Sandra Veinberg, International School of Economics and Business Administration, Faculty of Public Relations and Advertising Management, Senior Researcher at Liepāja University, Institute of Management Sciences, Latvia.
This paper examines how digital natives seek out current information in the media. For the purpose of understanding media consumption by adolescents, use has been made of a quantitative and qualitative content analysis of 220 adolescents in two different universities in Latvia. It was found out that digital natives focus on the media that is available to them on screens that permit the use of sound and moving images.
Keywords: digital native, news, media consumption, online media, PR
The modern general trend towards novelty consumption in Northern Europe still shows that traditional news programmes in general perform pretty strongly on the news market, but they are slowly dropping in terms of their audience strength with each passing year. The same process can be seen in the printed newspaper market. Meanwhile, the percentage of people who consume news through the ‘new’ channels, such as via mobile phones or on the internet, is growing more and more. However, ‘if we look at people of different ages we find that [this is] the most important dividing line’ (Sternvik & Wadbring, 2010; Sternvik, 2009).
The Swedish researchers point out that the Swedish population can be divided into two camps in terms of news consumption in relation to age. The same tendency in media use can be seen even today on the other side of the Baltic Sea – in Latvia.
Table 1. Reading the press each day 2012-2014 (ages: 15-74), in percentage terms; Source: TNS National media research, 2014.
This means that even in Latvia, with its strong historic tradition of newspaper readership, we can observe a dramatic decline in newspaper circulation. This process was supported by the economic crisis in 2007-2010. Significantly, that dramatic reduction in newspaper reading is at its most noticeable in young people. The most rapid decline in newspaper readership is amongst young people in the age range of fifteen to 29 years. The most active newspaper readers remains older Latvian people aged between sixty and 74 years (TNS National media research. 2014, p 30).
It is no secret that the internet has divided newspaper readers into two groups – those who still read their news on paper and those who read it only via a screen. Media selection for the ‘first group’ of newspaper readers – those who read their news on paper – has long been studied by the media sciences to a very great degree. Media selection for the ‘second group’ of newspaper readers – those who read their news via a screen – has so far largely been studied by the media sciences in terms of how children use screen media (Carlson, 2014, O’Neill, 2013, Bucht, 2013, Findahl, 2013, Culver, 2013, Tufte, 2013, Carlson, 2012, Findahl, 2012, Dunkels, 2011, Livingstone, 2008).
“News usage is, and in principle always has been, a question of age. Older people have more established habits and are more socialised within society and are therefore more interested in news in general,” writes Josefine Sternvik (Sternvik, 2010, p. 371). For me it was important to understand how young adults were accessing their news, so I carried out an examination of news consumption.
Clearly the main medium for digital natives is the internet. I may include also my own students in this group, young people who are studying RISEBA in Rīga and at the University of Liepaja. They represent the country’s greatest users of the internet (see Table 2).
Table 2: The use of media in schools in Latvia 2011 in percentage terms. Source: Mediju lietošanas kompetence skolēnu un skolotāju mērķa grupā p. 16.
My 220 students who make up the research group are school graduates of 2011. Their most frequently-used media is the internet. “A total of 86% of the students watch television each day. The students are amongst those who are least likely to read newspapers – 41% of them do not read newspapers at all or read them rarely (Mediju lietošanas kompetence skolēnu un skolotāju mērķa grupā p. 3).
When it comes to the students, the internet is the most commonly-used medium for diverse needs – it is associated with leisure and entertainment (by 80% of the students), as well as personal interests (75%), and the training that is necessary to extract information (72%), as well as to allow them to express their views to friends and others (66%). In all of these respects, the use of the internet outperforms other media (Mediju lietošanas kompetence skolēnu un skolotāju mērķa grupā p. 4).
So many young people use the internet mainly for entertainment purposes. This is nothing new, but I was interested in something else – how they use the internet if something unpredictable happens which is very important to them. What then is their information-gathering routine and, more precisely, I wanted to discover how they accessed their news, what are their specific novelty sorting routines, and which methods do they use to discover the truth. I wanted to know if the old news matrices, involving “what?”, “how?”, and “why?”, are being replaced by another media module.
Background to the Study
LaFrance (1996) characterises the children of the 1960s as the TV generation, those of the 1970s as the video generation, those of the 1980s as the Nintendo generation, and those of the 1990s as the internet generation (Livingstone, Bovil, 1999, p 3). In order to determine changes in the new adult media routines, I chose the news because stories are important for everyone, regardless of age, gender, language, traditions or the place in which they live on the planet. In this direction media researchers have established that: 1) the young don’t increase their use of media as it tends to make their parents (for example, they listen to the radio every morning in the kitchen and watch the television in the living room each evening). The young don’t separate their use of media in this way (Sternvik, 2010, p.372). There is a large overlap in the consumption of news in various media forms and this generally applies to those who are interested in receiving news, and who do it through a variety of channels and media forms (Sternvik, 2010, p.372, Holmberg & Weibull, 2010). “Old media” (Weibull, 2010) is slowly losing its market share. One important factor may be the price of magazine subscriptions that are affordable for young students (Wadbring, 2010), especially during the recession (Lithner, 2000) and that, under the circumstances, many young people have not grown up with the morning paper at the breakfast table and therefore they have not established their own reading habits in terms of the morning newspapers.
A number of media researchers point out that the young people are generally less interested in general news and their commitment is much more urgently focussed on social media, such as Facebook and YouTube (Sternvik, 2010, Holmberg & Weibull, 2010). If this is true and the digital natives don’t want know anything about important world events that may be of interest (such as, for example, events that may be of great importance for their parents), it remains to be seen how they will use the media if something very important should happen that is directly relevant to them.
In order to evolve an understanding of the media consumption of the young, use was made of a non-proportional stratified sample of the population of younger adults, this being the 220 students who were involved in the survey study. All of them were issued with questionnaires. The age of the participants was between 20- 33. The validity of the content was high. The survey was carried out between 25/11/2013-01/12/2013. No internal failure was observed.
As a criterion for validity, a comparative analysis was carried out between media consumption habits during an entirely ordinary day and on a very specific ‘emergency’ day, the latter being 21 November 2013, which is when an unexpectedly big accident occurred that related to all media users.
This meant firstly that the same questions were used for both days, and then a comparison was made between the answers from the first and second days. The facts that were obtained from the ordinary day or situation when it came to media usage (this being the first gauge) were compared against evidence that was obtained from the ‘emergency’ day (this being the second gauge). In other words, use was made of the validity of the competition between the two days in order to ensure a high level of accuracy in terms of measurement. Having organised the survey in Riga and Liepaja, a broad, open discussion was held that also provided a qualitative analysis of the results.
The incoming material was analysed by two different methods depending on their specific qualities by using NVivo.
Analysis, Findings, Results
The first results from the survey showed the everyday use of media, for which the leader was, of course, the internet. This was followed by the TV news, online radio, and newspapers. The students themselves were reflected in their media consumption as follows:
Table 3: Everyday use of the media.
The results of the survey did not offer any surprises. During the discussions, most of students stressed that they don’t using the traditional media and emphasised that “we get real information only through the internet. We never watch TV or listen to the radio”. I was a little surprised by the denial of traditional radio. Some of the explanations for the apparent death of radio included: “I never use the radio. Radio died out a long time ago,” and the survey shows that recipients listen to the radio only on their computers, this mainly being internet radio. I had thought that young people would be listening to traditional radio when driving a car or using a mobile phone. It turns out that they only have a radio “background” when they’re working on a computer.
The next step was to identify their use of resources on the internet. The survey found that the students themselves believe that they use the internet in the following way:
Table 4: Information on internet usage in percentage terms.
The results of the survey showed not too-unexpected effects even here. The first and largest area of use is online media, followed by Facebook and micro-blogging site Twitter. I tried to find out what exactly was meant by online media and eventually noticed this is covers “internet newspapers”. Online media for my students means: the three most popular domestic news sites: TVNET, Apollo, and Delfi, and the three most popular international news sites: CNN, NYT, and BBC News.
It should be emphasised that the economic crisis in Latvia between 2007-2010 directly affected the media market.
These online media sources, or “internet portals” (TvNet, Apollo, and Delfi) look like the “” and have seen increasingly widespread usage among young people and indeed everyone who uses a computer on a daily basis.
This position is also supported by TNS Latvia. An annual study showed that a quarter of the Latvian population read on a daily basis using a smart phone (12%) and that others were using computers for following sources of information on a daily basis: Google.com (43%), Inbox (e-post) (28.6%), Draugiem.lv (25.3%), and YouTube.com (25.1%).
The fifth and sixth positions as the most-used sources of information are the two most popular online media sites, Delphi at 22.7% and TvNet at 17.2%. Down in a lowly seventh place this year is the Latvian Facebook.com with just 15.3% (TNS Latvia Digital Spring in 2014).
So far the students themselves have made the choices for their media habits, but what happens in a situation in which something really happens? Does it change the digital natives’ media habits? One such event was the Zolitūde supermarket disaster in Riga, Latvia, on 21 November 2013. On that date, the roof of a shopping centre in the Zolitūde district of Riga in Latvia collapsed at 5:41pm local time. The disaster killed 54 people, including three rescue workers. It was an enormous tragedy for everyone in Riga. After the collapse of the supermarket, I asked the students how they found out about what had happened.
Which media was the first to inform them about what had happened and how had they searched for information afterwards?
I asked students to note only the first source that provided information about the disaster. The results are shown in Table 5.
Table 5: The first source that provided information on a disaster in percentage terms.
In first place here was the mobile phone. Strikingly, the majority received phone calls from their parents or friends (27%). Almost as many were given information about the accident via Twitter (25%). Only in third place came online media as the first source (20%) and TV news (15%). Facebook occupied last place with just 5%. The surprise was the good old radio, which ranked in second-to-last place (9%).
Table 6 shows the following secondary source that the students used in order to learn more about the disaster. If they stuck to the old media habits, they would search for an analysis of the situation (in a newspaper) or discover a live monitoring of the sequence of events (via TV). What actually happened was that the students shied away from newspapers but read their analytical articles via online media (35%) but they also observed the course of events on the TV news (25%).
Table 6: The second source that explains the information on a disaster in terms of percentages.
This means that in an emergency situation the very first source of information is the phone. The next operational source has been the micro-blogging site, Twitter.com. In third place are the most popular online media sites: http://www.tvnet.lv, followed by http://www.delfi.lv and finally http://www.apollo.lv. They leave behind the TV and radio news. See Table 7.
Table 7: Showing a comparison between the first and second source.
Interestingly, quite a lot of students also use the telephone as a secondary source. They telephoned the rescue service, the fire brigade or the ambulance service (in this table all of these calls are grouped under the heading of “friends”.
Furthermore, I wanted to find out how good the information in the media looks today. It seemed that Twitter.com was determining modern information standards. My survey revealed the results that are shown in Table 8.
Table 8: I want to see information in the following way, in percentage terms.
So in terms of form we have here a demand for the visualisation of information. Text only seems no longer to be usable in the media.
The results show that most of the respondents requested media text with images or media text with audio and video illustration. Such a request can no longer be delivered in the papers. This requires a screen.
The requirement for visualisation was confirmed when I offered differing options for a description of ”good information”. See Table 9.
Table 9: What does good media information look like?
Discussion and conclusions
1. The use of the standard news outputs obviously looks different in different groups of news consumers. The “old school matrix” is still strong enough but the media role has changed. Instead of radio, now it’s Twitter, instead of the newspapers, now online media is available. It’s essentially the same matrix but with new players – media on the internet.
2. Digital natives have focused on the media sources that are available on-screen which allow the use of sound and moving images.
3. I do not think that either the radio or newspapers are dead when it comes to digital natives. They are both available on computers in the form of online media and both look different today. The most important thing is that all types and kinds of information have to be adapted to the screen.
4. Young people do not have a clear news ritual (of the type that their parents used in their own media consumption).
5. Being well-informed requires the seeking out of multiple sources across different formats. Digital natives get their news and information from many media sources, not just one. This means that digital natives no longer have the prestige of one all-encompassing source of information.
6. I agree that “children and young people are particularly confident and enthusiastic adopters of new forms of media, generally sharing a forward-looking perspective which is not just desirous of, but also interested in, ‘what’s new, what’s cool’”, (Livingstone, Bovill, 1999. p 13).
7. Twitter is as important as one’s own mother. Despite the historical trend towards “individualisation”, we have also witnessed a powerful desire on the part of young people to “socialise” the media, drawing it into their social life.
8. The biggest competition for news and information comes from young people themselves, along with their social networks. Feedback from participants in the qualitative round appears to indicate that the importance of the social network as a disseminator of news and information is on the rise.
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