed media organizations’ practices for over half a century. Others are concerned that as consumers become accustomed to seeing articles produced with advertiser input, the credibility of news organizations and trust in their non-advertising content will decrease. Perhaps most prominent have been concerns that native advertising deliberately disables consumers’ ability to recognize advertising elements on a website, rendering advertiser and publisher liable for deceiving consumers. Research on native advertising has focused primarily on understanding how consumers detect and perceive native advertising, with additional streams focused on descriptive analyses of native advertising content and practitioner perspectives. Empirical studies show that many consumers do not recognize native advertising, and that there are substantial differences in how the content is received and trusted between those who recognize it and those who do not. Scholars have also identified characteristics of content, disclosure practices, and individual characteristics that influence the likelihood of advertising recognition.