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Communication Dans Un Congrès Année : 2012

Structuring New Public spheres : an integrated model of online News consumption

Tang Tang
  • Fonction : Auteur
Roger Cooper
  • Fonction : Auteur


Convergent communication environments have substantially changed the ways people engage with news content. More and more users seek information online today as the Internet provides diverse and timely news coverage in a global context (Deuze, 2003; Knobloch-Westerwick, et al., 2005). With the abundance of content and open distribution online, individuals increasingly have control over their news choices and construct their news agenda across a variety of delivery systems for a multitude of purposes. Nonetheless, they employ search, recommendations, portal sites and other Internet structures as the contextual cues to find "preferred" information quickly and easily. Structures now, more than ever, influence the amount and type of online news use and the free flow of information. Given the crucial role of news consumption in structuring public spheres and encouraging deliberative democracy (Graber, 2006), it is important to understand how individuals make their news decisions in today's dynamic online environments. Much of the literature on online news consumption looks through a psychological point of view, and focuses on how individual gratifications, perceptions, and cognitive needs influence news selection (Diddi & LaRose, 2006; Vishwanath, 2008; Wise, Bolls, & Schaefer, 2008). Researchers conceptualize news consumers as active and goal-directed and assume that users know their options and make rational choices to best use media resources (Potter, 2009; Webster, 2011). However, such a psychological predisposition has empirically ignored the fact that exposure is not completely free of constraints. With the overwhelming amount of information online, it is impossible for news consumers to notice all the content options and sources available to them. Individuals identify their news preferences and cognitive needs within the structures that encourage or constrain use (Cooper & Tang, 2009; Webster, 2009). A number of researchers suggest that integrated efforts are needed to understand how individual psychographic characteristics and structures interact to influence online news consumption (e.g., Cooper & Tang, 2009; Hargittai, 2008; Webster, 2011). Anthony Giddens (1984), a British sociologist, introduced "duality of structure" in his structuration theory. He believes that individual agents act within the social system, while the repetition of their acts reproduces the structure. In mass communication, Cooper and Tang (2009) proposed the Active within Structures theory to conceptualize postconvergence media use. They suggest that individuals actively choose media content within internal and external structures. People "actively" structure their preferences to self-organize their media experiences in content-abundant environments. These choices may, in turn, impose or encourage structures that further influence how content is received and evaluated. Rooted in the structuration theory and informed by Cooper and Tang's work in "active within structures," this research seeks to build an integrated model of online news consumption featuring the interactions of both individual and structural variables and examines the structurational process of news selection in today's dynamic online environments. A Web survey was conducted to examine the interactions exist that between and among individual psychological factors, Internet structures, and online news consumption. The dependent variable (i.e., the amount and type of online news consumption), and three subsets of independent variables - gratifications, demographics, and Internet structures - were measured in this study. Structures refer to media services and resources that "are relatively 'hard' constraints on individual action" (Webster, 2009, p. 223). An existing scale featuring six structural dimensions - recommendations, search, browsing history, bookmarks, portal sites, and advertising - was used in this research to access Internet structures. Pearson correlation tests were employed to examine the relationships between the amount and type of news use and each independent variable, and a multiple regression analysis was conducted to build an integrated model of online news consumption. Results indicate that both individual characteristics and Internet structures predicted online news consumption. Consistent with previous studies (e.g., Diddi & LaRose; Chyi, Yang, Lewis, & Zeng, 2001), this research found that cognitive variables and user attributes had a direct influence on the amount and type of news use. In addition, structures demonstrate a strong association with online news consumption. Internet structures alone - recommendations, search, browsing history, bookmarks, portal sites, and advertising - provided 10.1% of the unique explanation of online news use when all other variables were controlled. Recommendations, bookmarks, and portal sites were significant structural predictors of online news consumption. Findings suggest that online news consumers trust the "wisdom of crowds" (Webster, 2008). Many follow recommendations from their peer consumers when seeking information online. News recommendation systems have a potential to change the flow of information from "corporate-driven" to "consumerdriven", thus structuring new public spheres. Nonetheless, with expanded news sources, users rely on bookmarks to select news via a fixed set of sites. Such a news repertoire polarizes mainstream sources and constrains online news diversity. In addition, although there are diverse "available" news sources online, major news portal sites like Yahoo, Google News, still act as gatekeepers in influencing what news content is easily "accessible" (Hargittai, 2008). The mainstream and homogenous online news agenda may reduce citizens' engagement in democratic participation and "discourages" the new public spheres. Overall, this research represents one of the initial attempts that utilize Giddens' structuration theory to study news selection in online environments. By arguing for a fuller consideration of both individual cognitive factors and Internet structures in determining online news consumption, the research yields a nuanced understanding of the structurational nature of the new public spheres, brings more coherence and richness to inquiry in new media use and effects, and will, ultimately, lead to higher legitimacy for communication scholarship.
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Dates et versions

hal-00840632 , version 1 (02-07-2013)


  • HAL Id : hal-00840632 , version 1


Tang Tang, Roger Cooper. Structuring New Public spheres : an integrated model of online News consumption. Communiquer dans un monde de normes. L'information et la communication dans les enjeux contemporains de la " mondialisation "., Mar 2012, France. ⟨hal-00840632⟩


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