Part 4.2: If you don’t enjoy the subject, you’re not going to read it.

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 how the content of a visual interactive data story can impact the 18–24-year old audience. My research brings in key concepts such as engagement with journalism as a whole and the rise of direct completion for the BBC.

One concurring theme presented by both Amanda and my focus group is that no matter what age you are if the interactive article is not covering a topic you find interesting, then you’re not going to bother to consume the text. This chapter can be summarised by Amanda when she raises the point, “If you’re a sports fan then you’re going to be really interested in for example, in our footballer wages calculator.” (Farnsworth, 2015) The concept was reflected in the focus group, when Chris, who identified himself as a football fan stated, “I would click on it (Football calculator) because I guess to me it’s just a bit of fun and I’m interested in football.” (Chris, 2016) At the same time, Charlotte, whose views on football are the polar opposite to Chris’s echoed what Amanda said, saying, “For me, no because it’s football, but if it was another topic that I’m interested in, then yes.” (Charlotte, 2016)

What’s interesting is just how far my findings disconnect from the established theory. The theory around online journalism is, as put forward by Spyridou and Vegllls that, “The internet is the medium with the most success in attracting young people to news.” (Spyridou and Veglis, 2008: Pg.52) As this chapter will explore the concept of enjoyment of a subject is far more pivotal in attracting a young audience towards an article then the platform on which it appears.

Earlier Amanda said, “If you’re not a sports fan, whatever age you are you’re not going to be interested.” (Farnsworth, 2015) Despite Amanda taking this viewpoint, it directly contradicts the survey that this paper conducted. It seems that the inclusion of an interactive element would make people more likely to visit an article, even if they did not have any interest in said articles subject. In the survey, 38.10%, the biggest majority in question 6 (Appendix I) said the inclusion of an interactive element would make them interact with an article, even if they did not enjoy the subject. Only 33.33% agreed with Amanda that they would only visit the article if the subject was one that they liked and 28.57% said that the content would not make any difference. As a side note the ‘Price of Football calculator’ article that Amanda referred to was referenced in question 4 (Appendix J) which showed that if a reader was not interested in football as a subject, they would still click on it, with 42.86% saying they would. Only 38.10% would not and 19.05% were unsure.

An interesting point raised by my focus group, which is supported by secondary sources is the problem with disengagement with the BBC. In fact, the audience is not responding to the news in general, whether it be from the BBC or another news organisation. When asked if her peers are increasingly becoming lazier when it comes to news consumption, Holly responded saying, “I think it’s to do with people are lazy and can’t be bothered to read long paragraphs. Nowadays, people prefer picture forms over text.” (Holly, 2016)

It’s an interesting theory and one that is supported by Ross Hawkes, a Senior Lecturer in journalism at Birmingham City University, quoted in the Guardian as saying, “A younger audience is far more comfortable with bullet-pointed information, they’re used to consuming 140-character information, short or visual Facebook updates and receiving a sample of what’s going on.” (Lawlor, 2013) But is the issue is even bigger than the one suggested by Hawkes? Is it that the audience is not just disengaged with the traditional article layout, but also with the contents of modern news? While It’s just one example, the BBC reported in 2014 that, “The youngest group — aged 16 to 24–42.4% stated that they had no interest in politics.” (BBC News, 2014) If this is true, is it showcasing to us a bigger problem with the audience response to journalism beyond publication method and into core content?

Tony Rogers goes on to explore this issue, and what results is a catch 22 situation among young news audiences. He writes in the conclusion to his study of youth news consumption that, “People age(d) 18–34 are consistently less knowledgeable about current events than their elders. On a current events quiz, young adults averaged 5.9 correct answers out of 12 questions.” (Rogers, 2016) While there is no direct link between the two, it does heavily suggest that as a result of the audience not engaging with political stories, they are becoming less aware of political issues around them. For us, this presents a serious issue, if our object of study is not responding to news subjects, are they going to fail to respond to content produced by the publisher?

At the same time, my research highlights interesting points that contradict the data that Tony Rogers presented. Though both an interactive and visual BBC article titled, ‘The Rise of ISIS,’ (Appendix F) I was able to document a positive response by my focus group to a politically themed articles, one where they responded extremely positively.

It was Charlotte who couple with nods of agreement from other members said, “I don’t know much about ISIS but this article has, after reading it, told me the basis of who they are, what they want and other important information, but in a manageable dose.” (Charlotte, 2016) In fact, Peter went on to explain why he responded so positively to the article, saying, “The article is not an in-depth analysis, it’s a brief overview and it does that. It’s all in one and saves me from having to go through several different articles.” (Peter, 2016)

From my research, it’s clear that the 18–24-year-old audience responds well with a visual interactive data article from the BBC. It also plays to what Amanda said in regards to how increasingly, people want to be in charge of their news. She brings in themes which collaborate with my findings, specifically, that people want choice in how they consume their news, something we clearly see in my focus groups response to the ISIS article. Amanda’s explanation was; “I think that the audience increasingly wants to find out things themselves and depending on what sort of interactivity there is they get the choice, they increasingly want choice in how they consume their journalism and how the consumer and how they get their story. They want choice on how far into those story, how much depth they go into.” (Farnsworth, 2015)

I come away from my research thinking that the interactive visual data journalism that the BBC does is not built for the 18–24-year-old audience. Yes, they liked the ISIS article, but a further study into it reveals some concerns that they have and it identifies reasons why they prefer Buzzfeed, a major competitor for BBC News in terms of journalism that appeals to them.

What interesting is the concept of choice that is associated with web journalism. In their book, The Online Journalism handbook, Bradshaw, and Rohumaa write that “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) It highlights a point that I don’t consider, choice. One major advantage of web journalism is the user’s ability to select what content they want to view. It’s becoming clear that the 18–24-year-old audience feels disengaged with the content produced by the BBC due to the brand identity, not the actual article or content itself.

Charlotte was the first to raise the issue, she talked about BBC News saying that “The BBC are a bit too informative and tend to have a bit too much jargon. That would put me off, but Buzzfeed would break it down for someone of my age (21) to understand.” (Charlotte, 2016) It’s interesting because while fellow focus group members were nodding in agreement, my initial survey seems to dispel Charlotte’s proposition. Question 7 (Appendix K) from my initial survey showed that vs Buzzfeed, 52.38% would prefer to visit BBC News, over the 47.62% for Buzzfeed, if both publications produced the same interactive and visual data article based on the same subject.

The idea of the BBC being too complex for the 18–24-year-old audience as presented by Charlotte is a difficult one to study. For example, Himelboim and Limor write, “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) This contradicts everything I found and was in fact, something that never came up. As a public company, which is financed by the public, does this mean that the content the BBC outputs, which it’s obliged to both in theory by the above statement and in law by the royal charter mean that the content, whilst great for making the public informed, is not great for the 18–24-year-old audience who does not engage in that type of content?

It’s Holly who presents perhaps the reasoning behind this choice, she said that “If Buzzfeed were to write something that’s seen as a bit more serious, I would prefer to visit that.” (Holly, 2016) This presents perhaps the biggest conflict in the entire paper. It seems that if Buzzfeed wrote more serious articles, and I would argue that they already do, then would they be met with the same reception that the BBC is facing? That being, criticism from the 18–24-year-old market for going into too much depth, something typically associated when you include a more in-depth article with more, as Charlotte put it, jargon.

But you must take Holly’s point with a caution, because, I would argue that ultimately that’s not the goal for Buzzfeed. An article by Econsultancy talks about how interactive journalism can engage an audience as it, “Employs quizzes and games to engage the target audience.” (Econsultancy, 2015: Pg. NP) I think Buzzfeed is engaging it’s audience because its audience wants quizzes and games, whereas the audience of the BBC don’t something backed up in my research where we discover that the audience aligns the BBC with more serious news. Ultimately it’s a matter of money unless the BBC has a blank cheque to increase the size of the visual data journalism unit, they can’t increase their workload to include their current digital journalism portfolio. They have to pick to what works well with their audience, they will not pander to the needs of the 18–24-year-old market, which in the grand scale of its audiance represents a very small percentage.

Another interesting element raised was that even if you’re not interested in an article if your friends have shared it and it’s something with a comparison, such as the price of football calculator, where you could, for instance, share your hometown teams, then you will consume it. It’s the idea that social elements play a greater role in audience response and engagement than that of article content. It seems that the audience, with social media, prefer to follow the BBC, whereas, with Buzzfeed, they are more likely to share the content with their friends, which brings us to the previous point of getting those who would not have engaged with an audience, involved.

Olivia said that “I’ve used Buzzfeed quite a lot, I share a lot of their content.” (Olivia, 2016) It’s interesting to see this because, it was also brought up later when Charlotte, in response to me asking if Olivia’s sharing of a Buzzfeed article would increase her chance of consuming it, said, “Yer I would agree, it’s again a time-wasting thing, but at the same time something comical. Though, I would not say this is news, despite me seeing it on a news site.” (Charlotte, 2016)

What’s interesting is that despite highlighting the apparent lack of news to these Buzzfeed articles, the focus group agreed that they liked them more, despite my survey saying the direct opposite.

However, I do believe that over time, interactivity will become more of a norm with the news. Amanda said that “Younger people who have been brought up on iPads and iPhones, since you know they were the year dot, so to speak. You know they’re probably going to be more comfortable with things that are interactive.” (Farnsworth, 2015) The point being, as more people get comfortable with technology and as the younger people Amanda talks about grow up, audience willingness to consume interactive visual data journalism will increase as will their response, which as the ideas develop, will receive a more positive response from said audiance.

This whole chapter links back to a theory concept raised by Mayo and Leshner. They write, “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) It’s interesting that my research, which looks at the effects of data-intense stories on an 18–24-year old audience actually throws up, what I would argue is more questions than answers. Because it’s more than just appeal of the story as seen in this chapter, you also have to consider elements such as advertisement (Chapter 1) and trust of the source (Chapter 3) as just two other examples.