Round table: Active audiences, trends and future challenges

Published on by Raquel Pérez (author)

To know the whys and wherefores of participatory news, its impact on the journalistic routines and the public opinion on the democratic function that Journalism has assumed. These are some of the main discussion topics that have staged the round table on Active Audiences, the first session of the Shaping the future of News Media conference.

The academic meeting started with a brief introduction to the “Active audiences” project, an initiative devoted to the analysis of interactivity, audiences and participation in Journalism. Presented by Lluís Codina, professor and researcher at Universitat Pompeu Fabra, the academic enterprise counts on the contributions of investigators from seven European universities –Ramon Llull, País Vasco, Málaga, Pompeu Fabra, Rovira i Virgili, Valencia and the Libre from Brussels–. Some of its researchers took part in the round table, moderated by Dr. Mario Pérez Montoro (UB) and in which they presented the results of their respective investigations.

The story of copyright started with the Statute of Anne (1710). As Dr. Javier Díaz Noci (UPF) stated, this parliamentary act perfectly defines the most relevant actors that interact in the process of creating intellectual property: audiences, authors and licensors. It depends on each country and its legal system to decide which actors they prioritize as the motor of the intellectual creation and therefore attribute them the moral or exclusive exploitation rights. A conjuncture in which, as Díaz Noci points out, it surprises that all states tend to consider newspaper as “authors of collective work”. The complexity of the copyright laws and the proliferation of all kinds of authors and works leaded the academic to highlight the importance of an education on intellectual property for Journalism students.

The next intervention was in charge of Dr. Pere Masip (URLL), who described Active Audiences as a field of study in which scholars tend to focus on the media companies’ point of view and to sometimes take for granted that citizens would want to participate in interactive journalistic projects. Masip’s investigation emphasizes the audience’s perspective and tries to determine its motivations, practices, expectations and the news sources that people consider that they better embody the democratic function of the media.

Via a quantitative survey, Masip’s team discovered that friends were the main provider of news (81%), followed by media (47%). A result that lead him to affirm that “Journalism is no longer the soul gatekeeper, as now friends are the new gatekeepers”. Masip concluded its exposition explaining that, despite that audiences consider participation as an important matter, they don’t always like the participative formats that are offered by the media.

From a more theoretical lection to the presentation of an analytical tool. Dr. Joan Soler-Adillon (UPF) exposed a proposal of a decoupage instrument that would help to read and examine interactive audiovisual works in cyber media, such as webdocs or interactive features.

Soler-Adillon used the example of the well-known “Snow fall” example from The New York Times to illustrate how, by using the tool, we would be able to identify all the elements that compose the piece and recreate the whole interface without having to scroll the screen down. “We are not interested in Wordpress templates, we are interested in things that work different”, stated. As Soler-Adillon concluded, the tool is a “reverse engineering process” that shows the final form of interactive narrative projects, but it also brings to the surface which decisions should have been made in its design part.

The final intervention was in charge of Ms. Laura Pérez-Altable (UPF), PhD Candidate that exposed her researches on the formation of a digital public sphere in Tunisia. Pérez-Altable started from the extended premise that during the Arab Spring it was the social media that lead the revolutions, which she developed with a social network analysis and interviews. Her study differentiates three different hashtags that were used during the Tunisian protests –#ammar404, #manif22mai and #Tunileaks– and their diverse connotations –from denouncing censored websites to organizing demonstrations or publishing data–. Pérez-Altable concluded its speech by remarking that hers was a small investigation on a topic that, due to its complexity, would require further examinations.

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