“Incidental news”: the new way that young people consume information

  • By Guest
  • August 3, 2016

By Yenibel Ruiz

A new study on how young people in Argentina consume news reveals that this process is done haphazardly, mainly through cell phones, during free time and while immersed in the world of social networks. The consumption of news is “incidental” and old habits of searching for news on the computer, the television or print are being left behind.

The “incidental news” is a concept introduced thanks to the results of a qualitative study about young people and the consumption of news by the Center for the Study of Media and Society in Argentina (MESO), in conjunction with the University of San Andrés (Argentina) and Northwestern University in Chicago.

Most survey responses indicated that young people consume news fortuitously, through digital media, predominantly with cell phones. That is to say that young people “do not come into contact with the digital universe to search for news, but are finding it in the feeds of their networks, interspersed with humorous anecdotes from friends, requests for assistance and photos of travel, animals and food,” the study reads. This unexpected way of interacting with the news is what defines the concept of “incidental news.”

The “incidental news” gives another perspective of the consumption of information by young people. As described by Pablo Boczkowski, Eugenia Mitchelstein and Mora Matassi in the article “The Media is no longer media or message,” which was published in the magazine Anfibia, the “incidentalization of the consumption of news generates a loss of context and hierarchy of journalistic content in the public’s experience.”

“What is the experience of news consumption of young people in Argentina and what happens in their daily routines? What senses, interpretations, uses and habits are established in the encounters with what we call news?” These are the questions that the study asked 24 young Argentinians between the ages of 18 and 29, mostly of the upper middle class.

The responses of the young people speak about how they consume news in their daily lives, the number of times they use their cell phones compared with computers, the number of times that they see news on TV or read it in print.

“I do everything with the phone. Answer emails, read Twitter, read the newspaper, all with the cell phone,” said Ana, 21, according to the study.

The authors found that the computer is used much more to work and to study than to consume news. For its part, the use of television lies in third place and is used “generally as background noise that accompanies everyday tasks,” the article explained.

“The newspaper, radio and television disappear as a unit that presents an orderly and representative vision of the news. What remains are bits and pieces of stories and opinions, immersed in a giant mosaic of information of all kinds and all sources,” the article continued.

The authors also described the idea of how young people live in digital media, specifically on social media like Facebook, WhatsApp or Twitter, for example. Young people will stay on social media despite not having a specific reason to be connected. This way of living is perceived as a social necessity, the authors wrote.

The incidental news marks a difference – the article explained – in the contact that young people have with news, noting that access to information is no longer an independent activity, but depends on the sociability that social networks generate, the article explained.

The authors added that the amount of times when young people access information are far greater, but happen in shorter stays. The article states that the consumption of news is done spontaneously and at any time and place when young people have free time.

However, the authors said that incidental news is not the final stage of the ways in which information is consumed, but a kind of “media transition” in a future that cannot be predicted.

Finally, according to the article, the study reflects that the ways of consuming news are no longer the same, the power of the news media loses incidence in the face of the influence of social networks like Facebook and Instagram, “which shape the informative menu selecting different entries in the feeds of its members.”

[Editor’s note: Rosental Alves, founder and director of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, is part of MESO’s board.]

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.


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