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‘Meta-reading': the generational differences in consuming news

Turi Munthe, CEO and founder of the citizen journalism site, Demotix, shared an interesting thought with participants of the Voices Online Blogging Conference on Monday. The young Demotix interns consume news differently from the way he does. He elaborated to Journalism.co.uk after the panel.

‘Meta-reading':

“There is a generational split, but not in the way everyone imagines. It’s much more recent than that,” he said. People only ten years younger – he is in his 30s – consume news differently from the way he does, Munthe told Journalism.co.uk.

The interns in the office (‘who play a hugely important role: they’re regional editors and they get properly stuck into what we do’) read slightly differently, he said.

“They are getting the Twitter feeds, and the blog posts, and the Facebook messaging and the free papers, and everything else, and are very happy with it. Much more happy with it than I am.”

“Essentially, they process information differently. It’s a ‘meta-reading’. It’s not about individual brands. They are fully aware of all the back-stories of all the stories they’re getting,” he says.

It’s a ‘degree of sophistication,’ he said, ‘which reads the interests behind the news as an integral part of the news’.

“This is something I had to learn. They’re constantly reading two things: what the information is, and who’s saying it – and it’s completely part of the story. Just as when I was doing history A-Level [you were taught to ask] ‘which is the source, who’s the source, why are they saying it?'”

“They get it. I think they are learning it as they are consuming it.”

Entering an era of ‘social knowledge':

Munthe also believes that we are moving into an era of ‘social knowledge’.

For a long time, he said, theorists grappled with the dilemmas of post-structuralism and post-modernism, where the absolutes of the earlier part of the 20th century were abandoned. But they were not sure how to answer questions about society and ‘truth’, without returning to those absolutes, he said.

Now, with the advent of the web, a ‘social knowledge’ is emerging, via the spread of online information and idea-sharing, which Munthe believes is ‘the real founding for how we understand ideas,’ he explained.

“People read as sophisticatedly as they do because they’re know they’re getting their news from George, or from Johnny, or from Jack Lean or whoever it is.”

But, Journalism.co.uk asked, doesn’t that exclude a huge number of people who aren’t participating online? Munthe maintained not.

“I have a feeling that this meta-reading is not elitist,” Munthe answered. His real concern, he said, is the ‘radicalisation’ of online news.  “If you’re the kind of person who is only ever going to watch Fox News, who is ‘properly rightist’, there’s no need for you to encounter any view but your own,” he says.

Journalism.co.uk reported live from the Voices Online Blogging conference 2009. Follow @journalism_live on Twitter for updates from media events.

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