The introduction of the internet medium has potentially changed the concept of journalism from a one-way to a two- or multi-way communication process (Chung, 2007, 2008; Hujanen & Pietikainen, 2004; Morris, 1996), but to what extent and in what ways are the users of the various newspapers web sites allowed to contribute to the contents? The present paper will use quantitative content analysis to study the websites of Swedish local and national newspapers, focusing on how these sites utilize what is perhaps the foremost defining character of the internet medium: interactivity (Downes & McMillan, 2000; Gillmor, 2004; Kiousis, 2002). Rather few European studies have been conducted analyzing these matters (f.e. Schultz, 1999; Thurman, 2008). Sweden is especially interesting to study, since both newspaper readership and internet penetration are frequently measured at very high levels (Carlsson & Facht, 2007; Hadenius, Weibull, & Wadbring, 2008; Hallin & Mancini, 2004). The present study defines interactivity as a three-fold construct, specifically:
Communicative interactivity: The perspective of communicative interactivity is inspired by the sociological definition of the term (as described by Jensen, 1998) and looks at features that enable synchronous communication (interaction) between vistors and/or staff of the newspaper web site. Common features include chat rooms, discussion boards and e-mail-links (Domingo, 2008; McMillan, 2002; Schultz, 1999). Content interactivity: This view focuses on how the user is allowed to interact with and use (and re-use) the content available on the site. The focus on user control over the communicative environment is important here (Jensen, 1998, p. 201; McMillan, 2002, p. 175; Steuer, 1992). Common features include changeable language and font size, search functions, polls, graphs that allow for interplay, RSS-feeds and mobile sites. Contributive interactivity: Rather than focusing on how users interact and adapt content already on the sites (as with content interactivity), contributive interactivity places at its core the ways in which users are allowed to contribute themselves by uploading and annotating their own content (Bowman & Willis, 2003; Lombard & Snyder-Duch, 2001), or “engaging users as content co-producers” as Bozckowski (2002, p. 278) puts it. Common features include photo uploading, the engagement of “citizen journalists” and reader blogs.
An index of interactivity will be created using operationalizations of these different aspects of interactivity. Trying to move beyond the “mere counting” of different interactive features available on newspaper web sites (as suggested by Boczkowski, 2002, p. 277), this study will attempt to analyze what institutional and other factors seem to influence interactivity. Inspired by
the results of earlier studies regarding factors influencing the content of newspapers both online and offline (see f.e. Arant & Anderson, 2001; Chan-Olmsted & Park, 2000; Nerone & Barnhurst, 2001; Zeng & Li, 2006), this paper will use statistical methods to analyze how some chief characteristics of media organizations might bring about more and more different types of interactivity in swedish online newspapers. The characteristics to be analyzed are: newspaper size, media ownership, region and competition within region, length of web presence, strength of staff and use of multimedia.
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New Media and Information: Convergences and Divergences. Athens, Greece, 6-9 may 2009