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Keywords:

  • print newspapers;
  • online newspapers;
  • free press;
  • mobile news;
  • readership;
  • news audience;
  • cross-national research

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Fragmented news readerships
  5. Methodological considerations
  6. Results
  7. Discussion
  8. Conclusions
  9. References
  10. Biographies

This paper presents cross-national research on news readership diversification. We compare written news (print and free newspapers, online and mobile news services) audiences in the 5 most populous and industrialized European countries (Italy, France, Spain, the UK and Germany). Outlining a sociodemographic portrait of these different news users is important in order to understand the changes undergone inside the world of written news. We draw on a telephone survey carried out in 2009, using a representative population sample (N=7,255). The survey considers sociodemographic variables, including a range of social activities and attitudinal variables, television, computer, and mobile phone ownership, and Internet access and use. Findings show a rich, but volatile relationship between written news, audience behaviors, and community participation.


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Fragmented news readerships
  5. Methodological considerations
  6. Results
  7. Discussion
  8. Conclusions
  9. References
  10. Biographies

The context in which this research has been designed is the contemporary, strong effervescence expressed by media audiences. This effervescence is connected to several factors that we examine in detail later but that we anticipate here briefly: increase of the possible choices by audiences due to the rapid technological innovation and also advent of different practices of use of information media; increase of their educational level and of their social, economic, and cultural power and consequent change of their role in society; creation of their multiple identities and their increasing differentiation and atomization. Studying the diversification of written news readerships is important because this process is twofold, and up to now it has not clearly shown what the prevailing side is: the light or the dark. On the one hand readership diversification may represent a new richness as the result of more opportunities for users; on the other it may represent a weakness, since the old unity of audiences becomes separated and segregated in many different groups.

The aim of this cross-national research is to outline the sociodemographic portraits of the print and free newspaper readerships and of current news users of online newspapers and mobile news in Italy, France, Germany, United Kingdom, and Spain, otherwise called EU5. This study situates itself in what was once called ‘the administrative approach’ to readerships. According to Webster, Phalen, and Lichty (2006) in the early 1940s Paul Lazarsfeld suggested to distinguish administrative and critical studies research, where the former generally takes the status quo as given, while the latter is more self-consciously ideological. Our interest here is to illustrate the status quo of written news users and to show how the profound diversification of news platforms might be reconstructed by looking at users. Such descriptive work sheds light on the complex issue of what a ‘readership’ is (rather than what it should be). Our study focuses on four platforms: print, online, free newspapers, and mobile news. The problems we investigate in terms of our research questions are:

RQ1) A vast body of literature in the past describes the sociodemographic characteristics of print newspaper readership, but will this portrait be the same after the advent and widespread dissemination of Internet and mobile telecommunications?

RQ2) Does the oft-suggested fragmentation of news readership across multiple media imply a transformation of the social structure of new typologies of readership?

We open with a discussion of theoretical discourse on the diversification of news readership. After that we analyze related methodological problems. In the third section we illustrate the sampling and survey method used in our study, followed by a report on the main results. In the concluding sections, we discuss these results and draw some tentative conclusions.

Fragmented news readerships

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Fragmented news readerships
  5. Methodological considerations
  6. Results
  7. Discussion
  8. Conclusions
  9. References
  10. Biographies

The framework for our study is provided by earlier work on audience research and readership diversification (Alasuutari, 1999; Schrøder, Drotner, Kline, & Murray, 2003). The theme of readership has recently been the object of reconceptualization, which highlights how previously more or less stable categories of readership, audience and public may not fit current social realities anymore. The consequence is that we are struggling even to find new labels capable to capture the new realities readerships are facing. Picone (2007) is among those who propose the label ‘news users’ in the face of an emerging participatory culture online. We will use the term audience, readership, public, and news users interchangeably, being aware of the opacity of each definition (Mayhew, 1997), and the way contemporary iterations of such terms are the result of cross-media interaction. The problem on which we focus is not so much the definition, but the diversification of news readerships. This is not a new phenomenon: TV and radio news audiences have always accompanied print newspaper readerships, structuring publics along lines of gender and education (Grabe, Kamhawi, & Yegiyan, 2009). After the digitalization process there has been a further fragmentation of many different typologies of news readerships, so the production and consumption of news has become a puzzle (Kueng et al., 2008; Deuze, 2011). Although there is a measurable decline of traditional daily newspaper readerships, on the whole the news market has grown reaching a wider audience through several features of the Internet such as online newspapers, blogs, news sites, social networks, and the features of mobile phones such as SMS news, tweets and so on (Meikle & Guy, 2011; Fortunati et al., 2009; Pew Internet Institute, 2010). Of this broad field of news users we will focus on the main platforms of contemporary written news: print, online, free, and mobile news. Although, according to most studies (in Europe and the US), people today get their news mostly from television (and to some extent radio and Internet), in our study we chose to focus specifically on audiences as users of written news (rather than listeners or viewers) with respect to the traditional news landscape in Europe. It is true that the mobile news include not only those conveyed by SMS (Short Message Service) but also by MMS (Multimedia Short Message). However these last are used so such a limited extent that it is legitimate to talk of written news.

Each of these platforms corresponds with a specific model of audience. Print newspapers are part of the ritual of everyday life in which readers move towards the news in that they subscribed to the newspaper for receiving it at home, or they go to a newsstand to buy it. The free press is based on the opposite model: It visits people where they are and move about (in or near train or bus stations, hotel lobbies and other ‘spaces of flows’) aiming to intercept mobile people (Dimmick et al., 2010). The third group, online newspapers, mainly aims to attract (and thereby construct the identities of) desk people (students, employees, professionals, and so on), that is people passing many hours of their workday in front of the computer and needing a break from time to time. Mobile news aims to capture the attention of news users at anytime and anyplace.

While acknowledging the existence of these four diversified models of audience, we expected to find a continuity of the structure of print newspaper readership (i.e. people who read print newspapers today do not differ significantly from those who did so in the past) and this is our first hypothesis (H1). At the same time, we expected to find differences in the structures of new typologies of readership (i.e. different segments of the population gravitate towards different kinds of media in their quest for news), and this is our second hypothesis (H2).

Even the most recent history of the debate on readerships continues to rotate around the passive-active axis and the concentrated-dispersed axis. From a passive conceptualization of the public we went towards a progressively active notion (Livingstone, 2005), and from a monolithic and dense conception of public to a notion of diffused audiences (Abercrombie & Longhurst, 1998), extended audiences (Couldry, 2005) and atomized audiences (Blumer, 1966). The danger many scholars have run into is to imply an unjustified positive value to activity and an equally unjustified negative value to passivity in the perennial battle between functionalist and critical/cultural scholars (Blumler & Katz, 1974; McQuail, 1997). Another normative ‘passive’ conceptualization of news users occurs when their fragmentation is narrated by describing how the technological innovations have completely changed publics (Ettema & Whitney, 1994). We prefer instead to analyze the current diversification of news readerships by looking at the news users as it is the type of reader -writes Tocqueville- that defines the newspaper. The rise and development of an audience should always be seen as a cocreative act on the part of users - and in this process users have the last word (Alasuutari, 1999). It is up to users to exercise first of all purchasing power, and secondly the will and availability to adhere to the implicit ‘contract’ that is sanctioned between a certain media group and themselves. This implicit contract establishes norms, rules, and routines of practices of use of the particular product which is offered. Thirdly, the material conditions of the medium (print, online, mobile) and those of the audience (stationary, on the go, at home or at work, and so on) are in a reciprocal relationship codetermining how news gets used. We identify at least four different readerships occupying in different ways the front stage of public information and written news dissemination: paid-for print newspaper readerships, daily free press readerships, online news readerships, and mobile news users. In effect, more and more people are drawn into the field of news, all with different (and largely underdetermined) profiles, expectations, and responsibilities. The tension on the part of users to count more expresses itself not only in commenting on and communicating news (Westlund, 2012), but also in reinventing the status, the habits, the routines, and the meaning of being (part of) a readership, including the right to reading only.

The diversification of written news readerships has brought many changes in the identity of publics such as the fact that now they often are networked (Varnelis, 2008). This characteristic has in a certain sense dammed the implicit weakness connected to their fragmentation (Livingstone, 2005). All these different forms of news readerships in part overlap and in part are different - but overall, they are highly dynamic and tend to escape ‘capture’ either by the lion tamers of the news industries or the zookeepers of online social network sites. Users cluster around different platforms on the basis of a particular (often temporary) appreciation of a medium or more than one, and probably reflect also different business models as well as different lifestyles; at the same time, their profile defines that of the different platforms.

The transformation of readership identities has been made possible by a series of important social changes. Overall, the level of education has improved among the entire population, as a consequence of which people have acquired more familiarity with reading/writing routines and rituals, and developed more capabilities to governing these processes with autonomy and efficacy. The authority inside the family and the education process after the second war has weakened, with the consequence that subsequent generations acquired a stronger sense of self, more self-determination, and thus more power of negotiation at social level to critically engage with news (Giddens, 1991; Beck & Beck-Gernsheim, 2002; Hill & Tisdall, 1997). On the whole people's well-being and the quality of life improved with the increase of affluence in society. In turn, we have seen an enthusiastic embrace of this rich offer of (increasingly personalized, networked, and expressive) technologies of which people rapidly became owners. The ownership of media gave to readers a much more powerful status than before (Nightingale, 2011), as they had the control over these technological artifacts where news could be conveyed and also produced in the everyday life, affecting the production processes throughout the cultural and creative industries (Deuze, 2007). The interactive dimension of the new technologies was an important premise of the new power of audiences (Kim & Sawnhey, 2002). Instead of dealing with a finished product, inert, such as the traditional print newspaper, users of online newspapers were capable for the first time to discuss the information received and also to create and publish information by themselves, although, as Larsson argues (2011, 2012), this process does not necessarily take place as often as popular rhetoric would suggest. When it happened, this process turned consumers of news into what has been variously labeled as ‘Pro-Ams,’ ‘produsers,’ ‘prosumers,’ or ‘e-actors’ (Bruns, 2011; Fortunati et al., 2010; Gebhardt et al., 2010; Greif et al., 2011).

The diversification of news readerships represents on the one hand more opportunities for users but on the other their fragmentation into many different groups. Up to now this tumultuous process has produced mixed results. The most relevant result is that an activity purely of consumption on the part of readers slowly transformed itself in a ‘work’ activity (Shirky, 2008), situating itself under the big umbrella of free labor (Terranova, 2000). Producing news has become a readership's amateur activity—with the consequence that the commitment and also the time dedicated to news has changed dramatically. The new expectation of readerships is not anymore just reading but also writing, discussing, criticizing, taking, and uploading a picture or video. However, the explosion of creativity and self-expressivity by news amateurs leaves the problem of news dissemination to a broad audience open.

Methodological considerations

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Fragmented news readerships
  5. Methodological considerations
  6. Results
  7. Discussion
  8. Conclusions
  9. References
  10. Biographies

The problems related to the debate on written news users and to the diversification of readerships are not only theoretical, but also methodological. We have inherited from past research (Stone, 1987) a sociodemographic profile of the print newspaper reader who was likely to be more male than female, included more adults and the elderly than young people, more affluent than poor, more highly educated than low-educated (Westlund & Färdigh, 2011). Crompton (1977, pp.11-12) added to this portrait a further element: Women are more likely to read books while men, newspapers. Westley and Severin (1964) in their study providing the first picture of nonreaders introduced other variables and profiled the nonreader as a rural resident, belonging to few organizations and political associations, relatively isolated and lacking of social contacts. They also found no difference in the use of other media by readers and nonreaders of newspapers. This study was partially replicated by Penrose, Weaver, Cole, and Shaw in 1974, who found that the situation was not so different 10 years on, except for the fact that there were even less readers than before Gollin and Salisbury (1980) identified other influential variables such as geographic region, but also marital status, race and length of residence. Sobal and Jackson-Beeck (1981), in addition to previously identified variables, found that readers were more likely to be liberal and affiliated to the Democratic Party - but less inclined to vote. In 1978 the Newspaper Advertising Bureau (NAB 1978) did a study in which city size turned out to be relevant, as well as newspaper distribution patterns (high levels of reading correlated with the availability of home delivery of the paper). In 1997 the Newspaper Association of America (NAA, 1998) found that reading was highly correlated with the length of residence in a place. People who have lived in a place more than 10 years were almost twice as likely to be regular newspaper readers as new comers. In addition to these variables, easily detected through a survey, other variables have been claimed to be influential and thus investigated in several studies such as globalization (Hallin & Mancini, 2004), religion (Eisenstein, 1979), climate (Gustaffson & Weibull, 1997), media systems (Hallin & Mancini, 2004), economic indicators (Gustaffson & Weibull, 1997; Weibull, 2005) and of course status and class (Grabe, Kamhawi & Yegiyan, 2009).1 Beyond this laundry list of variables, the literature additionally suggests different ways in which the definitions of ‘regular’ / ‘frequent’ or ‘irregular/infrequent’ reading play out in conceptualizing news users. For example, Sobal and Jackson-Beeke (1981) defined as infrequent readers those who read one to three days of the past 5 weekdays; a report by the NAA (1998) cites a 1977 study in which frequent readers are considered those who read four or five weekday editions a week; a recent Pew Research Center report (2010) defines as regular reading of online news when it occurs 3 or more days a week. This diversity is also a big limit to the true comparability of research results.

In addition to the problems of what variables to investigate in order to depict a satisfactory contemporary profile of news users, there is another methodological problem which affects the current literature on readerships. It is true that in most Western countries, detailed statistics regarding news consumption are available through longitudinal studies performed by universities or state-owned statistical services, market research companies, or news organizations themselves. However, these data are hardly comparable as sampling and data gathering methods tend to be quite different. The current overview of research on readerships is characterized by a big variety both of the methodologies applied and of the systems of data collection. There are many studies carried out in single countries but only few include several countries inside the same research project, conducted by the same organization or research team. The available data can therefore generally not be used for valid cross-cultural comparisons. Finally, there is another limit that characterizes current research literature on readerships: the fact that in the last 20 years we have much research on print newspaper readerships, much on online newspapers, other research looking at the free press, and still others analyzing mobile news. We have very few studies that document news users across all the different platforms, using an equivalent research framework over time, and with validity across national boundaries. Against this endemic fragmentation of results, this is a study which investigates news users in five European countries. It is a true cross-cultural research (Van der Vijer & Leung, 1997; Harkness, Van de Vijer & Mohler, 2003) whose application allows the comparison of data related between different yet equivalent cultures.

Participants

The data we present comes from a telephone-survey conducted in 2009 in the five most populous and industrialized European countries: Italy, France, Germany, United Kingdom, and Spain, otherwise called EU5.2 These countries are all major players in defining general behaviors towards information and communication technologies and mass media in Europe.3 The survey was conducted via the telephone (Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing - CATI) with 7,255 respondents, involving a representative sample of the population of these 5 countries. For each country the sample is described on the basis of gender, age, and macroregions of residence. The general mission of this cross-cultural study was to explore the diffusion and the adoption of the most important technologies of information and communication in EU5. Here we will present and discuss only the results related to the diffusion and adoption of print and online newspapers, free press, and mobile news. When newspaper reading patterns are investigated and examined, they are generally based on the circulation of paid-for newspapers, which is only deceptively objective data. Indeed this does not cover the real number of people reading those copies of paid-for newspapers, or the reading of free press or online newspapers or mobile information. We argue that by asking respondents about what they read and how frequently we are able to obtain more information on the reading of old forms of newspapers (print and free) which keep the classical model of a producer and many users, as well as on the reading of new and digital forms of newspapers (namely online papers and mobile information) that enable participation.

Variables and measures

As we mentioned above, in this paper we analyze the news reading precisely with the questions and categories of answers (a 6-point anchored Likert scale was used) (Readership Institute, 2001) reported in Table 1 and in relation to two types of variables: main socio-economic variables and three social variables that relate to cultural, recreational and participative activities.

Table 1. Measures applied in the study in EU5 in 2009
Questions:Suggested answer categories
  1. a

    The ‘degree of urbanization’ was measured according to the OECD conceptualization.

  2. b

    These variables were also used in a research carried out in 1996 (Fortunati, 1998), when they were proved to be important for understanding the social, communicative and cultural ecology of written news users.

What is your educational qualification?

Low (primary and secondary school diploma)

Medium (high school diploma)

High (College/University degree or higher)

How many inhabitants has your city / town / village? a

Essentially rural (up to 5,000 inhabitants)

Relatively rural (from 5,000 to 100,000)

Essentially urban (over 100,000 inhabitants)

  • How frequently do you read print newspapers?

Everyday

Several times a week

  • How frequently do you read online newspapers?
Once a week
  • How frequently do you read free press?

One or twice a month

Less than once a month

No/never

Do you read SMS or MMS news on your mobile phone?

Yes

No

  • How frequently do you go to the cinema, theatre, opera, museums, libraries or exhibitions? b

Several times a week

Once a week

  • How frequently do you go to restaurants, pubs and bars, or to go to dancing?

One or twice a month

Less than once a month

No/never

  • In your spare time, how frequently do you go out to participate in activities promoted by associations and clubs (religious, political, voluntary work and so on)?
 

The demographic variables included in this research project are gender, age, education, activity, family typology, degree of urbanization, and country.

The social variables were investigated by means of the questions also reported in Table 1 and a 5-point anchored Likert scale was used. These social variables were introduced in the design of the research because they are important for understanding the ecology of news users. In particular, the level of participative activities might reveal how news users relate to a sense of community and are opened towards the world. The practice of cultural and recreational activities might shed light on socialization processes and sociability behaviors related to news and community formation: Is the situation today similar to that described by Westley and Severin (1964), in which the nonreader belonged to few formal organizations, had no political leaning, and tended to be characterized by a relative lack of social contact with others, in both formal and informal settings?

Data analysis

The analyses which are reported here are monovariate (frequency distributions), bivariate, three-variate (cross-tabulations), and multivariate (logistic regression analyses). In particular, when the χ2 test was significant in the bi and tri-variate analyses, adjusted standardized residuals were considered.4 1 With respect to logistic regressions, four dichotomous questions about reading print newspapers, online newspapers, free press, and news on the mobile phone were used as dependent variables.

Results

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Fragmented news readerships
  5. Methodological considerations
  6. Results
  7. Discussion
  8. Conclusions
  9. References
  10. Biographies

Before entering in the description of the research, we recall our two research questions and hypotheses. The first research question was: A vast body of literature in the past describes the sociodemographic characteristics of print newspaper readership, but will this portrait be the same after the advent and widespread dissemination of Internet and mobile telecommunications? The second was: Does the oft-suggested fragmentation of news readership across multiple media imply a transformation of the social structure of new typologies of readership? And the two related hypotheses were: (H1) we expected to find a continuity of the structure of the print newspaper readership (i.e. people who read print newspapers today do not differ significantly from those who did so in the past) but (H2) we expected also to find differences in the structures of new typologies of readership (i.e. different segments of the population gravitate towards different kinds of media in their quest for news).

Diffusion of print newspaper reading and frequent reading in EU5

Let us start from print newspaper reading: 85.0% of the sample claims to read them. Therefore, if we consider the diffusion of news on the whole, newspaper reading appears to be more spread than online newspaper reading which accounts to 44.2% of respondents, and even the free press (74.0%). Table 2 illustrates the percentages of respondents who declared to read print newspapers in EU5 and shows no relevant differences except for the fact that in Spain newspapers are more read than in the other countries considered. This data regarding Spain is somewhat surprising and its meaning needs to be clarified.

Table 2. Bivariate frequency distributions for categorical independent variables and reading of print, online and free newspapers in 2009 (% of respondents who declared to use the above media)
Variable2009
Print papersOnline papersFree Press
  1. a

    Standardized residual is greater than |2.0|

CountryItaly80.031.549.4
 France86.237.979.6a
 Germany84.848.1a/
 UK86.046.584.3a
 Spain88.6a58.8a81.6a
GenderMales87.0a51.8a76.6a
 Females83.037.070.3
Age14-17 years81.352.4a79.1a
 18-24 years83.155.8a76.7a
 25-44 years86.4a55.9a74.5
 45-64 years86.8a40.375.4a
 65 years +82.024.265.4
EducationLow80.931.471.0
 Medium86.4a49.6a75.1a
 High91.1a62.4a75.1
ActivityWorker86.8a52.8a76.1a
 House person83.535.869.4
 Unemployed86.950.9a80.5a
 Retired83.226.069.6
 Student79.555.0a69.5
UrbanizationEssentially rural80.136.160.3
 Relatively rural   
 85.346.271.2 
 Essentially urban87.2a48.6a80.4a

To get this measure of newspaper reading we reclassified the answers into two different groups of dichotomous variables:

  1. the first group of dichotomous variables included in the first category the answers “every day,” “several times a week,” “once a week,” “one/two times a month,” and “less than once a month,” and in the second category the answer “no/never.” This reclassification makes these questions equivalent to the questions ‘Do you read (print/online/free) newspapers?’ and they were made with the purpose to describe the diffusion of newspaper reading among the respondents;
  2. the second group of dichotomous variables had the following response categories: “frequent reading” and “infrequent/no reading.” In the first category we included the answers “every day” and “several times a week,” and in the second category we included the answers “once a week,” “once/twice a month,” “less often,” and “no/never.”

These two different ways of recoding the answers were determined in order to have two new variables: the first ones—reading or not reading newspapers - to describe the diffusion of newspaper reading among the population; the second ones to describe the frequency of this reading, which is an important measure as well because it tells us about users' loyalty or volatility towards news.

This table in fact reports the proportion of people who read print newspapers with an answer modality that can also include “even very rarely.” This can be misleading since it does not say much about the loyalty of the readership (Bogart, 1988). To recuperate a more appropriate measure about the reading frequency of print newspapers, we referred also to another measure as reported in Table 3. For this purpose we distinguished frequent use (the reading of newspapers every day and several times a week) and infrequent/no reading (once a week, once/twice a month, less often or never). It emerged that in 2009 little over half (53.4%) of respondents regularly read print newspapers (Table 3). Germany and the UK are the countries with the highest percentages of reading of print papers, while in Spain only almost half are frequent readers and in France even less. In Italy, where there is the lowest diffusion of print newspaper readers, the percentage of frequent readers is in line with the EU5 average.

Table 3. Frequent reading of print, online and free papers in EU5 (%)
Frequent reading aItalyFranceGermanyUKSpainTotal
  1. a

    Frequent reading means ‘everyday’ or ‘several times a week’.

  2. b

    Standardized residual is greater than |2.0|

Print Newspapers53.044.959.2b56.4b51.053.4
Online Newspaper19.512.925.7b17.325.7b20.4
Free Press24.329.1/44.9b31.832.5

The interesting thing is that in 2009 the reading of print newspapers is accompanied by reading of online (44.2%) and free (74.0%) newspapers, and mobile news (27.4%). We specify that from data concerning the free press, Germany is not included as the free press did not develop in this country. In addition to print newspapers, the free press enjoys high levels of readership in the UK, France and Spain. This data must be contrasted also with the percentages regarding online newspapers, where users in Germany and the UK score highly. In general, when compared to online and free newspapers, the frequent reading of print newspapers is the most widespread, followed by the free press (32.5%) and the online newspaper reading (20.4%) (Table 3). This loyalty to print newspapers by their readership can be explained by the fact that print newspapers enjoy as much longer tradition and ritualization of readership in comparison to free press and especially online newspapers. In conjunction with an aging population, print newspaper readership therefore may still enjoy some longevity.

In a previous survey carried out in 1996 we found that three quarter of all newspaper readers were frequent readers (Fortunati, 1998). In 2009 this percentage dropped to 53.4%. This phenomenon has been recorded also in US where the percentage of infrequent readers, sometimes referred to as ‘news grazers,’ increased 9 percentage points from 2006 to 2010 (from 48% to 57%; Pew Research Center, 2010). News offerings in 2009 have grown exponentially, and the time spent on newspapers nowadays has diluted across numerous platforms. Such volatility poses an important problem regarding loyalty on the part of new readerships which must be taken into account by media groups (and journalists alike). Furthermore the differences among the five countries become more relevant. France and Spain are the countries where people read less intensively print newspapers, while in Germany and the UK the frequency of reading is more widespread. The UK remains at the first place for reading free papers, while Italy comes in last, and Germany is again at the first place, with Spain, for a more intense reading of online newspapers.

Finally, mobile news (used by 27.4% of our respondents) is more read in Italy and Germany and less in UK and France. Each country shows specific patterns of news reading between old and new forms. The diversity in building different regimes of reading news must be investigated and discussed as it allows one to understand to what extent people combine the old and the new in the various countries. In particular the problem here is to understand to what extent the readership of print newspapers overlaps with the readership of free press and with the online newspaper users - the old ‘cannibalization’ argument. Table 4 shows that those who are frequent readers of the free press only consist of only 336 people or 6.3% of all respondents (here Germans are excluded because free press does not exist there); those who are frequent readers only of print newspapers are 1,194 (22.4%) and those who are frequent readers only of online newspapers are 234 (4.4%).

Table 4. Relations between print, online and free newspaper frequent and infrequent reading in 2009 (Germany's data is not included in this table as free press does not exist in this country)
  Free papersTotal
FrequentInfrequent/no
  1. a

    Standardized residual is greater than |2.0|

Printed papersOnline papers397a247644 (23.5%)
 Frequent(30.6%)(17.1%)
 Online papers9011,194a2,095 (76.5%)
FrequentInfrequent /no(69.4%)(82.9%)
 Total1,2981,4412,739
 (100.0%)(100.0%)(100.0%)
Printed papersOnline papers105a234339 (13.1%)
 Frequent(23.8%)(10.9%)
 Online papers3361,922a2,258 (86.9%)
Infrequent /noInfrequent /no(76.2%)(89.1%)
 Total4412,1562,597
 (100.0%)(100.0%)(100.0%)
Total1,7393,5975,336
(52.0%)(48.0%)(100.0%)

On the whole those who frequently read news only on one platform consist of less than a third of respondents. At the same time 7.4% read frequently print, online and free papers.5 On the whole those who frequently consumer news across at least two platforms are 44.0% of this subsample of multimedia news users. These three variables are correlated but the correlation is not very high (the one between free and print papers which is the highest is r= .317; the one between print and online is r= .120 and that between free and online is r=.157).

Who are the users of print, online and free newspapers?

The characteristics of the different news users in 2009 are also illustrated in Table 2. In respect to gender, women seem to read significantly less than men any kind of news, whether print, online, free, and mobile. Insofar age groups are concerned, the most important element to stress is that the elderly read less print papers and also free press, whereas online newspapers are read especially by young adults, followed by youths and adolescents. As to education, those with a low education read less news overall. Workers read significantly more of the free press, while retirees and students do this much less. Online newspapers are read most by workers and students. Young respondents from 18 to 44 years, highly educated people, students, couples with children, and those who are engaged in a variety of cultural, recreational, and participative activities tend to read online news more than respondents in the other corresponding categories of answer. As news dissemination includes more and more diffuse platforms, the readership of news indeed proliferates - but does not seem to include a population of readers more diverse than those already attracted by print newspapers. The new media tend to privilege the highly educated, mobile, and otherwise socially active segments of the population, but news organizations still seem to struggle to make their product appealing to women (generally speaking the majority of the population in any European country) everywhere. The only exception is age: While traditional newspaper readership increases with age, the newer media tend to capture the interests of young people. These results are interesting, and it becomes crucial to better understand how these variables affect the reading of print newspapers, online newspapers, free press, and mobile news, once the effect of all the other elements has been controlled inside the same model. To deal with this issue, we performed four different logistic regressions which we present in the following section.

Predictors of print, online, and free newspaper users as well as mobile news in 2009 in EU5

The four readership types were analyzed one by one, by means of a logistic regression with the purpose to articulate their specific sociodemographic profiles (Table 5). It is important to stress that the frequent reading of each type of news is positively correlated with that of the others.. The correlation however is quite modest as it can be estimated in r=.348 between print and free newspapers, in r=.177 between print and online newspapers, in r=.185 between online and free newspapers. Mobile news use correlates negatively both with print newspapers (r=−.027 and online newspapers (r=−.137), while it does not correlate with free press r=−0.001, n.s.).

Table 5. Odd ratios of the reading of print, online, free newspapers and mobile news in 2009 in EU5 (Germany's data is not included in the free press column as free press does not exist in this country)
Predictors2009
Printed papersOnline papersFree pressNews on Mobile
  1. Sig.:

  2. a

    = p<0.05,

  3. b

    = p<0.01,

  4. c

    = p < 0.001.

  5. d

    The statistical software used for these analyses was STATA.

Country. Ref: Italy1111
 France1.2330.8383.395c0.549c
 Germany1.1961.754c/0.7596b
 United Kingdom1.0401.878c4.273c0.568c
 Spain1.806c3.933c4.807c0.621c
Age/0.983c/0.990c
Education. ref: Low education11/1
 Medium education1.1241.585c/1.154
 High education1.590c2.003c/1.300b
Gender. Males vs. Females1.188a1.491c//
Activity. ref: Workers1/11
 Housewife1.290/1.2590.724a
 Unemployed1.527/2.163b1.200
 Retired1.303a/0.9420.873
 Student0.562c/0.8991.010
Family. Ref: Couple with children11/1
 Couple without children0.8800.932/0.863
 Single0.706b0.876/0.769b
 Single parent family0.7301.214/0.928
 Mixed family0.7661.644c/0.982
Urb. degree. ref: essentially rural1111
 Relatively rural1.284a1.309a1.819c1.299a
 Essentially urban1.321a1.2492.068c1.343b
Owning a television. Yes vs. No2.266c///
Owning a computer. Yes vs. No1.246a1.585c1.259a1.253b
Owning a mobile phone. Yes vs. No/1.386b//
Access to the internet. Yes vs. No/2.706c//
Cultural activities. Yes vs. No2.107c1.865c1.822c1.625c
Recreational activities. Yes vs. No1.305a1.978c1.417b/
Social participation. Yes vs. No2.112c2.181c2.110c/
Adjusted r2 (%)9.224.517.13.4

The regression model regarding print newspapers explains 9.2% of the variance. The results show that Spaniards are much more likely to read print newspapers. As suggested earlier, men are more likely to read print newspapers than women (although a bit less so than in 1996), as well as well-educated respondents than those with less cultural instruments. Furthermore, singles keep being less inclined to read daily papers than respondents living in a family consisting of couples with children. Students come out to be less inclined than workers to read daily papers, while the retired are more likely to read. Respondents living in essentially urban and relatively rural areas are more likely to read daily papers than those living in essentially rural areas. Also owning a television and a personal computer are predictors of reading print newspapers. In the end respondents who practice cultural, recreational, and participative activities are more likely to read print newspapers than those who do not engage as much.

The second regression included online newspapers and explains 24.5% of the entire variance. Again Table 5 shows that men are more inclined to read online newspapers, and that Spaniards, followed at some distance by the British and Germans are more inclined to read online newspapers than Italians. The more age increases the fewer respondents are likely to read online newspapers. Those with medium and high levels of education are more likely to read online newspapers than those with low education. Respondents living in a blended family are more likely to read online newspapers than those living in a family made of a couple with children. Respondents living in urban areas are more inclined to read online newspapers than those living in essentially rural areas. Having access to the Internet at home as well as owning a computer and a mobile phone are predictors of reading online newspapers. In the end those who practice cultural, recreational and participative activities are more inclined to read online newspapers than those who do not practice them.

The third regression covers the free press (Table 5). This regression model explains 17.1% of the entire variance. The results show that Spaniards, followed by British and French, are all much more inclined to read free press than Italians. Also unemployed respondents are more likely to read free press than workers, as well as those who own a computer if compared with the have not. Furthermore respondents living in relatively rural and essentially urban areas are more likely to read free press than those living in essentially rural areas. Lastly, respondents who practice participative, cultural, and recreational activities are more inclined to read free press than those who do not practice them.

The fourth regression concerns mobile news and explains only 3.4% of the entire variance (Table 5). It emerges that people in all countries get their news less on the mobile than Italians. As expected, the more the age increases the more the propensity to read news on the mobile phone decreases. Respondents with high education are more inclined to read news on the mobile than those who have low or medium education. On the contrary house persons surely use less than workers this service. Singles too access this service less than respondents living in a couple with children. In the end those who live in relatively rural and essentially urban areas are more likely to receive and read news on their mobile than people living in essentially rural areas Owning a computer and practicing cultural activities are also moderate predictors of reading mobile news.

Discussion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Fragmented news readerships
  5. Methodological considerations
  6. Results
  7. Discussion
  8. Conclusions
  9. References
  10. Biographies

To summarize and discuss these results we built a table reporting the variables that influence the reading of newspapers in EU5 in 2009 (Table 6).

Table 6. Variables' significance (+) at 95% in Europe in 2009
Variable2009
Printed papersOnlineFree pressMobile News
  1. NB: This table summarizes variables' significance as it was reported in Table 3.

Country++++
Age++
Education+++
Gender++
Activity+++
Family Typology+++
Degree of urbanization++++
Ownership of the Television+
Ownership of the Computer++++
Ownership of the Mobile Phone+
Access to the Internet+
Cultural activities++++
Recreational activities+++
Social Participation+++

National cultures still shape news users in significantly different way: This comes as no surprise given the weight of different nation-centric traditions in the business models of media groups, in the journalism profession, and the relative societal positions of media industries in each of the different countries (Trappel, Meier & D'Haenens, 2011). Germany, with its ‘Democratic Corporativist Model,’ to use the definition proposed by Hallin and Mancini (2004), has ended its dominant role in favor of Spain, a Mediterranean country with a Polarized Pluralist Model, which revealed to be in this period of time very proactive in terms of building a community of news users. These changes in news users might provoke profound changes inside the media systems of these two countries, while Italy, France, and the UK preserve much more the stability of their traditional media structure.

The main result is that Spain has become the leading country in the reading of print, online, and free newspapers. We can shed light on the weakened role played by Germany in regard to print newspapers by observing that the UK and Germany express a strong presence in the reading of online newspapers and the UK also of the free newspapers (although less strong than Spain). Thus news users' movements seem to be constitutive of redesigned media systems in these countries. On the contrary, Italian supremacy on mobile news is undisputed and is easily explained by the fact that this was one of the earliest services that mobile operators offered to mobile phone users, and Italians embraced this new technology with great enthusiasm directly from the start. France has a specific profile as it is in second place, after Spain, in print newspaper reading; is strong in free newspaper reading; but is the weakest link when it comes to online newspaper reading. Among EU5 users are restructuring their relationship with written news. Even show national media systems change, the strength of the overall variable ‘country’ remains (Elvestad & Blekesaune, 2008).

A similar strength can be recognized for the variables of education, activity, family typology, and degree of urbanization. Low education remains a key variable (or element) of exclusion for all news platforms (with the exception of television, as noted in the literature). Activity shows that the unemployed are more likely to read free newspapers. In respect to family typology, only singles are significantly less present among print newspaper readers, while families with children shows remain proactive in the reading of all sort of newspapers, except the free press. The degree of urbanization as to reading of any forms of newspapers rewards urban or relatively rural areas rather than essentially rural environments, as one could expect. Media ownership has a diversified influence on print, online, and free papers, but surely the ownership of a computer is a strong predictor of reading any form of news. In regard the print newspapers, owning a television or a computer is a good predictor, while possessing a mobile phone or accessing the Internet is not that influential. Moreover, technological predictors for online newspaper readership come out to be more articulated than for print newspaper readership: having access to the Internet at home, owning a personal computer and a mobile phone are all good predictors of reading online newspapers, probably because the new technologies are much more integrated. The habit of practicing cultural activities is also a good predictor for any kind of news reading, showing the strong relationship existing between the world of news and that of the culture. Also the recreational and participative activities predict the reading of any form of newspapers, except that of mobile news. Such practices reveal how print, online and free newspapers users are more likely than no users to express a strong sense of participation in their communities, and to actively engage in sociocultural forms of sociability.

Gender and age are a little bit weaker in predicting news reading and over time they seem to have lost some of their discriminatory power. In EU5 men more than women are still more likely to read both print and online newspapers, but there is no gender difference regarding the reading of mobile news and the free press. On the contrary, in the US, there is little difference between men and women in reading print newspapers, while more men than women are likely to read digital news (Pew Institute, 2010, p.16). With respect to age this variable has lost its discriminatory power: different generations have found their specific but balanced way to deal with print newspapers. We can make two observations regarding age in 2009:

  1. age does not produce significant differences among those reading print and free newspapers; this suggests that the map of different gratifications and rituals that various age cohorts expressed for a long time may be changing;
  2. the digital platforms miraculously reconciled youths' world with the news: the younger the respondents, the more are they likely to read online newspapers and mobile news; Elvestad and Blekesaune (2008) have argued about an ambiguity of the role of age in the studies on newspaper readerships, but our findings suggest a historical change in the generational composition of news audiences.

Conclusions

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Fragmented news readerships
  5. Methodological considerations
  6. Results
  7. Discussion
  8. Conclusions
  9. References
  10. Biographies

Our research shows that the notion of an extended audience is quite appropriate to describe the growing use of news occurring in the countries investigated through the diversification of the readership across and between various media platforms. This result mirrors the results obtained in other research, such for example the last Pew Research Center report in the US, where it suggested that digital platforms ‘seem to be more than making up for the modest declines in the audience for traditional platforms’ (2010, p.3). This means that despite the decline in commercial circulation of print newspapers (as in: number of copies sold, total subscriptions) readership strengthened itself through the various platforms now available (online, mobile, and free), showing the will on the part of people to enlarge their presence in the news scene. On the other hand, the increase of news readership overall across media gets accompanied with more volatile and disloyal audience behaviors. This is another result which might be found in Europe as well as in the US.

Another important result which can shed light on the notion of readership is that now news users sometimes read news in more than a platform. Reading print newspapers remains the backbone of the news world, but today we could rightly talk of the raising of another typology of readership which is a ‘trans-readership’ formed by users who read news in more than one platform (among print, online, and free papers). Interesting enough mobile news instead positioned itself as more exclusive in comparison with the news platforms. Furthermore, the fact that the reading of print online and free press are correlated does not means atomization or and fragmentation in their negative connotation of segregation and a less-informed multitude. On the contrary, the diversification of the readerships seems to describe a certain enrichment of the news users, as it means more opportunities and openings for cross-pollination across multiple media platforms - a trend picked up in the US by Henry Jenkins (2004) as providing opportunities for transmedia storytelling.

This study in EU5 countries shows that almost all the variables used in previous studies are still shaping the portrait of print newspapers readerships in 2009, although not always in the same direction. Regardless of all the social, cultural and especially technological changes over the last couple of decades, those who were in the past most likely to read print newspapers are still doing so today. Two variables present more novelties: age and gender. The particular uncertainty in which youths live nowadays regarding jobs, income, and overall future (Beck, 1992) makes the reading of news a must - perhaps much more than in the past. It is not surprising that the new platforms—online and mobile—attract them more than any other generations, but it is equally important to stress that age is not influential on the reading of print newspapers and free press. This means that also the most traditional news world has found a way to talk to young generations. Regarding gender, print journalism still fails to attract women. But while youths concentrate on the new platforms awarding the capacity to involve the users and to offer interactive features, women trace a mixed map of their presence inside the readerships. In fact, their presence is not different from that of men in the free press and mobile news (and in the US the same can be said for women's use of social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter for news). However, on the whole, after the advent of the Internet and the consequent diversification of readerships, just to answer to our first research question, the sociodemographic characteristics of the print newspaper readership continues to be almost the same and national news cultures still remain across Europe.

As to our second research question, whether the loss of the unity of news readership implies a transformation of the social structure of new readerships, we can answer affirmatively. Expected significant differences in the structures of new readerships were found. The profiles of news readerships across different media differ at least in part: This confirms that the diversification of readerships is not a mere technological process put in motion by new platforms, but is a process copiloted by users: who they are, how they choose to live their lives, and how news use fits within that lifestyle.

This research represents a necessary step in the empirical mapping of news users across media platforms, even though as it stands the study suffers from several limitations. One would be that it does not include social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, podcasts, e-mail, search engines, and RSS feeds as potential sources of news. Studies elsewhere suggest these platforms provide powerful clues to an overall changing news use landscape. A second limit is that this study does not investigate how users choose, use, and make sense of news within the context of particular platforms to construct and share meanings about their everyday life. Our reliance on self-reporting furthermore problematizes the increasing degree of ritualization of news use across multiple platforms. Further research is needed to understand the motivations that are at the basis of the important changes which have affected news readerships as we move from a 20th- to a 21st-century understanding of the relationship between people and (their) news.

Notes
  1. 1

    We did not include status and class for the following reasons. To do this we need an accurate response on income and occupation. However, income is a sensitive variable which in our survey (as now usual) has received a high number of ‘no answers’ with the consequence that it became impossible to use it. People are more and more cautious in declaring how much they earn as they probably are afraid of the tax officials check. As regards occupation, the problems are twofold: 1) there is a big transformation of occupations in industrialized countries and 2) the speed of this change makes problematic their harmonization among the various countries.

  2. 2

    This survey is based on a sample per quota which is representative of the populations of the 5 countries aged from 14 to 70 years. The variables that have been considered to control the sample are:

    - gender crossed by age (10 cells of sampling: 2 for 5 age ranges)

    - number of family members (three levels)

    - geographical area (depending on each country).

    The source for the construction of the quotas was Eurostat, in particular its data from 2007 for age and 2005 for the number of family members. Respondents' telephone numbers were generated through Random Digit Dialing (RDD). The survey was carried out from September to November 2009, a period that for all countries involved coming to terms with a global economic recession (which started in 2008 in the United States, and spread to the Eurozone by the first quarter of 2009); we do not consider this a trend that significantly influences the normal management and outcome of the survey.

  3. 3

    The general purpose of this survey was to investigate the adoption and use of the most important technologies of information and communication in Europe as well as users' opinions, evaluations and emotion towards ICT. The research project was designed by the first author on the basis of her scientific interests and then submitted to Telecom Italia for consideration. Telecom Italia recognized that this project could be fruitful for their strategic purposes and decided to fund it. The research institutes which carried out the survey was IPSOS. Telecom Italia kept the data of the survey for six months and then gave them to the first author.

  4. 4

    The analysis of adjusted standardized residuals is based on the identification of the cells of a contingency table which are responsible for a significant overall chi square. Values outside of +/− 1.96 are considered as statistically significant. However to simplify the analysis we will read only the positive residuals with the purpose to see in which cell the relation was positive. These residuals are reported in the contingency tables with an asterisk when their values are more than 1.96.

  5. 5

    We could not include mobile news in this contingency table because we do not have the data relate to the frequency of reading of mobile news. Furthermore, in these data Germany is not included because free press does not exist in this country.

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  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Fragmented news readerships
  5. Methodological considerations
  6. Results
  7. Discussion
  8. Conclusions
  9. References
  10. Biographies
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Biographies

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Fragmented news readerships
  5. Methodological considerations
  6. Results
  7. Discussion
  8. Conclusions
  9. References
  10. Biographies
  • Leopoldina Fortunati is the Director of the Doctoral Programme in Multimedia Communication at the Department of Human Sciences of the University of Udine, where she teaches Sociology of Communication and Culture. She has conducted several researches in the field of gender studies, cultural processes and communication and information technologies. She is very active at European level, especially in COST networks. Her works have been published in eleven languages: Bulgarian, Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Slovenian, and Spanish.

    Address: Leopoldina Fortunati, University of Udine, Department of Human Sciences, Via Prasecco 3/A, 33170 Pordenone, Italy. Tel. 0039-049-8763612, Fax 0039-049-8763612. For the correspondence I prefer Email: fortunati.deluca@tin.it.

  • Mark Deuze is Associate Professor at Indiana University's Department of Telecommunications in Bloomington, United States, Publications of his work include seven books including “Media Work” (Polity Press, 2007) and “Managing Media Work” (Sage, 2010). Weblog: http://deuze.blogspot.com.

    Postal address: 1229 East 7th St, Bloomington, Indiana 47405, US. Phone: 1(812)8565884. Email: mdeuze@indiana.edu.

  • Federico de Luca is a PhD candidate in Social Statistics in the Division of Social Statistics & Demography at the University of Southampton. He participated to several research projects on journalism and published in outstanding journals such as the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication and the European Journal of Communication. He also worked as Research Assistant for the universities of Chicago, Padua and Venice, and currently works as Senior Research Assistant for the University of Southampton.

    Federico's research interests currently focus also on how to evaluate professionals' knowledge and on how this might impact policy makers' decisions. In particular, he is interested in healthcare workers' knowledge about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

    Address: Mr Federico de Luca, Social Statistics & Demography, Social Sciences University of Southampton, Southampton, SO17 1BJ, United Kingdom. Email: F.Deluca@soton.ac.uk. Tel. +44 (0)23 8059 3048, Fax +44 (0)23 8059 3846.