The term “print media” can be defined in different ways. In its broadest sense the term is used for a whole range of publications that can be subdivided into two main categories in terms of their format and content: media published at regular intervals such as newspapers and magazines, and media for one-time publication such as books in their different genres. For the purpose of this article, we will narrow down the definition of print media and concentrate on the periodically published mass media newspaper and magazine and their use, with a focus on dailies.
The print media are significant players in the development of a society. They are, at the same time, reflections of that society as well as social artifacts and, as such, are subject to societal change. They are seen as agents of social change or agents of social control (Demers & Viswanath 1999). Generally speaking, people use print media in many different ways. Print media are used as sources of information, they provide models of behavior and serve as a frame of reference for possible dissociation and identification, differentiation, and participation in everyday life. Additionally, they provide content for personal communication, relaxation, and emotional relief.
International comparative research on the use of print media has to take into consideration that motivation for using print media, as well as their circulation and availability, is embedded in the cultural, political, and societal structures of the national systems in question, and that it is also dependent on economic conditions. In the case of (national) dailies, the format (daily publication) and the strong dependence on national language and local events contribute to a marked restriction of the print media to national concerns.
The Basic Principles Of Print Media Use
Use of the print media assumes certain skills on the part of readers. Level of education and literacy are therefore significant socio-cultural indicators for media use in a given country. Countries with a high rate of illiteracy lack this basic prerequisite. In contrast to audio or audiovisual media, print media require a minimum ability to read. Reading skills and motivation, both essential conditions for reading, are complexly interrelated. The general historical and social as well as the specific situational context influences the reading process.
Reading is a cognitive process. The reader actively and constructively incorporates the content of the text into pre-existing knowledge structures, based on the reader’s familiarity with the language and knowledge of the world. The process of reading begins with the perception and processing of visual information. Following the identification of individual words, the reader moves on to sentence level, interrelating and structuring word sequences according to their semantic and syntactic correspondences. On text level, the meanings of the individual sentences are put into context to form individually varying meaningful structures. Conclusions that the individual reader draws from the text, and that transcend the tangible information it contains, play a significant role in this construction of meaning. Its quality is largely determined by the reader’s working memory, previous knowledge of the subject, how the reader relates this previous knowledge to the content of the text, and also the reader’s familiarity with the genre. Mastery of these sub-processes identifies competent reading as a key qualification for the use of print media (Christmann 2004, 435 – 436). Moreover a developed linguistic sensitivity is required to be able to grasp the connotative potential of the text, such as ambiguities, allusions, irony, etc.
In addition to reading competence, the reader’s motivation and interests play a pivotal role. Generally speaking, we can identify three subject areas that provide an incentive for readers to use print media. These are “hard news,” (e.g., politics and business), “soft news,” (e.g., people or society), and sports, while local interest topics cut across these three subject areas and can be found in each of them. This system has proved helpful in explaining preference for different types of media content. Deliberate use of the media as motivated by a desire for information or distraction, entertainment or instruction, varies considerably with media genre.
The reading of print media, unlike that of electronic media, requires complete attention and focus, excluding all other activities. At the same time, the mode of exposure allows the reader to use print media irrespective of place and time and thus offers higher accessibility and flexible use at all times, to be interrupted and resumed at the user’s discretion. The print media and their content are less ephemeral and can easily be transported, filed, and passed on. The reader determines the length and speed of use in accordance with his abilities and needs. Also, it is primarily the reader who selects the information and the order in which it is read.
Exposure To Newspapers
Newspapers can be published daily (daily press), weekly (non-daily press) or on specific days (especially the Sunday press). Their geographic orientation can focus on a specific area of distribution. In this case they are referred to as local or regional newspapers, as opposed to national newspapers, which are distributed nationally. All newspapers have in common that they offer different sections, i.e., recurring thematic units. Beside a variety of subject areas, the main sections are national and international politics, business, sports, culture, and local or regional news. In addition, there are newspapers that are solely concerned with one subject area, as for example sports or business papers. Newspapers are either distributed through subscriptions, i.e., the newspaper is delivered directly to the subscribers’ homes, or through sales outlets.
Dailies play a significant role in shaping the day-to-day local and political orientation of their readership. They strengthen political interest and knowledge, increase participation, and improve understanding of political events. Moreover, in many countries the need for local information is one of the most important reasons for reading daily newspapers. Hence, in many societies newspapers play an important role, which is also constitutionally granted in many democracies.
Newspapers cannot fulfill these functions if they are not used. Notwithstanding the continuing strength of the newspaper market in many countries a downward trend in newspaper reading can be observed worldwide. Their share of advertising is declining. Selling price can only partly make up for loss of revenues and is strongly limited by what customers are willing to pay. Additionally, circulation and coverage of dailies have been decreasing for years.
A number of factors influence newspaper use. These are: income, age, sex, level of education, race, length of residence in a particular region or community, mobility, number of children in a household, marital status, housing condition, and interest in politics. In addition to these socio-demographic factors, respondents name lack of time, lack of interest, preference for a different medium, and cost as reasons for not reading newspapers. Content and general reading interest are the least significant factors. Moreover, in recent years other media have been taking over as information and entertainment providers and dailies are having a harder time holding their ground in the media competition.
In particular the share of younger readers has seen a noticeable decline for years. Many studies in the US and also in Europe have shown that age is the first and foremost predictor of shrinking coverage. This changes only to a limited extent with increasing age, as it is unlikely that those who did not read newspapers when they were younger will become newspaper readers later in life (cohort effects). They will be reached less and less by the political information in dailies. If they do read newspapers they tend to be interested in other subject matters (Lauf 2001). Apart from age, income has played and continues to play a significant role. In some countries it has been shown that readership increases with household income (Schönbach et al. 1999).
The number of available daily newspapers and their use varies widely from country to country (Table 1). The table compares a selection of countries in terms of three parameters: (1) circulation per 1,000 population, (2) average daily coverage, and (3) number of newspaper titles per 1 million adult population. The values provide a clear picture of the widely varying significance of daily newspapers in individual countries. The Scandinavian countries, Japan, and Switzerland have the highest circulation of newspapers, followed by Great Britain, Austria, and Canada. The Scandinavian countries also show a clearly higher level of coverage of daily newspapers than, for instance, the southern European countries. The case of Japan in particular is remarkable, with only a few mass circulation newspaper titles (per 1 million population) published. The average number of copies distributed per title is 674,400 in Japan, 69,500 in the EU and 37,600 in the US. This is another example of the diverse supply structures in different countries.
Table 1 An international comparison of newspaper circulation and use: average circulation size and daily coverage of daily newspapers and number of newspaper titles in the year 2002
Exposure To Magazines
The term “magazine” encompasses a wide variety of differing subject matters and forms. Especially as regards the different national markets, a systematic approach or rather categorization proves difficult. Generally speaking, we can distinguish television magazines, news magazines, general interest magazines, special interest magazines, as well as the large sector of customer magazines and professional journals.
Magazines are especially sensitive to trends and fashions, both national and global, and therefore require constant reorientation of content and form to current conditions. Traditional economic and social structures are evidently undergoing a process of change in many countries. The worlds of work and leisure are changing. An increasing individualization and differentiation of consumer and living habits can be observed not only in western countries. Among the print media, magazines are the ones that adapt most quickly and strongly to the changed needs. Consequently, fluctuation in the magazine market is high. This trend is reinforced by readers’ behavior. Nowadays readers use a broader range of different titles, they experiment more, and traditional target groups and definitions of readers are losing validity.
Reader motivation and the functions of magazines vary widely and cover the whole spectrum, from specific information about different topics to distraction or entertainment. At the same time, magazines represent certain images and thus can also take over functions of social identification for the user.
It is difficult to find comparable magazine coverage and circulation figures on a national level. On an international level it is almost impossible, due to the enormous heterogeneity of titles. Use is too dependent on magazine content and reader motivation and interests. However, it can be said that the pronounced independence of magazine readership from specific reading times is a main characteristic of magazine use, not least because magazines do not as a rule offer up-to-the-day information.
Methods And Difficulties Of Print Media Research
Measuring print media use and impact presents a methodological challenge. There is a long tradition of readership research arising from this challenge. Readers often use different sources of information, talk about content, and understand reports differently. The general problem in readership research is the respondents’ recall of sources. The subjective importance attached to a piece of information and thus also its storage in long-term memory results primarily from its content, i.e., the sender (communicator) and the information carrier (medium) of a piece of information are of secondary importance to the recipient (the reader) of the information. As a result, sources of information are usually more easily forgotten than the information itself.
The following models (often labeled differently) can be regarded as the best established models of readership research (Wiegand 1996). Through-the-Book (TTB) is the oldest method of readership survey. It was introduced in the US in the 1930s. Respondents are shown a specific edition or several editions of a newspaper title. The interviewer goes through the edition(s) page by page with them, asking whether they have read specific “key articles.” The growing number of titles has made this method almost impracticable for national surveys, but it is still useful for targeted surveys.
Recent Reading (RR) was first introduced in Great Britain in the 1950s. RR records whether the respondent has read a given title within the previous publication period. The flaws in this method lie in the difficult time identification and in the problem of cumulative and extended reading. However, RR is considered a standard model.
The First Read Yesterday (FRY) approach was developed in the 1980s. While respondents have to remember their reading over quite a long period of time (when questioned about weekly titles) under RR, FRY asks about what they read on the previous day. Here a large sample is indispensable in order to get sufficient data on titles with a longer publication period.
In addition, surveys are conducted with the help of panel data or also with diaries.
New Technologies And Their Impact
Print media use is going through a phase of profound change. Traditional use patterns are increasingly difficult to identify. The processing of written texts remains one of the main reception strategies, but technological developments have changed the manner of distribution. The computer screen has now ousted paper as the center of attention.
Today, most publishing houses at least in western countries offer online information in addition to their traditional printed papers. Their strategies range from complete transcription of contents and form (digital editions) to online newspapers and online information platforms (van der Wurff & Lauf 2005). The goal of this commitment is to reach new markets by using new technology and to strengthen traditional products as an information brand. Furthermore, in many countries there are online newspapers that are not published as printed papers as well. The typical online newspaper reader is mainly younger, highly educated, and male. In general, studies on the use of online newspapers show that online newspapers seem to be used in a complementary manner, i.e., they do not replace printed newspapers. However, in particular younger online newspaper readers do not read the printed edition (de Waal et al. 2005). This might be one reason for the decline of the traditional papers in this target group.
Multimedia offerings have led to new forms of media use that continue to be based on traditional reading. At the same time, the hitherto existing print media remain complementary sources of information alongside the Internet for a large part of the population. For others, they still are – for the time being – the most important source of information, particularly with respect to political and local information.
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