Part 2: Literature Review

How does the 18 to 24-year-old age group respond to interactive visual data journalism produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) for BBC News online?

In this chapter, I will be looking at three key theories that relate to the idea and concept of interactive digital visual journalism. Through this, I will be able to produce an understanding of the current market for online journalism and issues that face the community from both a reader and production point of view.

2.1: News consumption via new media platforms

My first chapter looks at the multiple academic arguments presented when discussing how the consumption of news by the British public has changed since the introduction of new media platforms, such as the internet and mobile applications.

This body of literature is key to my research because it is vital to understand how the industry has responded to its transmedia position in the digital age. More so, it is also key to see how the public has responded to those changes implemented by the industry.

This broad statement is backed up by several authors. Mutter states that mobile views have risen in occurance, saying that, “The proportion of mobile visits at digital newspaper sites has doubled in the last two years.” (Mutter, 2014: N.P) In addition, Jansson and Lindell further explore this theme, “The empirical data illustrates how the spatial practice of news consumption changes into an increasingly amalgamated, mobile practice” (Jansson and Lindell, 2014: N.P). With the increased audience of these mobile platforms it has opened up a much larger audience, thus making interactive visual data journalism a lot more viable for production companies, such as the BBC.

Equally Spyridou and Veglis further develop this idea by suggesting that new media platforms are most successful with younger audiences, “Evidence suggests that the internet is the medium with the most success in attracting young people to news.” (Spyridou and Veglis, 2008: Pg.52) Notess is the only author to challenge this status quo pointing out that, “It is not just print newspaper that are in decline; it’s websites as well.” (Notess, 2014: N.P).

One interesting point is the concept of transmedia. Peters reinforces the market as a transmedia one, exploring how “Journalism is now produced to interact with and provide multiple channels of access for audiences.” (Peters, 2012: N.P) It is now a platform that is accessible on multiple levels, for multiple audiences and perhaps most importantly, it can be consumed on the go and thus has to challenge other media, including non-news items in a bid to gain the consumers attention.

The most striking theme is that consumer trust in the media, especially those of young adults has fallen. Banaji and Cammaerts summarise by writing, “The attitudes of young people towards the news media are sometimes fairly negative.” (Banaji and Cammaerts, 2014: N.P) The growing distrust in the media is, at its core the exact reason why we are seeing a fundamental shift in how news is consumed by young audiences.

Due to the lowering trust in established media, users are turning to more online sources for news as a growing percentage are seen to not be owned by a cooperate element, they simply report the news as it is with no visible bias.

The common theme is that young people are the most proactive users of digital news. In fact, Chan-Olmsted and Zerba directly quote this, “Young adults are the most active group in mobile media consumption.” (Chan-Olmsted, Rim and Zerba, 2013: Pg.132) In addition, Spyridou and Veglis support Chan-Olmsted by writing, “People aged 18–34 are indeed the most avid users of the new technology.” (Spyridou and Veglis, 2008: Pg.35) Again, Westlund further corroborates the other journals by stating that, “Early adopters of Internet services are men, teenagers, and young adults.” (Westlund, 2008: N.P)

Banaji and Cammaerts stipulate that it’s this very audience that most distrust the media. “60 per cent of young people from the age of 17–30 distrust the media. In the UK, this figure rises to a whopping 85 percent.” (Banaji and Cammaerts, 2014: N.P) In fact, Spyridou and Veglis go as far as to explain why that shift in trust has occurred. “The emergence of cynical and sceptical attitude about politics and the media has resulted in most young people becoming ‘news grazers’”. (Spyridou and Veglis, 2008: Pg.52)

Mitchelstein and Boczkowski raise a major issue and highlight a gap in theory when they write, “Consumption of news on the internet has not yet differed drastically from the consumption of news in traditional methods.” (Mitchelstein and Boczkowski, 2010: N.P) This is interesting because while it raises the issue of, lack of difference between traditional and web news, it fails to explore what the findings shows in detail and thus leaves a major gap in existing research.

The lack of exploration is again seen in Chan-Olmsted and Zerba. The authors make a point of exploring the impact of mobile journalism, but never fully investigating them in great depth. The initial discussion says, “Mobile phone use is a relatively stronger predictor of mobile news adoption than traditional media use.” (Chan-Olmsted, Rim and Zerba, 2013: Pg.141) However, further development could have been vital to my study because they could have provided valuable secondary research as to why people have increasingly turned to mobile journalism and what appeals to them..

Alan Mutter’s research clearly defines how companies, have to adapt their publications in order to make them successful within new media. He writes, “How to think about this new publishing paradigm: 1. Making it timely, 2. Make it concise, 3. Make it viral, 4. Make it transactional, 5. Make it mobile.” (Mutter, 2014: N.P) This is fascinating because alongside my primary research with my case study of the BBC I can discover if there are any correlations between Mutter’s suggestions of succession markers for publications online and the BBC itself.

Another gap in research is the lack of studying historical trends in news consumption. For example, the only exploration is by Thurman, where he writes, “Although ‘Homepage Customization’ was offered by just five sites, the growth of this category has been significant since the first survey when it was only found at the BBC News website.” (Thurman, 2011: Pg.407) In itself, its excellent background context, however, more background topic around other industry bodies by academics would have been more insightful in providing a wider context to its study and by adding validity to the current research.

This chapter has explored why young adults are avoiding the news industry, reaffirming their dedication to mobile platforms. Perhaps this chapter can best be summarised by Singer, where she says, “The website has become a more integral part of the news product.” (Singer, 2010: Pg.92)

2.2: Ethics and consumer faith in journalism

My second chapter looks at the changing shift in ethics held by the public in view of the media industry. This chapter will cover how the media industry is respected or otherwise, by the general public whilst also taking a critical look at how the industry has adapted to a more online focus.

Ethics is key to understanding my research because as we see a shift from traditional to new media based journalism, the ethics that support the industry have had to change. This, in turn, poses the question, how has the industry adapted and how has the audience responded?

Himelboim and Limor summarise exactly what is repeated by many other commentators, claiming that,”The media are obliged to provide citizens with the information necessary for the informed social decisions, to serve as a watchdog regarding centres of power in society and to function as a conduit for all shades of public opinion.” (Himelboim and Limor, 2008: Pg. NP). Ultimately, journalists are here to provide for the public, not the government.

Yet, Wilkins and Brennen note that “Some notorious breaches of professional ethics that made news of their own accord.” (Wilkins and Brennen, 2004: Pg. NP) Whilst ethics exist, they are not always maintained and upheld by the industry. It is when publications overstep their boundaries that has affected user trust and, in turn, is the very reason why organisations are turning to data journalism.

At the same time, Singer adds to the overarching theme by exploring ethics online. She writes, “Journalists now feel legally and ethically responsible for those user contributions.” (Singer, 2011: Pg. 122) What is key here is that she explores how the increase in user generate content is creating a completely new level of ethics where the journalist is not just responsible for their own content, but the content that is created by users in their final articles.

One fundamental gap in existing research is the lack of exploration of the rise new-media platforms and how that has impacted journalism ethics. Julian Petley, establishes that media ethics have been around since the dawn of the newspaper. He writes, “Traditional notions of press freedom are rooted firmly in the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries and are in serious need of updating.” (Petley, 2012: Pg. 532) Yet, this is all that is mentioned across any of the journals I found in relation to media ethics.

Not one text details in any depth what the impact of the web has been. Issues such as the web not having borders and thus it not being subject to one individual countries law is just one important issue that could have been researched. The one clear message that comes across is that trust in the media, from a consumer’s perspective, has degraded over the years.

The most impactful idea is presented by Ward, whose research shows that “76 percent think powerful groups or persons often influence the news.” (Ward, 2005: Pg. NP) Now while this study lacks quantity, as it’s based on a small sample size, it does start to show a trend in academic beliefs about the public’s perception of the media.

This notion is again shown by Magee, whose study looks at consumer trust in the media within the last several years found that both, “More than 60% of those who said they trust the media less now than they did a year ago.” (Magee, 2014: Pg. NP) and “Trust has dropped to 41% in the 2014 report — though still almost double 2011’s figures of 22%.” (Magee, 2014: Pg. NP)

Singer is currently the only author who brings an in-depth consideration of the internet into their research. She writes, “The internet, a medium whose core narrative attributes involve interactivity and speed, accommodates an understanding of truth.” (Singer, 2010: Pg. 93) The element worth noting is the possibility that people are turning to online journalism because of the increase in citizen journalism, journalism which is not controlled by a major organisation and thus appears, at least at face value, unbiased in comparison.

“Care-based ethics is particularly relevant to the interactive, people have an unprecedented opportunity to connect and relate to one another.” (Zion and Craig, 2015: Pg. 16) Surely, if the public connects with the new articles on a more personal level, they feel more in control and while it’s arguable, they may feel that the story is more truthful.

There are two statements that I do disagree with. I fail to agree that journalists are expected to manage reader’s expectations, as presented by Greenberg and Wheelwright, who say, “A key aspect of journalistic ethics is the management of readers’ expectations.” (Greenberg and Wheelwright, 2015: Pg. 515) I would argue that the internet has resulted in journalists not having to manage reader’s expectations as much as previously, due to the increased reading options and thus choice facing news consumers in the 21st century.

I would strongly also disagree with the following proposal put forward by Wasserman and Rao who say, “A market-driven media often encourages editors to prioritize commercial goals and journalists to avoid specialized or investigative work.” (Wasserman and Rao, 2008: Pg. 165) I would argue that a market driven audience does the exact opposite and makes editors want to focus on specialised and investigative work in order to have both an advantage over competitors and have a pull factor which will draw readers in over other publications.

Another theory is put forward by Karcher who writes, “As citizens encounter an ever greater flow of data, they have more need — not less — for identifiable sources dedicated to verify.” (Karcher, 2009: Pg. NP) This is valuable because I can ask, does the BBC do it? I’ll be able to see if the BBC data unit acts as an identifiable source who in this case is presenting the data to the public as a viable and trusted source. Ward also provides us with another exemplary study which we can use in conjunction with the theory proposed by Karcher. Ward writes, “Only BBC news journalists are trusted to tell the truth by a majority of Britain’s population, although trust in them also fell drastically between 2003 and 2010.” (Ward, 2013: Pg. 13) So we know for a fact that the BBC is trusted, though not completely, making the organisation a perfect case study for Karcher’s theory.

We have established that the journalism industry is facing challenges of ethics legitimacy, with many academic sourcing primary research which showcases the current declining trust by consumers in the publications. What I can ask and, in turn, apply to my own research is does the interactive articles presented by the BBC create in the eyes of the public, whether it’s factually true or not, a more ethically trusted article.

It is Peters and Broersma who perhaps generate the overall context that this chapter has presented us. “Web 2.0 has, moreover, given the traditional media an opportunity structure, an incentive and a perceived coercion to connect with the public.” (Peters and Broersma, 2013: Pg. 20)

2.3: Interactive online journalism in the 21st century

The purpose of this chapter is to look at how interactive journalism sits within the wider field of journalism in the 21st century. It is also key in understanding what exactly interactive journalism is and how that interactivity is presented to the readers.

The one common theme that all academics seem to agree on is the purpose of interactive journalism. Bradshaw and Rohumaa sum up the general consensus, “The attraction for news websites is the same as their roles in print and broadcast: the ability to gather people with a passion for the same issue in the same place.” (Bradshaw and Rohumaa, 2011: Pg. 120) Namely, interactive journalism on web platforms allow for a large market to come together and consume, share, comment and interact with the same article.

When talking about audiance pull factor, you must ask, what type of element within the article is providing that pull factor for audiences towards the article, which is essentially what Bradshaw and Rohumaa are talking about. It is Megan Knight’s book that perhaps provides us with the most concise definition of what interactive journalism actually is. She suggests that the common forms of presentation methods are, “Infographics, graphs, charts, static maps and pull-quotes.” (Knight, 2015: Pg. 61) This statement is useful because it clearly defines what we mean by an interactive element.

It is worth noting a newspaper article by Econsultancy, is an exemplary piece of secondary research I can use as it relates to the BBC. The paper writes about what appeals to interactive journalism saying, “Employs quizzes and games to engage the target audience.” (Econsultancy, 2015: Pg. NP) Yet, when we add Sizemore and Zhu’s framework, we get another opinion. They write, “It is true that digital technology has shaped journalism in multiple ways. However, a majority of such attempts focus on how to integrate multimedia content as a complement to text.” (Sizemore and Zhu, 2011: Pg. 1)

The multimedia elements suggested by Knight was used to gather people who share a similar interest in the subject as suggested by Bradshaw and Rohumaa are actually acting as complements to traditional text-based articles. I would argue that this is not the case. I would hypothesise that in fact there are interactive only stories on the web, using presentation methods suggested by Sizemore and Zhu with the reasoning as presented by Bradshaw and Rohumaa.

Whereas before you could argue that interactive journalism is a sub-genre or hybrid genre of online journalism, a number of texts suggest that interactive and online journalism is on the same level and possibly even then same genre. Foust provides us with reason as to why this occurred, in his journal he writes, “The internet provides the potential for a greater level of audience participation or interactivity.” (Foust, 2005: Pg.13) Herbert adds to this by claiming, despite never exploring it in much detail that, “Digital age journalism is now also interactive.” (Herbert, 1999: Pg. 2) We know that new media and data journalism go together, but again Bradshaw and Rohumaa summarise it by simply concurring that “Interactivity is a central feature to online journalism.” (Bradshaw and Rohumaa, 2011: Pg. 136)

It will be interesting to see if in fact interactive journalism is not done to appeal to the audience, as I would suspect, but instead because it’s considered fundamental to online journalism, something I would have never considered before.

Anderson and Egglestone argue that for a complex story to covered, you need to produce content while the story is still in the reader’s mind. They say that “If a complex story is to be covered well then journalists need something that can be produced quickly.” (Anderson and Egglestone, 2012: Pg. 929) Westlund, though, raises a valid point. To achieve this through interactivity, which must be done if it’s a staple to online journalism as Bradshaw and Rohumaa suggest brings several issues. Namely, “Interactive online games and the related forms of journalism are expensive to do well, often requiring teams of people.” (Westlund, 2008: Pg. 64) Yes, on the one hand, research has suggested that interactive elements have shortened the distance between the producer and consumer. The Econsultancy, a market research company writes, “Interactive features are designed to help the BBC in its mission to shorten distances between the broadcaster and the audience.” (Econsultancy, 2015: Pg. NP) But one thing that neither Econsultancy nor any other major academic researcher consider is that does the time it takes to create an interactive element, render them useless in responding to breaking news?

Matheson says, “Others have emphasized the speed with which weblogs have reported events… faster than news agencies or television notes.” (Matheson, 2015: Pg. 452) His journal says that citizen journalism is often quicker at reporting major events then established news organisations. The journal suggests an interesting line of inquiry, where interactive journalism has not yet got an established role in online journalism and no one source can say what the clear advantage and purpose of interactive journalism has.

One interesting element that only Westlund notes are the fact that the whole idea of news consumption via new media platforms, as suggested in chapter one of my literature review is in fact, a null point. He writes, “It was also found that many people simply have no need for internet or news services on their mobile device at all.” (Westlund, 2008: Pg. 65) This is an interesting element because it raises the question of if there is actually a demand by readers for interactive journalism in the media today at all.

One criticism I have with existing studies is how Hujanen and Pietikainen fail in their research to provide us with a detailed account of what type of devices people are using. They write, “They had access to a large variety of different media, varying from newspapers and television to mobile phones and the internet.” (Hujanen and Pietikainen, 2004: Pg. 390) It may sound trivial, but the research lacks detail by not going into details such as why those surveyed selected the format of news consumption that they did. It would have been fascinating to see why people selected the platform that they did and the reasoning behind their choice.

Another study that provides research is the academic journal by Anderson and Egglestone, it is particularly useful as it uses the BBC as a case study. Coupled with the relative close publication date, it contains a number elements that I can use as secondary sources in my research for this paper. One element of the research was when the author wrote, “It was found that if site users navigate away from the BBC home page to the stories themselves they are predominantly text based — typically around 80 percent text.” (Anderson and Egglestone, 2012: Pg. 927) It is useful because it provides us with statistical data about the use of the BBC website, a key product in my research.

This chapter highlights the lack of coherent research into audience impact of interactive journalism. In-fact Mayo and Leshner in their journal provide strong validation for my study saying that “Although these types of data-intense stories might have advantages from a journalist’s perspective, very little research has considered the effects this type of story might have on the audience.” (Mayo and Leshner, 2000: Pg. NP)