What is news?
While news remains a crucial conduit of information about society and the world, its consumption, production and distribution is in a state of flux. A wide variety of online news sites, news apps and news aggregation services increasingly compete for the attention to audiences, while social networking sites such as Facebook, Instagram and VKontakte have swiftly developed into crucial platforms for accessing news – making strict divisions between ‘news media’ and ‘social media’ untenable and challenging distinctions between producer and audience.
At the same time, a growing body of disinformation is circulated in various online spheres, fundamentally testing citizens’ evaluative capabilities; with the contexts for sense-making around news differing markedly between different societies. These developments have sparked intense scholarly and public debate, with transforming news habits often discussed as a challenge for journalism and democracy, although attention has also been given to productive and participatory potentials.
However, fewer research efforts have so far involved taking into account audiences’ own ideas of what news is, and what it means to them. This project calls for an imperative rethinking of the concept of news, focusing on how young adults, an age group where news consumption patterns have changed most fundamentally, define, practice and make sense of news in varied cultural and technological environments.
Starting from a phenomenological perspective, we examine how young adults aged 18-24 in Estonia, Russia and Sweden perceive and practice news, and how it is made meaningful in their everyday lives. The empirical research involves a series of focus groups and in-depth interviews with a wide range of young news consumers in the three countries; relevant as societies characterised by different media systems, media consumption patterns and levels of trust in news organisations, and exemplifying divergent cultural environments in the Baltic Sea region.
By adding a comparative insight into the role of news in the lives of young citizens, the research will contribute to existing knowledge about the varying and fragmented patterns of news consumption in contemporary society, while providing a timely exploration of the interlinkages between technology, culture and transforming meanings of news.