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Encountering the comment: A phenomenological approach to reading the news online

O'Leary, M (2020) Encountering the comment: A phenomenological approach to reading the news online. Doctoral thesis, Liverpool John Moores University.

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Abstract

Newspaper reader comments are those short, fragmentary, frequently polemical and mostly anonymous ‘replies’ posted to online newspaper articles. And while online comments have attracted much attention in recent years, the experience of reading them has yet to be explored. Newspaper comments have been examined in detail from two key perspectives in the scholarly literature, but by focusing almost exclusively on the text, both journalism studies and public sphere theorists have overlooked the situated sense-making of the reader herself. This study aims to fill this gap by focussing on the embodied know-how and everyday practices through which readers make comments mean. To do this, it draws on the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl (1970), Martin Heidegger (1962) and Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1962) as well as the philosophical hermeneutics of Hans-Georg Gadamer (1975). The research underpinning this thesis was structured around in-depth interviews and digital-observation methods with four reader-participants, two of whom are Irish and two Spanish. Travelling to visit each individual in one of their own everyday settings, I observed and took field notes on their media practices, both print and digital, and interviewed them about their experience of reading a newspaper article and its corresponding comments. The articles we read together were selected from either The Irish Times newspaper or the Spanish El País; the participants’ own newspapers of choice. The articles and their comments centred on aspects of the housing crises that were rapidly unfolding in each country at the time of the interviews and this context came to play a central role in understanding how the readers made sense of those texts. For several months after these initial interviews I maintained email and video correspondences with each participant, asking further questions and talking through ongoing media experiences. I also carried out an auto-hermeneutic exercise that involved video recording my own media practices and ‘free writing’ responses to the same media texts used in the interviews. In a thematic analysis designed around the concept of the hermeneutic circle, I developed a phenomenological interpretation of three core themes that emerged from this ‘data’. These themes highlight the significance of the readers’ own referential systems for structuring their daily encounters with the news media; they point to a fundamental contrast between the way the readers engaged with the newspaper article and how they engaged with the comment; and finally, they highlight the role of the white space around the comments in facilitating a ‘conversational’ experience in reading them.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Newspapers, comments, User-generated content, phenomenology, hermeneutics, intersubjectivity, media theory, medium theory, embodied, everyday, comic books,
Subjects: P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN4699 Journalism
Divisions: Humanities & Social Science
Date Deposited: 20 Jan 2021 09:30
Last Modified: 20 Jan 2021 09:31
DOI or Identification number: 10.24377/LJMU.t.00014209
Supervisors: Allen, C, Chalcraft, D and Kreuger-Bridge, S
URI: https://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/14209

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