News Comments as Mediated Participation: Preconditions, Preferences, Practices
Previous research on news and user generated content (UGC) has usually been focused on one out of three areas: How do differences in technological features restrict user independence? What is the quality of discourse? Or, how are user contributions perceived among journalists and users? One point of departure for this dissertation is the argument that these approaches need to be complemented, as they tend to treat user comments as a homogenous phenomenon, feasible to study regardless of the news theme characteristics where the comments were posted.
In order to compensate for this, and to allow for a more empirically inclusive approach, the project is built up in consecutive steps that, theoretically, departs from theories of civic participation. Peter Dahlgren's analytical framework for civic cultures is used as the analytic entry point. The framework consists of six components systematically probed in several steps; spaces, practices, identities, knowledge, values and trust.
The study starts out by mapping how access to conditioned participatory spaces — that allow for user-generated content — differ across types of news sites and across news themes: Related to which content characteristics, are user comments on news allowed for? The second step is to look into how content characteristics relate to practices, that is, how participatory practices differ across different types of online news sites and news themes. The final step focus the relationship between the conditioned participatory space and the participatory practices. This is done by a) a comparative approach to how user engagement are formed under different conditions, and b) users’ reception — expressed in user comments — to different types of news content.
While research in the field previously focused either restricted user independence or, occasionally, user practices, this study's main contribution is to connect these approaches across a range of different online news sites, affiliated with professionally produced newspapers — with local and national character, with morning versus evening distribution — in order to capture the essence of participation in online news outlets.
This approach requires, initially, quantitative content analysis, ensued by qualitative text analysis, or more specifically a combination of analytical tools from reception analysis, discourse theory and conversation analysis, probing news and adjacent user comments as well as interviews with users. This encompassing approach aims at giving new insights into why the practice of participation takes the shape it does in the context of professionally produced news online.