ARTICLE: Folk theories help to explain how “news avoiders” get information

Picture: And life passes by… by Fouquier, license CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Growing numbers of people access information in other ways than by reading newspapers or accessing a news organization’s website. There’s been a shift towards so-called ‘distributed discovery’, where people find information via a range of digital intermediaries and platforms.

Benjamin Toff of the University of Minnesota, and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen of the University of Oxford, did in-depth interviews with 43 people who are infrequent users of conventional news, so-called “news avoiders”. The interviews were conducted in the UK, in greater Leeds and Manchester communities.

Based on the interviews, the authors identified three complementary ‘folk theories’, that is, “culturally available symbolic resources that people use to make sense of their own media and information practices”:

  • “News finds me”,
  • “The information is out there”, and
  • “I don’t know what to believe”.

Folk theories help to analyse the cultural resourses people rely on as they navigate digital media and public affairs, Toff and Kleis Nielsen state.

In general, people interviewed did not feel news media made all that much sense to them, and relied on specific platforms. Many were confident about aqcuiring information since they believed they can count on most of their daily information needs being filled via social media, and finding the rest with a search engine. Some were not so confident (combinations including the third folk theory), and could feel paralyzed among the information overload, their limited media literacy and low trust.

The theories, and their particular combinations are examples of the important variations in how people understand how they get information, the authors conclude.

The article “I Just Google It” was published in the Journal of Communication and is available on the publisher’s website (free abstract).

Picture: And life passes by… by Fouquier, license CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Give us feedback