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AbundanceOn the Experience of Living in a World of Information Plenty$

Pablo J. Boczkowski

Print publication date: 2021

Print ISBN-13: 9780197565742

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780197565742.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 29 November 2021

News

News

Chapter:
(p.93) 4 News
Source:
Abundance
Author(s):

Pablo J. Boczkowski

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780197565742.003.0004

Abstract and Keywords

Chapter 4 centers on news reception. The survey indicates that broadcast media represent the dominant source of information and that socioeconomic status is more important in predicting patterns of news consumption than age and gender. The interviews highlight the continued centrality of routines that organize reception practices. These routines are ambient and derivative. In addition, there is a widespread assumption of intentionality in the reporting of current events and the perception that bias in the resulting stories is not the exception but the norm. There is also a strongly negative affect that is tied to the experience of consuming news. The chapter concludes that the perception and practice of ambient content, the enactment of derivative routines, the management of what is viewed as systemic bias, and dominance of negative affect combine to generate an experiential devaluation of the news in everyday life.

Keywords:   information overload, information abundance, Global South, ethnography, news, journalism, audiences

I get . . . news [stories], but have no time to read them.

I just see the links and get a sense of what the stories are

more or less about. But overall I feel that there is a

constant bombardment of information from the digital media.

Sandra, forty-eight years old, clerical employee.

The commercialization of the web a quarter century ago ushered in an era of major growth in the volume of news outlets, the size of their audiences, and the stories available to them. Long gone are the days in which people got the news through a handful of broadcast channels, radio stations, and print newspapers. People who access the internet can check the news on thousands of sites, the vast majority with no cost other than their time. Gone are also the days in which the largest news organizations assembled publics of a few million people, each of them being able to consume only a handful of stories at a time. Nowadays, the most powerful news companies have hundreds of millions of users digitally. For instance, Clarín—which has been the highest circulation daily in Argentina for several decades—had an average Sunday circulation of 362,410 in July 2020.1 By contrast, Clarin.com, the newspaper’s website, reached 71,500,000 visits that month.2 Even if Clarín had different readers every Sunday of the month—a scenario that is exceedingly unlikely—and most site visits were undertaken by a core group of visitors, it is reasonable to assume that the digital public was several orders of magnitude larger than its print counterpart. Not only are digital publics much larger than those of traditional media, the volume of news at their disposal has also skyrocketed. For instance, a search with the keywords Lionel Messi on Lanacion.com—the site of the main print rival of Clarín—performed on October 17, 2020, yielded 16,685 stories published over the past quarter century. Accessing this number of stories would have required dozens if not hundreds of visits to a library before.

(p.94) The experience of this staggering growth in the volume of audiences and stories available is compounded by the speed at which information circulates in the contemporary world. The era of the daily news cycle seems long past in a context in which any major news development can spread online almost instantaneously. Although leading journalistic outfits continue publishing scoops, the period that such stories remain the exclusive property of a given organization has gone from a day or several hours to minutes or even seconds. The mundane experience of seeing news stories, true and false, go viral has led to a commodity expectation for most of the public: they are confident that most stories, in particular the high-profile ones, will probably be available in any and all of their outlets of choice. Moreover, these stories will almost certainly show up in their social media feeds even before they turn on the television set or visit their preferred news sites. This means that people are more exposed to news than ever before and can hardly escape the reach of news even when they would rather not be bothered—since most social media users do not visit platforms primarily to learn about current events, with the exception of Twitter, as was shown in chapter 3. It is no wonder that in light of this combination of volume, speed, commoditization, and ambiance, interviewees like Sandra feel bombarded by news stories but barely pay attention to them.

In this chapter I examine key structural and cultural factors that shape how people experience an information environment in which the news is plentiful. Regarding structural variables, I continue the exploration of the roles played by socioeconomic status, gender, and age regarding access and attitudes to news. Concerning cultural matters, I switch the analytical gaze to center on routines, which the existing scholarship shows is important in the reception of print and broadcast news. For present purposes, I draw upon three sets of findings from this scholarship to make more visible patterns of historical change in the contemporary scenario.

First, researchers have argued that most news consumption is highly routinized.3 Thus, communication scholars David Gauntlett and Annette Hill have observed that “patterns of news consumption . . . were often based around scheduling and how this fitted into daily routine, rather than whether respondents found one channel more biased or intelligent than another.”4 Second, the high degree of routinization is organized alongside fairly predictable temporal and spatial coordinates: newspaper reading in the morning at home and also in public transit; similarly with radio listening, also present to a certain extent in the workplace; and television viewing at home (p.95) in the early morning and, primarily, in the evening.5 Media studies expert Roger Silverstone (1994) forcefully made this point for ordinary television viewing: “Television is a domestic medium. It is watched at home. Ignored at home. Discussed at home” (p. 24).6 Third, the high degree of routinization and its organization alongside stable temporal and spatial parameters have been tied to a deep integration of news consumption into the fabric of social life.7 Sociologist Leo Bogart (1989) noted that “perhaps the most important social function of newspapers is to be a catalyst for conversation and human contact. The news is an integral part of daily life” (p. 169).

Beneath these three patterns lie two under-examined common denominators that are essential for the analysis in this chapter: news was something that individuals had to obtain, and once they did that, the routines they enacted to consume it were primary. That is, they had to either buy a newspaper or turn on the television or radio set in order to get some news. Furthermore, once they acquired that information, its consumption was the primary focus of their attention: when someone sat down to read the news or watch a television newscast, that was often the main thing they did. These three patterns of findings and two common denominators form an initial background that will help bring into sharp relief patterns of continuity and discontinuity in contemporary dynamics of news reception.

The remainder of this chapter continues as follows. In the next section I will address the structural factors that shape access to, and attitudes toward, the news. I will spend the following two sections analyzing the reception routines of news in traditional and digital media, respectively. I will then address two issues that have become particularly salient regarding news reception in both kinds of media: the role of affect and the perception of bias. I will conclude by summarizing how the main findings help answer the questions stated in the preface, and reflecting on their implications for broader issues that motivate this book.

The Landscape of News Consumption

Access to news is almost universal among survey respondents: 97.43% percent of them said they look at news on a typical day. Unsurprisingly, with this level of access there is not much variance by age, socioeconomic status, or gender. However, there are major differences when it comes to the popularity of various news sources, with broadcast media clearly at the top of (p.96) consumers’ preferences, and the newer, digital alternatives surpassing their older, print counterparts (Figure 4.1). Television and radio were the two most popular choices, with 94.43% and 47.51% percent of the respondents saying that they get the news via these media, respectively. They were followed by social media at 38.71%, newspapers at 37.54%, websites at 25.95%, and magazines at 9.53%.

News

Figure 4.1. Sources of news.

When asked to name their main source of news, 65.98% of respondents named television, reinforcing its dominance (Figure 4.2). Furthermore, (p.97) there is a wide gap between television and the next most popular source. The main follower, radio, was 52 percentage points behind, at 14.22%. Thus, these two broadcast media combined are the key access point for news for four out of every five people in Argentina. Moreover, digital media have become the main alternatives to broadcast with a combined 15.54%, and with social media having a slight edge over websites. Finally, print media have almost entirely vanished as a principal entry door into the world of current events: a meager 3.23% named print newspapers as their top choice, and none of the 700 survey respondents named magazines. The contrast between the 37.54% who said they read newspapers and the 3.23% who choose them as their main source of news is a strong signal of the receding presence of print culture in the contemporary landscape of news consumption.

News

Figure 4.2. Main source of news.

There are significant differences between those who identified broadcast media as their main sources of news, and those who named digital media.

Broadcast media is favored by people who are older and have lower socioeconomic status (Figures 4.3 and 4.4). But there are also major disparities between the survey respondents who listed television as their top choice versus those who expressed a similar preference for radio. First, there is a significant gender divide: women tend to favor television—73.45% versus 58.96%—and men radio—19.53% versus 8.85%. Although in absolute terms the gender spread between these two media is within a comparable range, in relative terms more than twice as many men as women named radio as (p.98) their top choice. This is a very strong gender disparity. Second, a similar pattern applies to the age variable. While in absolute terms, the differences between the oldest and the youngest respondents who prefer television—71.93% versus 59.88%—and radio—22.81% versus 7.19%—are somewhat comparable, in relative terms this pattern is vastly more pronounced for radio: its prevalence is more than three times greater among older than younger people. Finally, on the one hand, there is a clear and linear socioeconomic factor shaping who chooses television as their top access point for news. On the other hand, even though it appears that a more impoverished socioeconomic strata choose radio, the tendency is not nearly as strong as in the case of television.

News

Figure 4.3. Television as the main source of news.

ABC1: High; C2: Middle; C3: Lower Middle; D1: Low; D2/E: Extreme Low

News

Figure 4.4. Radio as the main source of news.

ABC1: High; C2: Middle; C3: Lower Middle; D1: Low; D2/E: Extreme Low

Conversely, a higher proportion of younger and wealthier people singled out digital media as their main source of news (Figures 4.5 and 4.6). In addition, unlike with broadcast media, the distribution of gender preferences is fairly even across the digital media spectrum. Furthermore, although there are some differences between those who privilege social media versus websites, these discrepancies are not nearly as stark as in the case of the divergence between television and radio consumers. First, there is a linear effect of age: the spread between the younger and the older respondents who identified either of the digital media options as their top choice for news is much larger than for broadcast media—even for radio. In the case of social media the disparity is twenty-seven times—15.57% versus 0.58%—and for websites (p.99) it is thirteen times—14.97% versus 1.17%. A similar, albeit weaker, pattern can be seen in the case of socioeconomic status. The spread between those at the top and at the bottom of the income ladder is slightly less than four times for social media—15.79% versus 4.00%—and almost twelve times for websites—15.79% versus 1.33%. Finally, while the decrease is quite steep for (p.100) respondents forty-five and older, the decline for socioeconomic status is less pronounced.

News

Figure 4.5. Social media as the main source of news.

ABC1: High; C2: Middle; C3: Lower Middle; D1: Low; D2/E: Extreme Low

News

Figure 4.6. Websites as the main source of news.

ABC1: High; C2: Middle; C3: Lower Middle; D1: Low; D2/E: Extreme Low

Survey respondents expressed a high degree of routinization in their news consumption. When asked about their level of agreement with the sentence “I always consume the same media,” more than three quarters of them said they either agreed or agreed a lot with it (Figure 4.7). This level of agreement remained high across all the main social structural and media variables analyzed so far—the lowest point, at 68.27% of agreement, was among those who identified digital media as their main access point for news. The relatively minor variance exhibited a clear pattern: routinization is higher among older and lower-income respondents, who usually have a preference for broadcast media, and lower among their younger and higher-income counterparts who lean in greater proportion toward digital media.

News

Figure 4.7. Routinization of news consumption.

ABC1: High; C2: Middle; C3: Lower Middle; D1: Low; D2/E: Extreme Low

The next two sections are devoted to analyzing the lived experience of these routines of news consumption by dividing the options into two major categories: traditional and digital media.

Traditional Media

The consumption of news in traditional media such as television, radio, and newspapers is highly routinized. However, while the habits of the first two are quite similar, those that pertain to print journalism differ in some notable (p.101) ways and therefore provide an informative contrast. Thus, I will first address broadcast news consumption habits, then move on to reading newspapers, and finally briefly touch on mixed-media routines as a transition into the following section devoted to digital media.

The morning, between waking up and leaving for work, appears to be the main time for both television and radio news consumption among many interviewees. This pattern becomes stronger among interviewees starting in their mid-thirties, and further intensifies among those in their fifties and older. Mariana, a thirty-nine-year-old architect, illustrates the notion of television-as-company introduced in chapter 2 and adds a news dimension to it by saying, “I wake up and turn on television news to inform myself, [and] because it keeps me company; before leaving [for work] I like to have a sense of what’s going on outside.” Ezequiel, an attorney who is the same age as Mariana, has a similar routine and notes that for him “it’s a habitual practice, especially because I have two little kids who go to kindergarten so I inform myself [about the weather] to see how I should dress them . . . and the same for me.”

Getting the news is tightly integrated into the morning routines of many other interviewees, like Fabian, a forty-three-year-old doorman, who has “the alarm clock through the television; so, it turns on automatically and the Crónica [newscast] shows up on the screen. [I watch it] until I finish preparing coffee or mate, and then I go to work.” Mara, who is forty-eight and works as an administrative assistant at an accounting firm, also weaves morning news consumption on television into her broader daily routines: “It’s automatic; I have to take a medication before eating anything, so I turn on the television [as a prompt to do that].” Mabel, who is sixty-two and retired, does not need to leave her home rapidly for work. Yet, she enacts a similar pattern of behavior in a way that highlights its ambiance—a key feature of consuming news on broadcast media that I will address in greater depth later:

In general, [and] I do this routinely, I turn on the newscast every morning while I drink mate and have breakfast, [but] without volume. If there is something that interests me, then I put the volume higher and find out more.

Routinization is also high in the case of morning radio news consumption. Emanuel, a thirty-year-old employee at a store, comments that “the radio is always on when I’m having breakfast. I’m about to go to work and the radio (p.102) is on, I inform myself [that way]. It’s always on. It’s a habit, like brushing my teeth.” Alberto, who is sixty-two and works as a management consultant, echoes Emanuel’s morning ritual by noting that in “[my] daily routine I listen to the radio early in the morning while I have breakfast.” Some interviewees said that they do not even have to turn the radio on to listen to the news in the morning because they go to sleep while listening to the radio, and keep it on all night long—a practice that ties to the notion, first introduced in chapter 2, that some people use broadcast media to counter silence at home. Miriam, a sixty-nine-year-old housewife, sleeps with the radio on “because I don’t like silence, it bothers me. . . . So there’s always a news story [on air] when I wake up.” Celia, a seventy-seven-year-old retiree, turns the radio on “at midnight, when I go to bed.” She “sleep[s] with the radio [on]. I sleep well most of the night. I don’t hear it, but I like to wake up and have the radio there [and turned on].”

Miriam’s and Celia’s practices point to the evening as an important, yet comparatively secondary, time of news consumption on the radio. This also applies to news on television. Mariano, who is thirty-five and works in the kitchen of an empanadas store, goes back home after work, and “always watch[es] television in the evening and [keeps it on] when it’s time for the newscast [since] I like to be in the know.” If Carolina, a twenty-four-year-old student, is at her home in the evening, she watches “the 8:00 pm newscast on Channel 13 and sometimes [also] the one at midnight, before going to bed, as a summary” of the day’s current events.

When it comes to the radio, interviewees also consume news during their commute to and from work, and in the workplace itself. Alcira, who is fifty-four and works as an administrative aide at an elementary school, says that when she “goes in the bus [to and from school] she listens to radio news on the cell phone.” Gabriel, a thirty-two-year-old insurance salesman, comments that “because of [my] job I spend a lot of time either in my car or in my office, and I always have the radio on.” When asked about the most recent time she had consumed news, Marta, a fifty-two-year-old psychoanalyst who has her private practice in a separate room at her home, said it was on the radio while she was “doing household chores waiting for a client,” adding that for her this is a “habitual” form of learning about current events.

Contrary to lofty ideals about civic duty, most people cite practical purposes such as the management of daily logistics and of social relationships as their main reasons for news consumption. Daniela, who is twenty-eight (p.103) and works in an ad agency, says that the “basic reason why I watch the newscast in the morning” is to “get a general overview and [to see] if there is a major news story or a natural disaster or a subway strike or other things related to the transit in Buenos Aires. Just to start the day aware of how people’s emotional climate is going to be.” Even when interviewees focus on public affairs news content, they do it motivated more by a desire not to be left out of social conversations than by a deep and self-sustaining interest in the content. Isabel, a twenty-four-year-old student, addresses this matter by making a distinction between being updated and being informed. She talks about watching television recently and learning “about the electronic dance party [in which several young people lost their lives] and the [political corruption case of] Lázaro Báez. I want to be more or less updated. . . . I wouldn’t say that I’m informed [about these topics], because if you ask me [about them], the truth is that I have no idea.” A key factor behind this desire to be updated is being able to contribute to conversations about news stories with family, friends, and co-workers. When Teofilo, a thirty-five-year-old construction worker, was asked why it was important for him to know about what was going on in the news, he answered: “Because, as I was saying, we get together at work to have breakfast or lunch, and people comment ‘hey, have you seen this?’ ‘do you know about . . .?’ And we start chatting. So, you can participate in the conversation if you have some knowledge of what people are talking about.”

As it is evident from several of the quotes introduced in this section so far, one of the attractions of getting the news on radio and television is its ambient character: most interviewees do not watch and listen to the news as their primary activity and main focus of attention. On the contrary, they inform themselves through these media in ways that enable them to do other things that appear to be more important to them. Thus, broadcast news consumption habits become secondary to other daily routines, and therefore are adapted to them. The ambient quality of broadcast news consumption is easy to see when it is consumed at work—as the work itself should be the center of the worker’s attention. But this also applies, as we have seen from the interviews, to the morning routine—when tasks such as preparing breakfast and getting dressed take precedence—and, needless to say, during sleep time—unless someone has insomnia.

Sandra, the clerical employee, conveys the ambient character of news consumption succinctly and powerfully: “I have a habit. I almost don’t watch television, but it is always on and tuned to a news channel.” In a similar vein, (p.104) Lucas, who is thirty and works as an attorney, notes that “I have the newscast as background in the morning . . . but it’s mostly a companion, something that is on, more a waste of energy which is a lifelong habit than something I pay attention to.” Needless to say, not all television watching has an ambient character. Interviewees illustrate this by comparing the consumption of news with that of entertainment content—an issue that I will continue addressing later in this chapter, and also in chapter 5. Josefina, who is twenty-five and works in a public-sector agency, says that “at night I eat while watching [popular newscast] Telenoche. That is, I watch it, but it’s not that I’m sitting on the couch as I do with the soap opera.” She adds that she “concentrates more on the latter. Yes, yes, I sit down. I try to eat before it starts so that I can be fully focused on the soap opera [laughs].”

Ambiance is also a paramount feature of radio news consumption. Norberto, a fifty-three-year-old high school teacher, gets the news on the radio “while I’m doing something else, as company. [You know], while I’m cooking, mowing the lawn, other stuff. I consume the radio but in the background. I don’t sit down to listen to the radio.” In a similar line of reasoning, Cristina, a fifty-nine-year-old housewife, notes the superior ambient quality of radio over television by saying that “radio is practical in the sense that you can move your hands and sometimes even your head [laughs]. So, you go back and forth. Whereas television is more static.” Thus, as Carlos, who is fifty-eight and a certified public accountant, reflects, radio news requires the least amount of routine disruptions of all media options: “Radio gives me the possibility of entertaining myself all day long without major distractions from other activities.” This is a key reason that some interviewees enjoy radio news, like Juliana, a forty-nine-year-old schoolteacher, who comments that if she “had to choose a form of consuming news . . . I prefer it to be audio . . . and not sitting down to read. If I sit down to read, I don’t read news but other things.”

Juliana is not the only interviewee who does not read the news. Print newspapers were a polarizing topic among those interviewed for this book. Young people, even among those who had daily access to print newspapers, strongly reject the medium. Sabrina, a twenty-one-year-old student, comments that her parents “buy the newspaper at home, but rarely ever use it.” Romina, who is nineteen and also a student, espouses a similar notion and adds an environmental objection to the idea of newsprint that was shared by some other young interviewees: “[We get the newspaper] every day at home. . . . It’s very bad ecologically, very wrong.”

(p.105) The leading Argentine dailies, like Clarín and La Nación, have so-called readers’ club programs whereby the monthly subscription comes with a loyalty card that provides benefits such as discounts at movie theaters and restaurants. Several interviewees commented that this is the main reason their households receive a newspaper on a daily basis. One of them is Patricio, another college student, whose parents purchase a subscription “just for the benefit of La Nación [readers’ club].” However, having daily contact with a newspaper does not necessarily mean that those interviewed read its content. “I almost never read [the news] on paper. That is, I have the print copy and I read it on the computer. . . . It’s crazy. . . . But [the computer] seems more practical to me because I can choose which [stories] to read.” Kevin, another student, used to get the newspaper daily because he had purchased a subscription to Clarín’s loyalty program, “even though I don’t like print.” Like Patricio, he also goes “on the internet and read all the headlines that are there. I look at the news story that I want to see and that’s it. . . . And even if I read the print paper from start to finish, I don’t know what to do with all that paper. . . . It’s not like a book, which is an object I want to keep.”

But rejecting the print newspaper is not something that only young interviewees say they do. Older ones do this too. Soledad, a fifty-four-year-old speech therapist, comments that “I believe La Nación is being delivered to my place, but just as it comes . . . it is used for the various things that newspapers are good for!” Esteban, who is forty-five and has a clerical job, reads the paper “very sporadically. Nowadays digital technology advanced so much that . . . I only maybe read a print magazine when I’m waiting in a medical office.” Alberto, the management consultant, says that for him “the newspaper went out of fashion because I’m more comfortable with the internet or digital media. . . . I used to enjoy getting the newspaper to do the same thing that I do now on my cell phone: read the news and entertain myself when I’m on the train. . . . But it was really uncomfortable!”

However, print newspapers also have their regular readers among those interviewed for this study, and in the population at large—even though, as the survey data show, very few of them single it out as their main source of news. They include some young adults such as Pedro, a twenty-four-year-old public-sector employee, who regularly reads the newspaper at a McDonald’s restaurant that he visits twice a week. “I always go there on Tuesday and Thursday so I read La Nación in the morning. . . . There’s always a copy available by where they have the hand sanitizer and the napkins.” Sergio, who (p.106) is sixty and has a coffee cart at a major public park, shares a comparable ritual: “I like to go to a coffee shop, order a coffee, and ask for a copy of the newspaper.” In a similar vein, Elena comments that she “always ask[s] for a newspaper at a bar. And I read whichever newspaper is available.” When asked why she likes the print newspaper, Elena says that she is “fifty-seven and used to reading the news. It’s comfortable for me to read on paper. . . . I’m not very technological, so it’s hard for me to locate the news on my cell phone.” Some interviewees espoused a certain nostalgia for the artifact that they cannot access through television and radio. “I’m telling you, the smell of ink [and] getting your hands dirty with ink elicits a very special emotion that perhaps . . . young kids don’t feel because they’re more used to digital [media],” says Hector, who is forty-seven years of age.

Several interviewees commented that another reason they enjoyed their papers is that reading the news in print is tied to a slower pace of information intake. Lucas, the attorney, puts it as follows: “I get the newspaper on Sunday and devote more time to it. . . . When I read digitally it’s faster because I’m reading at work, while I get calls. It’s not the same to read calmly the print paper for one hour and a half.” Patricia, the high school teacher, thinks of reading the news on paper as a unique “ritual” centered on “generating a different context that for lots of people continues to be satisfactory and therefore it’s going to last for a long time.” Finally, Marcelo, who is sixty-one and works at a convenience store, contrasts the focus and calm associated with reading the print paper with the ambiance of television and radio news consumption: “I read the print paper when I have spare time, so I’m more at ease, more relaxed. Whereas with the television I’m maybe doing other things as well, and with the radio even more so.”

Marcelo’s comment points to an additional theme common across interviews: most people do not consume news exclusively via one medium but, on the contrary, get their news through multiple media. Horacio, who is fifty-one and is a pharmaceutical sales representative, says that he gets the news through “three basic media. Television in general in the evening or the morning after I wake up. . . . The radio during the day. . . and I have lunch on the go, in restaurants, so I read whichever newspaper is available where I eat.” Carla, a forty-five-year-old attorney, also begins “the day with the television newscast . . . and then the computer when I get to the office. I make myself a cup of coffee and read the news [online].” The next section goes in depth into this experience.

(p.107) Digital Media

The consumption of news in digital media is less routinized than in traditional media. Moreover, the degrees and kinds of routinization, and the overall practices, vary substantively between social media and websites for learning about current events. Thus, for analytical clarity in the remainder of this section I will examine each option separately—as well as briefly comment on the role of search engines as news sources. I will also point out situations in which it is common for interviewees to use one option in relation to one or both of the others. A second difference is that, consistent with the survey findings summarized earlier in this chapter, digital news consumption appears to be more intense and significant in the lived experience of young people than in that of their older counterparts. Accordingly, the paragraphs that follow will be filled mostly with illustrations from the experiences of interviewees who were thirty-five years of age or younger at the time of the interview.

Some people enact news consumption routines on social media that resemble those common for television and radio. They check the same platforms, and in habitualized ways at certain times every day. Lionel, a twenty-one-year-old professional sports player, says that he “gets the news in the morning, immediately after waking up; I generally read Twitter or watch the news [on television].” Ana, who is the same age and is also a student, comments: “I inform myself a lot via Twitter. The first thing I do in the morning is log in on Twitter and check the trending topics.”

The importance of Twitter for news consumption is consistent with the evidence presented in the previous chapter about the extent to which interviewees viewed this platform primarily as an information source. But Facebook, as was also mentioned in that chapter, is a common access point for news, too. Julian, who is twenty-nine and works as a movie producer, comments that “there is a moment in the morning when I still haven’t started my work day, so I check Facebook and Twitter to find out what’s going on [in the news].” To some other interviewees, the routinization of news consumption on social media happens not before the work day but while they are at work—akin to listening to the radio in the workplace. Magnolia, who is twenty-two and works as a teacher assistant at an elementary school, “look[s] at Facebook, therefore the news, too, during recess, around ten in the morning. I get updated about whatever shows up first [on the Facebook news feed].”

(p.108) For other interviewees, the consumption of news on social media is far from being routinized. While they have preferred platforms, they do not have fixed times or places when they access them for news. On the contrary, they check the platforms at random times and places, and encounter the news in a non-routinized fashion as a result. Asked about the last time she had accessed the news prior to the interview, Juana, a twenty-year-old student, says it was “this morning, before the start of class. I got to campus at eight in the morning approximately. I was reading the news on Twitter while entering the cafeteria. It was a tweet by Infobae about a news story.” Patricio, also a student, says that he normally gets the news at his home, and at any and all times “since I’m constantly with my cell phone and my computer, so I go on social media and see the [stories], and I also get videos on WhatsApp and check them out.” Teofilo, the construction worker, learns about current events from several news organizations he follows on Facebook. But, unlike Magnolia, the teacher assistant, he does not have a pre-established time when he does this. On the contrary, “it’s whenever I have some free time.” Ludmila, a thirty-six-year-old employee at a clothing store, has a similar practice:

I open Facebook whenever I can. Maybe a little bit during my nap time. Or, if I go to the store in the morning and perhaps my boss comes later and I’m there waiting, so, well, I open it a little bit and look at the news. News [stories] always show up [on my Facebook wall]. Always. So, I look a little bit.

Ludmila’s comments point to the incidental nature of news consumption on social media, which is prevalent among many of the interviews. As noted in chapter 3, people say that it is more common for them to encounter news stories on social media, as a by-product of being there, than to seek them out on the various platforms they use. In the words of Sofia, a twenty-nine-year-old student and administrative assistant, “I have to see a story [on my feed] to read it; I don’t go there to look for it.” Luciana, a thirty-year-old accountant, adds that if “I see [on Facebook] a headline that grabs my attention, I click and read it. Otherwise, I don’t. . . . It’s not that I go on Facebook to learn about current events. But, if I see something, I read it.” Sara, a twenty-one-year-old student, recalls a recent situation in which “I was in a social gathering with friends and went on Facebook. Stories from my hometown showed up [on my feed] and since one of them interested me, I checked it (p.109) out.” Javier, the store employee, relays a similar situation: “I was on Facebook and it happened that somebody shared that story [about payments on national foreign debt by the Argentine government]. I checked it out because it interested me who were [the representatives] who made up a quorum in Congress to approve the payment.”

Most people do not go on social media primarily for news—with the exception of heavy Twitter users—but for other purposes. Thus, news consumption becomes derivative from these other purposes which mostly have to do with self-expression, relational management, leisure, or simply killing time, as was described in chapter 3. Survey findings show that more than four out of ten respondents never get the news on the platforms they use (Figure 4.8); 56.32% of them disagree with the sentence “The information I access on social media about the news is more important than the information about family and friends”—and only 11.86% agree with it (Figure 4.9).

News

Figure 4.8. Frequency in which users undertake relational and news activities on social media.

News

Figure 4.9. Interest in news versus social information on social media.

Julián, who is twenty-nine years of age and works as a film producer, is on social media constantly, and learns about current events this way. He notes:

With Facebook and Twitter there is like a spillover theory of the news . . .[in which] you eventually find out about what’s going on in the world. Since everybody began sharing memes and news, and especially during electoral years, it’s become like impossible not to find out about current events.

(p.110) Julian’s comments point to another salient aspect of the experience of consuming news on social media: the platforms often function as an alert system for important breaking news. Marisol, a thirty-one-year-old cook, says the most recent news story she had seen prior to the interview was through Facebook: “I consume Facebook a lot, saw the story, and got interested in knowing what had happened . . . because it was posted on the wall of not one, but of many people. So, that caught my eye.” Lucila, who is twenty-seven and works in media, gives a powerful example related to the murder of district attorney Alberto Nisman in Buenos Aires:

In January 2015 I was on Facebook [one day] and saw that everybody was saying something about Nisman. I asked myself “What happened with Nisman?” So, I went to La Nacion’s website and it was a huge story. . . . Like many times I tell myself, “Wow, something major has happened,” and it’s because I saw that lots of people are talking about it on Facebook.

The statements from Julian, Marisol, and Lucila are also evidence of the ambient character of news in people’s everyday digital media experience. Many other interviewees also feel surrounded by information about current events, especially as a by-product of being on social media. Clara, a thirty-year-old psychotherapist, talks about her experience of “bombardment of information”:

(p.111)

What happens a lot with Reddit or with Facebook is that it’s like a bombardment of information. So, I know that I already saw several news stories today, but there are things I don’t remember directly because it was just reading a headline and then seeing something else immediately afterward.

Estefania, a twenty-six-year-old employee at a non-profit, sees social media as an alert system through which breaking news is always available:

Everything is so immediate today that, for instance, many news stories I don’t even have to go to Lanacion.com, because on Twitter . . . when something happens on the other side of the world . . . you do a refresh on your Twitter [page] and you find out immediately because somebody retweeted from someone else who was on the scene. . . . On Facebook too: you’re there and find out about everything in an instant.

As several quotes introduced so far in the chapter show, social media are a major source of traffic toward news websites. But other interviewees say they go to these sites directly. Those who do this tend to enact more routinized patterns of news consumption than those who resort primarily to either social media or search engines. To some, visiting a news site is part of the morning routine. Mora, a thirty-year-old industrial designer, says that “every day I wake up and more or less . . . enter a news portal.” Carla, the attorney, comments that in her case “it’s generally either during breakfast [in the computer at home] or on the phone if I have breakfast outside of the home. Or, on the computer when I get to the office and [immediately] after I make myself a cup of coffee. Those are the moments in which I see [online] newspapers.” She adds that “almost always I visit the same newspaper pages.” Joaquin, who is twenty-eight and works in the information technology unit of a large organization, gets the print newspaper daily, but “I consume the newspaper every day on the Internet; it’s one of the first things I do after I wake up.” He does this

on my cell phone during breakfast. I visit Todo Noticias, Clarín, Perfil, and I have it a little bit as a habit. I check the pages from beginning to end. I see if there is anything that has happened during the last few hours which grabs my attention. That’s [the news] I usually consume during breakfast. I’m a bit like the updated version of the old man with the newspaper!

(p.112) Not all interviewees visit news sites in the morning primarily. As with traditional media options, some enact their routines later in the day. Luciano, who is a thirty-six-year-old businessman, visits online news sites “religously every day in the afternoon.” He reads the financial daily “Ambito Financiero every day on the internet. I don’t buy the newspaper [in the morning]. But download it on the internet in the afternoon since at that time practically all the news stories are [well] developed. . . . I’m interested in economic and political matters, and there I have a perfect summary [of what’s going on].” Patricia, the high school teacher, visits news sites starting “in general in the late afternoon. On my cell phone in the evening and on the computer in the afternoon. . . . I spend approximately 10 or 15 minutes [on news sites daily].”

Active search is the third main way in which people consume news in a digital form. While certainly prominent in terms of access to news sites, it was much less common in the responses of interviewees than the two previous alternatives. This might be an artifact of the rather unproblematic nature of this practice. When it did come out in conversation, or after it was probed, people most commonly mentioned search as a follow-up step from either encountering the news on social media or seeing an intriguing story on a website. In that case, the use of search engines was highly unroutinized in its timing. However, most people tended to use the same search engine, Google, to the point of turning this noun into the verb ‘googling.’ Camilo, a nineteen-year-old student, says he read an article after “googling it.” In a few other cases, interviewees resorted to Google News as a way of organizing their news menu. Martin, who is twenty years of age and also a student, comments that he “has the Google News app that sends you all kinds of news, but divided by topic instead of by publication.” In this case, search becomes a highly routinized source. Martin reads a selection of stories from this digest “every day in the bus, during the hour-and-a-half journey I have” to campus.

Cutting across all three main options of digital news consumption are reading practices that could be broadly characterized as brief and fragmentary. Josefina, the public-sector employee, says, alluding to Twitter, that the most recent story she read prior to the interview “had 150 characters, so it was very fast!” [laughs]. But a quick glance through the news is not the exclusive province of social media. German, a forty-one-year-old attorney, spends “minutes [on the news] . . . headlines.” He adds that “once in a while I go deep into a given story that has a particular interest to me, but it’s mainly headlines.” Thus, regardless of which of the three digital options people use to get to a news story, it seems quite common for interviewees to focus (p.113) primarily on the headline, secondarily on the opening paragraphs, and only very occasionally read the remaining text. Maria, a twenty-two-year-old student, normally “reads the headline, the lead, and the rest of the content diagonally. If there is a paragraph that catches my attention I re-read it, but, yes, in general [I read] diagonally.” For instance, when talking about an important story on the Panama Papers involving President Mauricio Macri and allied legislator Elisa Carrió, Maria comments that she does not “really know what Macri said about this. I know, for instance, what Elisa Carrió said because somebody shared the story [on social media]. But I read the headline, I didn’t click [on the link].” Similarly, Clara, the clinical psychologist, notes that she “look[s] at a lot of headlines, but doesn’t open many stories.” Marina, a twenty-two-year-old financial analyst, concurs: “I very rarely read a whole story, unless it interests me a lot.” As Patricio, a nineteen-year-old student, puts it: “It’s not that I read the whole article, but in general I take a look [just] to be somewhat informed.”

The limited time and sparse attention devoted to the stories appears to be tied to the dominance of certain affective states related to the practices of news consumption.

Affect

Interviewees shared a wide range of emotions when talking about their experiences of reading, listening to, and/or watching the news. However, negative emotions tended to dominate their discourse. The adjectives that most commonly conveyed interviewees’ emotional states give a glimpse into their dominant moods: anger, angst, fear, impotence, hatred, concern, horror, sadness, shock, poisoned, panic, and outrage, to name but a few. Most of these adjectives were often associated with the consumption of hard news, which people noted were overwhelmingly bad news. As the famous saying goes, “If it bleeds, it leads.”

Sofia, the student and administrative assistant at a doctor’s office, says that “today, I read on Facebook [a] Todo Noticias [story] that someone had found a newborn within a [garbage] bag. Why? What’s the need [to publish that story]? They are all bad news, there isn’t a single good one . . . it’s pure angst.” Agustina, a twenty-year-old student, concurs by confessing, “I get very sad when I watch the news. I feel like you can’t do anything about it and that it’s all bad.” Martina, the law firm clerk, has “a five-year-old daughter, and (p.114) since I had her, every time I see a news story of a kid kidnapped, stabbed, killed, raped, whatever, I get a lot of anxiety.” Elsa, a sixty-six-year-old retired teacher and psychotherapist, says she experiences “fear” when watching the news: “I’m afraid for my kids, my grandkids, too. . . . My daughter works as a vet in the lower San Isidro (a neighborhood in the outskirts of Buenos Aires) and I ask myself: what if [thieves] rob there, what might happen to her?” Fabián, the doorman, switches the register to anger: “I can’t tolerate [the news]. Nothing has changed for the past twenty years. . . . I’ve been working nonstop for the past twenty-four years, and whenever I stop I know I’ll retire with the minimum pension.” José, a forty-five-year-old clerical employee, is also angry and adds a dimension of impotence present in many interviews, too:

The topic of insecurity makes me feel very angry. For example, the topic of when they kill people, like the father who was with his three-year-old son and they killed him. . . . Things like this give me a lot of angst. Do you want to know why it gives me angst? Because the worst part of this is that there’re no prospects that they’ll do something, that’s the saddest thing.

Not all news consumption is linked to negative emotional states. Some people express fairly neutral feelings, like Martín, the student, who does not “give so much importance to the news for it to occupy an important space in my life. It’s more like there is a gap, and I fill it with that (referring to news stories).” Others connect news stories to markedly positive affect. In most cases when this happens, the kinds of content people talk about are either soft news or commentary. Maribel, another student, asks the interviewer, “Did you see the story of the kid who used crutches to watch the [soccer] game? Well, that story really got to me. . . . They went to search for the kid, interviewed him, and he talked about his daily life. I don’t know, it’s like it moved me.” Martín, who is also in college, noted that he recently watched an interview with soccer superstar Lionel Messi and “smiled when I saw Messi happy and talking. I hope he’s in good shape and we win the America’s Cup.” Finally, Carla, the attorney, has a passion for the American magazine The New Yorker: “I love The New Yorker. I’m subscribed to it, so I read it when it arrives. I like the typography, that’s really pure pleasure.”

The dominance of negative affect tied to the news is in stark contrast to the consumption of entertainment content—a topic that will also be addressed in chapter 5. To some, this is because they see getting the news as something (p.115) they have to do instead of something they want to do. Isabel, the student, watches televised entertainment in the evening and “alternate two soap operas, one in Telefé and the other in Channel 13. . . . It’s like I sit down to watch it because it’s fun . . . and I already fulfilled my duties: I got the news, I went to school [laughs]!” Sometimes people want to avoid the news to get away from an overwhelming reality, as is the case with Sara, another college student: “When you watch soap operas and things like that you unplug a bit from reality, from the things that happen, and you entertain or amuse yourself. Whereas, watching crime news or whatever, you get paranoid or fearful.” These divergent emotional states tied to the consumption of news and entertainment are also related to different levels of attention paid to both types of content. Paola, a twenty-two-year-old professional model, compares watching news and series on television as follows:

Even though I pay attention to the newscast, I don’t pay as much attention to it as I do to the television series. I let [the newscast] go by a bit. . . . Whereas I pay a lot of attention to the series, I like it, I get into it. . . . I feel whatever is going on with the character, an adrenaline rush, and things like that.

Paola’s comment points to the consequences of the dominance of negative affect for the consumption of news, which range from self-limitation to full withdrawal. Following up on the topic of entertainment, Lola, a seventy-seven-year-old retiree, likes Animales Sueltos, a popular political evening news program on television. However, she has recently limited her time watching it and filled that time slot with serialized fiction. She says that after watching Animales Sueltos, “I go to bed all wired up. . . . Everything is so ugly with the division [among political sides] and they go at each other time and again, that even though what they say is interesting, they overwhelm me a lot, so I go to sleep somewhat electrified. So, I haven’t watched that program for a while.” German, the attorney, has also limited his news intake, in this case by only glancing at the key stories: “I inform myself about the [main] topics or headlines, but since there are stories that are stressful I don’t even know how they’re framed . . . or the strategy behind the [media] discourses. No, I don’t consume [much news].”

Other interviewees resort to almost complete withdrawal instead. That is the case of Ester, a sixty-one-year-old maid, who notes that “there is much news that makes you feel badly, you see? So, I prefer not to see them.” Verónica, a forty-six-year-old school principal, shares a similar (p.116) sentiment: “What happens to me many times is that I listen to so many things that make me feel sad that I prefer to take another path.” Carmela, who is thirty years of age and lives in a small town near the city of Rosario, visits that city often so she prefers to avoid the stories about it altogether. “You generally look at the news and it’s all robberies, car crashes, deaths. I don’t look at those stories. . . . Because they terrify me. Perhaps I feel like there are so many [bad] things happening in Rosario, that it’s best not to know what’s going on.”

Bias

Many interviewees take the existence of bias in the news as a given. Furthermore, to them, bias in news coverage is the norm and not an exception. Not only are statements about bias in the news common, but the opposite is virtually absent from the data set: none of the interviewees said that there was no bias in the news. This does not mean that all of those who were silent about this issue did not believe in the existence of objective, bias-free news reporting. However, it is telling that if they believed that, they chose not to say anything about it.

This trend across the interviews is bolstered by the survey data. Forty-one percent of respondents disagreed with the statement, “The news media of my country report the news independently of political powers” (Figure 4.10). This was the most popular option, followed by 30.98% having a neutral (p.117) position and only 16.08% agreeing with it—the remaining 11.76% either did not know or did not answer. This means that there are one-and-a-half times more respondents who think the media are not independent of politics than those who think they are. Furthermore, perception of bias is highest among oldest and lowest among the youngest, thus suggesting that as time goes by and people have more contact with the news, their opinion of its possible independence from politics deteriorates (Figure 4.11).

News

Figure 4.10. Perceived bias in the news I.

News

Figure 4.11. Perceived bias in the news II.

ABC1: High; C2: Middle; C3: Lower Middle; D1: Low; D2/E: Extreme Low

Claudia, a forty-one-year-old clinical psychologist, addresses the existence of bias by noting that “one cannot forget the idea that news has an intention, a connotation of either political, partisanship, or business [reasons].” Casimiro, a thirty-one-year-old computer programmer, concurs by stating that “none of the Argentine newspapers seem to me objective enough to trust in the news. They mix news and opinion, [and] don’t own [up to] the fact that they’re biased.” The existence of bias applies to both individual journalists and the news organizations they work for. Lucas, the attorney, thinks that “nowadays it’s very difficult to believe in somebody [referring to both journalists and the media]. All of them speak from a particular point of view, with [a particular] interest, so it’s impossible that someone is 100 percent objective.” Martin, the student, argues that “it’s clearly noticeable the point of view of each television channel. Sometimes even within the same channel there is a journalist who has a different idea from the main one.” To Marta, the psychoanalyst, since “journalists present [news stories], they are never objective.” (p.118) She continues by addressing this matter in the context of the public television news she occasionally watches: “Official channels are all the time entertaining and disorienting you, that’s what I think. Then, you sort of end up a bit stupid from [watching] all of that.”

Several interviewees refer to a recent deepening of both the existence of media bias and their awareness of it. They relate this trend to a long and bitter confrontation between the Néstor Kirchner (2003–2007) and Cristina Fernández (2007–2015) presidencies and media organizations perceived to be opposed to their policies, in particular, those tied to media conglomerate Grupo Clarín and the broadsheet La Nación. Humberto, a forty-nine-year-old businessman and attorney, puts it as follows:

HUMBERTO:

  • During the past five years, as a result of the war they had with the “Kirchneristas” (the supporters of both presidents, Kircher and Fernández), Channel 13 (owned by Grupo Clarín) turned its newscast into a silly thing, no? Then, it is like a disinformation [newscast]. It was the only news show that provided you with information before. Nowadays you get more information from the news talk shows than from the newscasts.
  • INTERVIEWER:

  • Do you trust the media in Argentina?
  • HUMBERTO:

  • No, no. We have a lot of contact with everyday reality at work, and a lot of the news that you see on television has nothing to do with reality, nothing to do.
  • Humberto’s statements point to two important issues that came up repeatedly in the interviews. First, a somewhat low level of trust in the news—which was also present in Casimiro’s comments above. This is consistent with the data about news credibility presented in the preface. Second, Jorge-Luis raises the issue of whether when someone has personal experience with a particular event that makes it to the news, the subsequent coverage is seen as doing justice to what they experienced, and therefore decreases the assumption of bias, or the other way around. In all cases when interviewees shared stories about this issue, it was to the detriment of their perception about the news media. Carlota, a twenty-eight-year-old graphic designer, lives in a small town in the outskirts of Córdoba city, around 500 miles north of Buenos Aires. She reflects about a recent episode in her town that made it to the press, and about which she had direct knowledge:

    (p.119)

    It makes you think to say “What bastards!” Because they were saying a bunch of wrong things. And it makes you feel really badly; you know it’s not [what they say], you have the true information, and I swear to you that I read a bunch of web pages of radio stations and it’s all different, all wrong. So, if these things happen in [small town’s name], I imagine that at a greater scale it’s all super manipulated.

    Sofia, a twenty-year-old student who lives in Buenos Aires, uses a similar line of reasoning when she talks about a high-profile event, the story of an electronic music party in which five people died and five others ended up in an intensive care unit in April 2016—a story also mentioned in a previous quote by Isabel.

    I’m listening to the news less [these days]. . . . It all began with that tragedy. Because I frequent those social circles. . . . I began watching on television and reading in newspapers a lot of things that were half true and half a lie. Then, I began questioning other topics that I knew nothing about, and I learned [about them] from television and the media: would it be true or false what they say?

    The widespread perception of bias reaches both the news and social media. Marisol, the cook, reflects that “in general, lots of things viralize [on social media] and they are not true or have something of an exaggeration in what they say. Then I prefer to double-check [that story] on news media since they’re more trustworthy to me.” However, resorting to the same trope of dis-information that Jorge-Luis used, she adds that “the news media also, rather than inform, they dis-inform you, or there are lots of things [published] that aren’t real. Mmmm, so then I listen to the media between inverted commas.” Rodrigo, a twenty-nine-year-old store employee, also utilizes the same trope. To him, Facebook is a “mass of . . . dis-information” because “there is a lot of information that people upload whatever they want, and ‘what is the source?’ I don’t know.”

    To some of the interviewees, the stories that they encounter in the news media appear to be less biased than those on social media. Mariano, who is thirty-five years of age and works as a cook at an empanadas store, comments that “I’ve always trusted TV more because on social media there are . . . many false news stories.” Ezequiel, a thirty-nine-year-old attorney, keeps “resorting to the news media and not to social media. Maybe afterwards I check the (p.120) repercussion of the news story on social media. But the first option is to visit a news portal.” However, other interviewees tend to trust more the stories on social media than on the news media. This usually is tied to the idea that the process whereby their social media contacts recommend and annotate stories is perceived as less biased than editorial selections, an idea that was first introduced in chapter 3. Miguel, who is sixty-five and works at a hardware store, trusts the news on Facebook “because I know what the origin is,” by which he means the contact posting that story.

    While interviewees enact an array of strategies to deal with the perception of systemic bias in the news, two of them appear as particularly prevalent: listening to multiple sides, and focusing on the known other. The first strategy centers on self-exposure to divergent viewpoints, frequently on the opposite ends of the ideological spectrum. Gustavo, a thirty-four-year-old consultant, explains the rationale behind this mechanism as follows: “Since all journalism consists of the construction of a narrative, [it’s useful] to have both narratives to see how people are biased [by the news media].” Sebastian, who is also twenty-four and works in marketing, “tries not to listen to, as the saying goes, only one bell. . . . I read (left-leaning) Página/12, (conservative) La Nación, and (centrist) Clarín. I search for different viewpoints.” Daniela, a twenty-eight-year-old publicist, applies a similar logic to television watching: “Todo Noticias . . . and then C5N, very much opposed, like the yin and the yang. . . . I feel it’s necessary to play devil’s advocate and always listen to the two sides.” Rather than doing point-counterpoint, interviewees who pursue the second strategy concentrate on a news organization they disagree with ideologically but whose biases they feel able to identify beforehand. Lucas, the attorney, illustrates this strategy noting that “my default newspaper is La Nación and it opines totally different from what I think, but . . . I know from which stance it writes. And I know where to position myself to be able to analyze a news story.” Clara, the psychologist, describes a similar practice and adds the complementary role played by her social media feeds:

    The only newscast I see regularly is that of Todo Noticias. Because what happens to me with Todo Noticias is that I’m not in agreement with lots of things they say, but at least I know where they’re coming from and I have the [interpretive] filter prepared [beforehand]. . . . On top of that, my social circle is . . . center-left, or left, or progressive, so many times what I see on social media balances out a bit what I see or not see on Todo Noticias. Therefore, that works for me.

    (p.121) As with the dominance of negative affect toward the news, in particular hard news, interviewees say that the perception of systemic bias in news coverage diminishes their interests in that coverage. Luis, a twenty-seven-year-old race car driver, comments that “for many years the news media in Argentina haven’t been neutral. . . . You don’t have a neutral perspective and information comes distorted. This generates less interest, at least for me.” Soledad, who is fifty-four and works as a speech therapist, shares a similar sentiment: “What happens to me on Facebook is that I see a news story, read the first three sentences, and whenever I notice that I’m being led [somewhere I don’t want to go] or is tendentious, I say ‘bye’ and leave. . . . So, I know only half of all the stories!”

    Concluding Remarks

    What is the experience of getting the news when the information is plentiful and highly commoditized, circulates at furious speed, and can hardly be avoided?

    The analysis of structural factors sheds light on access conditions and prevailing attitudes that envelop the everyday routines of news reception. To begin, broadcast media are the most popular options as top news sources, especially television. Furthermore, socioeconomic status is the strongest predictor of someone choosing these media as their main source of information about current events. But this association does not apply to people who select digital news as their top choice—either on platforms or sites—for which there is a relative parity between socioeconomic status and age. These findings are consistent with prior research on the reception of news. For example, in his studies of newspaper consumption with evidence up to the 1980s in America, sociologist Leo Bogart found that the influence of income was greater than that of age.8 However, analyzing data from seven European countries collected up until the end of the 1990s, mass communication specialist Edmund Lauf concluded that “in all countries studied here, age has become the most powerful discriminating variable between daily and non-daily reading.”9 Although to the best of my knowledge there is no comprehensive account comparing the role of various structural factors in news consumption, it is reasonable from the existent scholarship to posit that while there is no clear dominance of one factor over the other, the role of age might have increased in recent years in relation to the rise of digital news.10

    (p.122) The survey findings also showed the persistence of high levels of routinization in news consumption. However, the interview data revealed significant differences with the ideal-typical rendition of news consumption during the second half of the twentieth century summarized in the introduction to this chapter. In particular, the analysis illuminated the existence of four mechanisms that mediate between an environment with abundant information and how individuals experience its reception.

    First, contrary to the notion that information has to be obtained, most interviewees perceived that news is ambient in the sense that it is so readily available in their daily lives—especially via social media—that whenever there is a relevant story they will rapidly learn about it.11 Thus, paraphrasing the notion put forward by political communication scholar Homero Gil de Zúñiga and his colleagues, the news “will find them” instead of them having to obtain it.12 Second, this is coupled with the presence of largely derivative routines in which individuals get access to news content as part of another activity that is the main focus of their attention—being on social media, cooking, doing household chores, and so on.13 The salience of derivative news consumption routines constitutes a historical break from the scholarship about print and broadcast media summarized above, and even more recently. When I conducted fieldwork for News at Work: Imitation in an Age of Information Abundance14 in Buenos Aires and its suburbs roughly a decade prior to the empirical research for this book, I uncovered the existence of a series of primary digital news consumption routines. Third, there was a shared acknowledgment that bias in the news is both widespread and systemic.15 Therefore, interviewees devised and implemented strategies designed to counter it—such as triangulating across multiple sources and focusing on the known other and discounting its ideological position. These strategies highlight the role of critical reception practices in Argentina discussed in the preface and which are consistent with preexistent low levels of trust in the news. Regardless of the strategy pursued and its apparent effectiveness, the notion that bias is widespread and systemic contributes to further erode the overall trust in journalism as a social institution. Fourth, the news not only appeared to be heavily biased, but its consumption was also deeply connected to feeling overwhelmingly negative affect.16 This was often tied to news avoidance issues.17

    The compounding effect of the perception and practice of ambiance, the enactment of derivative routines, the acknowledgment and management of widespread bias, and the processing of predominantly negative affect is the (p.123) experiential devaluation of news in everyday life. It is not that people explicitly say that they do not appreciate the news, but that the way they treat it within their daily routines espouses a low level of valuation. This is bolstered by the fact that while, as I showed in chapters 2 and 3, many people experienced relatively high levels of attachment to screens and platforms, and some also to serialized fiction in case of binge watching, there was very little of this connection regarding the news.18 The main exception to this trend appears to be among newspaper readers, some of whom expressed a deep, and tellingly nostalgic, affective tie to the materiality of newsprint and the forms of slow reading associated with its content.19 In a sense, the presence of this rather exceptional connection magnifies the absence of a comparable one for the more dominant gateways to the news.

    These mechanisms bring into sharp relief the role of agency: the growing centrality of derivative routines, the development of creative strategies to counter the perceived bias, and the presence of deliberate avoidance connected to negative affect are different ways in which interviewees show that they are far from the passive, mindless individuals implicit in the accounts of propaganda and manipulation that have gained remarkable traction in the past decade—a resurgence that I will address in chapter 6. Furthermore, an examination of the modes whereby interviewees enact this agency questions the tenets of the transmission view of communication applied to information overload in the news, including a focus on instrumental decision-making. This is because most interviewees prioritized expressive and relational information practices over learning about current events. With this in mind, the notion of an optimum of information intake loses its purchase. Since the majority of interviewees get the news to have something to talk about with those in their social networks, the quantity and content of that information depends on a host of positional and contextual circumstances that make the idea of optimality an analytical goal that might be desirable in the abstract to some, but highly problematic to realize concretely. Thus, despite the noble ambitions of certain normative perspectives about the role of news in liberal democracy, a discourse of deficit that faults either the information ecosystem for its abundance or the news consumers for their oversight would miss the reality of both the routines of news reception and their imbrication into broader patterns of everyday life.

    The perception and practice of ambiance, the enactment of derivative routines, the acknowledgment and management of widespread bias, and the processing of dominant negative affect shape the news reception routines (p.124) that mediate between the abundance of information about current affairs and their everyday experience. Thus, the experiential devaluation does not result exclusively from the existence of abundant information, but also from the presence of these distinct mechanisms and associated routines. The next chapter, focused on the correspondingly abundant entertainment content, shows how alternative mechanisms and routines can generate quite different experiential valuations.

    Notes:

    (9.) Lauf, 2001, p. 239.

    (11.) On various perspectives about ambient journalism in relation to social media, see, for instance, Hermida, 2010, 2014; Papacharissi & de Fatima Oliveira, 2012; and Sheller, 2015.

    (13.) The centrality of these derivative routines is perhaps nowhere more salient than in the rise of incidental news consumption on social media, as Feezell, 2018; Fletcher & Nielsen, 2018; Gil de Zúñiga et al., 2017; Mitchelstein et al., 2020; Valeriani & Vaccari, 2016; Weeks et al., 2017; and Yadamsuren & Erdelez, 2017 have variously examined.

    (15.) Issues of media bias tie to matters of credibility and trust. For multiple perspectives on this, see, for instance, Choi & Kim, 2017; Kiousis, 2001; Knobloch-Westerwick et al., 2017; Livio & Cohen, 2016; and Tandoc, 2019. In recent years, these topics have been explored with particular intensity in the examination of misinformation in the news. See, for instance, Allcott & Gentzkow, 2017; Grinberg et al., 2019; Valenzuela et al., 2019; Vargo et al., 2018; Vosoughi et al., 2018; and Wagner & Boczkowski, 2019b.

    (16.) For various perspectives about the role of emotions in the news, see, for instance, Bas & Grabe, 2015; Beckett & Deuze, 2016; Hasell & Weeks, 2016; Lecheler et al., 2015; Papacharissi, 2015; Wagner & Boczkowski, 2019a; and Wahl-Jorgensen, 2019.

    (17.) For analyses of contemporary patterns of news avoidance, see, for instance, Edgerly, 2017; Ksiazek et al., 2010; Toff & Nielsen, 2018; Toff & Palmer, 2019; and Trilling & Schoenbach, 2012.

    (18.) For an array of treatments of binge watching, see, for instance, Jenner, 2016; Shim & Kim, 2018; Steiner & Xu, 2020; and Turner, 2019.

    (19.) For a more extensive treatment of this matter, see Boczkowski, Mitchelstein, & Suenzo, 2020.