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Regional and National News Commenting Practices in Finland

The final speaker at ECREA 2014 is Veera Kangaspunta, who notes the importance of studying the audience behind online news comments. Traditionally, journalists have seen online news as a sideshow to the real news business, and online comments are thus a sideshow to the sideshow – but this is changing. While the quality of online commentary is often limited, and discussions may drift, they may be studied to reveal a great deal more about audience attitudes.

Online News Commentary Patterns in Sweden

The next presenters in this ECREA 2014 session are Susanne Almgren and Tobias Olsson, who continue the theme of user comments on online news. Digital media offer new forms of co-existence between producers and users; indeed, there is a new media ecology of participation emerging.

User-generated content has always played a part even in traditional media, of course, in the form of letters to the editor or telephone call-ins. The current environment simply makes such harnessing of user-generated content a great deal easier. Online newspapers are a particularly interesting case for this, given their long institutional history.

How Users Comment on Danish News Organisations' Facebook Pages

The next speakers at ECREA 2014 are Jannie Møller Hartley and Mads Kæmsgaard Eberholst, who examine how users are now intervening in journalistic processes. Their approach is a quantitative content analysis of seven Facebook pages of different Danish mainstream media outlets. Data collection was in real time to avoid subsequent moderation, and this resulted in 149 posts and 3,800 comments over one week, which were coded manually.

Newspapers mostly posted news items on their Facebook pages, focussing on domestic issues and politics. Items came largely from internal reporting, not from agencies. Most content was posted on weekdays, and the publishing rate varied widely between pages. Some 49% of posts were neutral news updates, 30% asked questions, 11% were ironic; questions generated the longest comment threads, followed by ironic comments and neutral updates.

Whither Photojournalism in Spain?

Up next at ECREA 2014 are Virginia Guerrero and Bella Palomo. They begin by noting that mobile phones are now omnipresent and can become tools for a form of pocket journalism that transforms audiences into potential creators of journalistic content. This takes place against the backdrop of funding declines in the mainstream media, and has raised questions about the continuing need for professional photojournalists.

Even as photojournalists are being laid off, then, the importance of images in journalism continues to increase. Does this jeopardise the profession of photojournalism? The project conducted interviews with 12 Spanish photojournalists at local, regional, national, and international levels.

The photojournalists noted the change to their profession. As soon as journalists are being asked to take photos as well, this trespasses on their field; but they also note the fact that photojournalists are often self-trained and have no formal professional association that might represent their interests. They feel the current crisis to be worse than any before, and many of them are beginning to make alternative plans or are taking on increasingly more dangerous assignments abroad, especially in conflict zones.

Why German Audiences Don't Use Participatory Features

Well, after all that, the final ECREA 2014 session starts with Nele Heise, whose project examined conceptions of the audience at German news media. There are increasing forms of audience participation at German news sites, but only a minority of users regularly engage with such media. Do such features represent an interactive illusion?

The project used online surveys, interviews with journalists and audience members, and analyses of journalistic content. It found notable differences in the percentage of non-users across the different formats: the print services saw more engagement. This may also be due to their own outreach activities to users, as well as the visibility of participatory features on their sites.

Towards a New Communism to Fix the World

The second plenary speaker at ECREA 2014 today is Christian Fuchs, who takes us back to Hegel and Marx. He introduces Hegel's relational concept of the world, where everything exists only in relationship with other things, and through this relationship development becomes possible. Marx built on this by examining the interrelationships between societal forces, and used it to explore the internal contradictions of capitalism.

Modern technologies, for example, become tools for improving life, but also for the further domination of workers. The rate of surplus value, and the organic composition of the production process (the technological intensity of production) have both been rising consistently, while wage share has decreased substantially over time as capital share has risen. Further, corporate taxation is virtually inexistent in Western countries.

From Media Logic to a Logic of the Public

The final plenary on this somewhat eccentrically scheduled Saturday at ECREA 2014 begins with Kees Brants, who says his intention today is to debunk himself. There is a dominant discourse of mediatisation at present, and politicians have to respond to this – we may therefore be seeing a shift from a political to a media logic, as Kees has suggested in previous work. But is that perspective correct, or may it be challenged?

Historically, the concept of media logic emerged in 1979, twenty years later, mediatisation emerged properly as a concept. However, mediatisation must necessarily precede media logic: the increased shaping and domination of society by the media makes only possible the emergence of media logics. Witho mediatisation, we would not see European football competitions, Ebola panics, or the global response to the downing of MH17.

The Industrialisation of User Recommendations

Cécile Méadel and Francesca Musiani are the final speakers in this ECREA 2014 session. Their interest is in the Industrialisation of user contributions through online platforms: this includes recommendations, information, and advice. The Internet reconfigures the mechanisms by which goods and services are assessed by others; this creates an economy of qualities.

The process has been increasingly automatised through contemporary Internet technologies, and this allows new practices. This is an industrialisation of user contributions, drawing increasingly on 'big data' approaches that create links between a variety of different data points.

Crowdsourced Images in the Boston Marathon Attack

The next speaker at ECREA 2014 is Anssi Männistö, who shifts our focus to the Boston Marathon bomb attack. Mobile social media played an important role in covering this attact: tweets and mobile media were no longer just sources of information, but also tools to very facts and photos and to identify potential suspects, through image recognition software and other facilities.

In Boston, journalists rapidly discovered the first reports and images of the attack from Twitter, and soon came to use them in their own coverage. Such material was then used in official investigations, unofficial hunts for the culprits, and in the media coverage. These each drew on a massive amount of mobile photos; on the real-time publishing of such content in social media; and on crowdsourcing of activities through social media.

Visualisations for Doing Good with Data

Ok, so I've boycotted the stupidly early 8.30 a.m. paper session at ECREA 2014. My day starts, consequently, with a paper by Helen Kennedy and Rosemary Hill, whose focus is on data visualisation. Data-driven decision-making remains out of reach for those who cannot work with the data directly, and data visualisation may help here.

There are now visualisation agencies such as Periscopic which specialise in data visualisation for social good. The idea here is to mobilise data graphically, to make data useful to a greater audience. Such visualisations include the work of The Guardian's Data Blog, for example, and may tackle serious as well as lighter themes.

But in order to make sense of such data-driven visualisation processes, we need to know more about the moment when a person encounters such visualisations. There is widespread discussion about how to optimise visualisations, but very little research into users themselves; much of this remains a debate by experts for experts.

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