Currently viewing the tag: "Jessica Thom"

By JASMINE BALA
Staff reporter

Ryerson professors Shauna Rempel, Jessica Thom and Anne McNeilly discussing what young people want from their news media at a panel that took place on Jan. 27, 2017. (Jasmine Bala)

While newsrooms benefit from online analytics that help journalists understand what audiences want and how to package stories, this data can’t be the only determinants of the news that gets served up, says the national managing editor for social media at Global News.

Shauna Rempel, who is also an instructor at Ryerson’s School of Journalism, said she uses services such as NewsWhip Spike to see which Global News stories are trending on social media and CrowdTangle to determine engagement with these posts across all platforms.

“I’m using half a dozen every day and it’s helping determine not just what we’re posting, what we’re writing, talking about and covering, but also how we’re doing it,” she told a crowd of mostly Ryerson journalism students attending a panel discussion about what young people want from their news media.

Rempel noted, however, that if her newsroom only focused on stories that resonated on social media “it would be a very lopsided thing.”

“We would have a lot of animal videos and things like that, and we need to balance that out with political news and other news that people need to be aware of. But we need to also look at how we’re presenting it on social media and elsewhere in a way that will still get to the audience and will connect with the audience.”

To do this, Rempel said she takes topics that are complicated and makes them more accessible by adding graphics and animations to help her audience develop a clearer understanding of the story: “It’s not dumbed down, but it’s cutting through to how it matters to you as the audience member.”

While Rempel said her newsroom recognizes the need to include actual news in what it offers its audience, new research conducted by Anne McNeilly, an associate professor at Ryerson, and Aneurin Bosley, assistant professor at Carleton University, suggests many up-and-coming journalists have different priorities. They are interested in reporting on cultural, travel, lifestyle and entertainment stories.

“The sort of pillars of what we think of as news–politics, business, the economy–are way here at the bottom” in terms of what students want to cover, McNeilly said during the panel. “There’s not a lot of interest at this stage in reporting on politics and on the economy or business. This really surprises me because politics is an absolutely fascinating area and all you have to do is look at the news and see how Trump has taken over to see…how important an area it is.”

McNeilly and Bosley conducted a survey of about 600 journalism students from Carleton University and Ryerson University last year. The responses are part of a bigger international study being conducted by scholars in Chile and Australia that examines the similarities and differences in journalism education around the world. Journalism schools from more than 30 countries are participating in the study including the United States, Brazil, Spain and Indonesia. Comparative data from these other jurisdictions is not yet available.

The journalist’s role in deciding which stories are newsworthy and which have more prominence, McNeilly said, has changed with the shift to online journalism.

“As the digital transformation got underway, it changed from the journalist telling people what was news and how important it was to more of what’s called a conversation,” she said. “So, there is much more participation by readers and audiences. The gatekeeper function that journalists used to have is no longer nearly as dramatic as it used to be. [Now], the audience indicates what they’re interested in and what they want” from news outlets.

Readers and viewers, McNeilly added, are also “increasingly fragmented depending on what their interests are” and they read stories from news outlets that pertain to these interests.

Jessica Thom, who teaches in Ryerson’s School of Image Arts, found something similar in her research. The young people in her study, she said, largely only felt compelled to read the news if they were interested in the story

“Interest was a couple of different things,” Thom said. “Did they find the information interesting? Was it something that was about a hobby or a topic that they were kind of following? Or was this something that they thought was really important or relevant to someone in their life? … They also identified interest in stories that are important to the world in general.”

Thom conducted her research as part of her doctoral dissertation investigating how young people choose which news to consume and which news to believe. Her study involved focus groups, interviews and online diary-keeping. Participants were between the ages of 18-29.

Erica Lenti, the editor of This Magazine and a Ryerson graduate, said she has made moving her magazine online a priority in order to reach younger audiences and get feedback on what stories they connect with.

“We have a way bigger audience now because we used to just look at our subscribers and now we have people who aren’t subscribers who are engaging with our content. That’s been really eye-opening in terms of what they’re really enjoying and what they’re maybe not enjoying as much.”

Her readers, Lenti said in a follow-up email, enjoy analysis-driven narrative journalism in both print and online: “We’re moving past the age of the blog, and so we’re focusing less on quantity of content going up online and more on quality,” she wrote. “So, instead of assigning multiple blog posts, for instance, I’ll assign one longer online feature.”

This Magazine’s readers, she added, also value timely analysis on current events. One of their most successful online stories, for example, was an opinion piece calling on the University of Toronto not to let Jordan Peterson, a professor who refuses to use gender neutral pronouns, participate in a campus debate on legislation surrounding gender identity.

Jessica Thom, assistant professor, at Ryerson University’s School of Image Arts. (Jasmine Bala)

By JASMINE BALA
Staff Reporter

While most Canadian millennials get their first taste of news via Facebook posts, Twitter shares and other social media, that is typically just the starting point when it comes to their news consumption habits, a new study suggests.

The study contradicts the commonly held belief that young people don’t go much beyond social media in their quest for news, says Jessica Thom, a Ryerson University School of Image Arts assistant professor and the author of the research. In fact, she said, many youth use social media as a gateway to mainstream news sites.

“They’re really reading the trending topics; they’re reading the title of the article that their friend has posted or shared,” Thom said in an interview. “They’re really getting kind of the bite-sized pieces of news from their social media, and then they either click on that article or they search that title and they find out more information through search engines.”

Participants in the research, which Thom did for her doctoral dissertation, said that after social media such as Facebook brought a news event or development to their attention, they would often use Google to seek out more information from a trusted mainstream news site.

“That is a very conscious decision that they make, to find a mainstream news outlet that they have some sort of understanding of or with,” Thom said. “It’s for the most part not things like blogs, live streams, Twitter or opinion comments on YouTube where they’re going to find out the facts about a news story.”

Thom’s investigation of how young people choose which news to consume and which news to believe involved focus groups, interviews and online diary-keeping. Participants were aged 18 to 29.

If young people weren’t interested in the topic of the story or didn’t think it was important, they normally didn’t go much further than the headline on social media, said Thom.

“That idea of importance was also something that was a little bit vague,” she said. “[It] can be something that’s important to them because they have a family member, a friend or a roommate that has some sort of affiliation to that story. They could be from that country; they could know someone who’s visited that country.”

Participants, she said, clearly understood that reading the news is a key part of being an informed citizen and participating in a democratic society. They demonstrated a “sophisticated approach to—and interest in—becoming informed citizens,” rather than a lazy or haphazard approach to news consumption, she wrote in her dissertation.

Thom noted, however, that young Canadians also “depend on sites and aggregators like Facebook, Snapchat and Google, as well as their friends and family, to funnel important or interesting news to them rather than spending time and mental energy sifting through thousands of news sites, blog posts, YouTube videos, tweets, Snapchats, radio broadcasts and television news bulletins to find the most relevant news.”

The proliferation of fake news, she added, has “made judging the truthfulness and deception in news very challenging,” and this is something millennials have to think about when consuming online news.

When deciding what mainstream news outlet to visit and believe, Thom wrote that young Canadians use a mental checklist. It may include questions like: “Is the source credible? Have you used it in the past? Does it have a tradition? Is the language appropriate? Does the language sound like a professional journalist or does it sound like ‘Joe’s blog’? Is the spelling accurate? Is it more opinion-based or is it more fact-based?”

Study participants, she said, used literacy skills taught in their public school curriculums to determine which sources are the most trustworthy. Although participants pointed to mainstream and legacy media sources as credible, she noted that they generally didn’t believe or trust soft news stories, particularly those that were political.

The young people Thom spoke to indicated that a “breaking news story is instantly believable, but a political story is likely spun in some way,” she wrote, noting that they felt these stories could be more opinion-based and have a political bias.

“It was the difference between reading the facts and knowing the news story and being told an opinion about what that news story is.”

The lesson for news outlets, Thom said, is that they need to share news in a way that follows the gateway system if they want to target young Canadians.

“They not only can make their information easily accessible via social media so that the news can be encountered by them, but [they can] also make sure that it’s a brand that comes to be known [and trusted] by young people earlier in their lives so it becomes more of a habit to use them,” she said. “So, when they go about making a decision about what news they’re going to look at through a search engine, that can be one of the options. Because they know that brand – they know the news organization – that’s something that they’re going to come to trust.”

While this brand might not be a news outlet they use every day, millennials will come to have some sort of understanding and belief in the news outlet’s credibility. It “might be one that they’ve heard about [and see online], one that they know their parents watch at 6 p.m., or that they know that their grandparents have delivered everyday,” Thom said.

Thom said her research objective was to increase and add to the discussion of how people, specifically young Canadians, consume news.

“There’s a lack of dialogue about our news consumption in Canada. Not from journalists who are obviously very interested in this, but from our government, from our public institutions,” she said. “I don’t think that we actually have the numbers and studies that can back that stuff up in a Canadian context.

“The way that we get informed in a contemporary news landscape is something that we need to know a lot more about. Particularly [since] our next generation is going to be getting informed that way.”