The Places and Spaces of News Audiences

Peters, C. (2014). The Places and Spaces of News Audiences. Journalism Studies, forthcoming.

Abstract: Historically, or so we would like to believe, the story of everyday life for many people included regular, definitive moments of news consumption. Journalism, in fact, was distributed around these routines: papers were delivered before breakfast, television news buttressed the transitions from work to home (early evening news) and home to bed (nightly news), radio updates centred around commuting patterns, and weekend editions of newspapers contained longer feature articles to contemplate. Many of these habits were organized not just temporally but also spatially, following a predictable pattern and occurring in regular, set places. There was a certain stability to news consumption, and the notion of ritual – habitual, formalised actions which reinforce the ‘symbolic power’ of media institutions – provided a good fit to explain these practices. However, the past few decades have seen a tremendous increase in the number of different ways we can get journalism – from the iPad, to smartphones, Twitter, online news, commuter papers, and so forth – and the different possible places and moments of news consumption have multiplied in concert. As consumption gradually spreads to any potential instant and every possible location we desire, our news media diet becomes somewhat indistinguishable from other mediated forms of communication. Technology has overcome many of the temporal and spatial limitations on how we use media and as the public is unshackled from the distributional constraints of unidirectional, programmatic, mass media, habits have a tendency to change. Although the pace of technology outstrips the pace at which people incorporate such change into their everyday lives, there seems to be little doubt that audiences are slowly catching up to the possibilities. In short, the places and spaces of news consumption are changing, but we don’t know what impact this is having on journalism’s various audiences or on how we process, access and discuss information. While the discussion and conceptualization of audiences is well-developed in other fields of media and communication research, unfortunately, this is not reflected in journalism studies. This shortcoming is quite troublesome in an age when, according to many authors, the spaces of everyday life are all becoming mediated. News is increasingly mobile and instantaneous. It is personalized, localized and available ‘on-demand’. Accordingly, the aim of this special issue of Journalism Studies is to provoke discussion on the ‘Places and Spaces of News Audiences’, bringing together scholars from an interdisciplinary perspective to provoke conversation on these themes. More generally, it seeks to expand our understanding of contemporary news audiences and their changing experiences of journalism.