Does our news use predict our views on society?
Ruben Vandenplas & Ike Picone
News media have often been thought to function as a user’s ‘window to the world’, that allows them to keep up to date on current affairs, and, in doing so, participate in society. But what if news users view the world through a ‘narrow’ window, or take only a quick peek at the world? Would their views on society be significantly different from other users?
In this policy brief we explore this question in 3 steps. First, we look at the different news repertoires (or windows) among Flemish news users. Second, we look at the users within each repertoire. Third and last, we compare news users with each repertoire according to their societal attitudes, including civic disengagement, community and fellowship, individualism, and ethnocentrism.
While algorithms have often been the subject of moral panics surrounding filter bubbles or echo chambers, we found that the downward spiral of a Limited news repertoire coupled with a lower socio-economic status might prove a bigger threat in isolating users and skewing their views on society towards the negative.
Interested in how to move forward based on these results? Take a look at the CONVERSATION STARTERS at the bottom of this page.
|2||NOT ALL WINDOWS ARE MADE EQUAL|
Flemish news repertoires differ greatly, both with regards to their composition, as well as the users that make use of them. For example, users with a Limited news repertoire exhibit lower socio-economic status, and report a lower subjective income. Meanwhile, the broadest Panoramic news repertoire appears to remain limited to higher-educated and affluent news users.
|3||AN OPEN WINDOW FOSTERS AN OPEN MIND|
Societal attitudes differ significantly among the different news repertoires. What’s more, we find similarities between the structure of one’s repertoire, and one’s outlook on the world. For example, news users with a broad Panoramic repertoire exhibit a higher societal engagement, and lower individualism and ethnocentrism than users with a Limited news repertoire.
1. THROUGH WHICH WINDOWS DO USERS SEE THE WORLD?
The Flemish news repertoires presented below were constructed using the Flemish Participation Survey (a large scale representative CAPI survey) by clustering news users (N= 3138) based on their use of (1) news sources, (2) news participation, and their preference for (3) news genres. News sources included a wide variety of media devices and platforms commonly used to access news. News participation was measured as ‘reading comments on articles’ and ‘writing reactions on forums’. Lastly, a wide variety of news genres were included, such as politics, sports, crime, society, and others.
2. NOT ALL WINDOWS ARE MADE EQUAL
Not only do the different Flemish news repertoires differ greatly with regards to their internal composition. They also differ significantly with regards to the sociodemographic profiles of their users. This means that while media have been argued to have become more accessible over the years, news use in Flanders appears to remain marked by social stratification.
The Panoramic repertoire for example, which is characterized by exhibiting the broadest range of news sources and interests and a higher participation in news compared to other repertoires, remains the prerogative of users with a higher socio-economic status. These users are young to middle-aged, have attained high levels of education, and exhibit high net and subjective incomes. This is in stark contrast to the Limited repertoire, which is home to users with a markedly lower socio-economic status.
The lower socio-economic status of users with a Limited repertoire is further problematized by their lower subjective income compared to other users. This sets them apart from users of the Traditional repertoire, who at first glance appear to share a lower socio-economic status profile. In our study, subjective income was measured by asking respondents how difficult it was to make ends meet financially. As a result, users in the Limited news repertoire consist of a larger group of users that reports a financially precarious and as a result more fragile situation.
Table 1: Descriptive analysis of sociodemographic profiles of news repertoires
The descriptive patterns presented in Table 1 are largely confirmed through a Multinomial Regression Analysis which can be found in the full paper. This regression analysis provides an overview of the likelihood for users to adopt a news repertoire other than the reference category of the Limited repertoire. Here, we see similar patterns arise when controlling for the effect of other sociodemographic variables in the model. More specifically, these results support the finding that higher educated users have higher likelihoods to adopt Panoramic repertoires, while lower educated users gravitate more strongly towards the Limited Repertoire. Similarly, our regression analysis supports that younger users, as well as female users, are more likely to adopt a Casual news repertoire than a Limited repertoire.
3. AN OPEN WINDOW FOSTERS AN OPEN MIND
Moving forward with these results, how do inequalities in news use potentially impact a user’s views on society? In the last stage of our research, we compared the different news repertoires with regards to their views on the world. This was achieved by relating the repertoires to 5 themes: (1) civic disengagement, their (2) sense of community, (3) fellowship, (4) individualism, and (5) ethnocentrism.
The distinction between users with a Panoramic and Limited repertoires is perhaps best reflected in the descriptive analysis of Ethnocentrism, presented in Table 2. Here, a significantly higher percentage of users with a Limited news repertoire exhibit negative sentiments towards migration (see Q16_5 and Q16_6), and significantly differ from users in other repertoires with regards to their views on other ethnicities (Q16_7) and cultures (Q16_8).
Table 4: descriptive analysis of Ethnocentrism
Percentages with a different subscript differ significantly from each other at the .05 level
What’s more, these differences persist when controlling for possible interferences that sociodemographic variables might have on attitudes. Users of the Panoramic repertoire exhibit less civic disengagement, showed a stronger social connection, are less individualistic, and less ethnocentric than users of the Limited repertoire. These results appear to indicate that the panoramic nature of the repertoire translates into a panoramic window upon the world, which is reflected in their connection to society and peers, as well as their openness to other cultures.
4. CONVERSATION STARTERS
In conclusion, how can we move forward with these results? In the following section, we present a couple of conversation starters, which are aimed at sparking the discussion on news repertoires as windows to the world, and policy interventions related to this topic.
|B||FUTURE-PROOFING BY THINKING WITH REPERTOIRES|
Problem: In highly converged media landscape, it is becoming increasingly clear that the everyday media practices of users are inherently cross-media. In the case of news use, for instance, it is hard to imagine a user that relies on a single news source. Even the Limited news repertoire, while significantly less media rich than the Panoramic repertoire, picks their news from a small selection of sources. All contemporary users construct a personal news repertoire that feeds them information throughout the day.
 The Flemish Participation Survey is a large scale representative survey into the media and cultural participation patterns of Flemish citizens overseen by the Knowledge Center Culture and Media Participation. For more information, see https://www.cultuurenmedia.be
 For a complete list of variables included in the clustering analysis, and more information on how news repertoires were constructed, see: Picone, I., & Vandenplas, R. (2021). Windows to the World: Imagining Flemish News Audiences and Their Views on Society through the Lens of News Repertoires. Digital Journalism, 1-22.
 For a full overview of the regression analysis, see: Picone, I., & Vandenplas, R. (2021). Windows to the World: Imagining Flemish News Audiences and Their Views on Society through the Lens of News Repertoires. Digital Journalism, 1-22.