What feels like news? Young people’s perceptions of news on Instagram

Joëlle Swart*, Marcel Broersma

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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What do young people consider “news”? Now that news is dislocated from dedicated outlets of news organizations, it has become increasingly difficult to distinguish from other cultural forms, including entertainment, advertising and misinformation. Especially on visual social media, where many different forms, topics and tones circulate, so-called “news feeds” offer blends of content that only partially match traditional journalistic conceptualizations. This paper advances current conceptual debates around news(-ness), by going beyond what is culturally accepted and cognitively recognized as news. We make an argument for the importance of capturing young people’s affective and tacit understandings of news, by analyzing what feels like news to them on Instagram. These judgments matter because what users understand as news or non-news also affects their assessments of trustworthiness and reliability. Drawing upon a three-wave study (2020-2022) employing in-depth interviews with and walk-throughs of the Instagram feeds of N = 111 Dutch smartphone users (aged 16-25), we find that while young people are strongly aware of societal norms around what news is or should be, these cognitive understandings do not necessarily align with what they experience as news(-like) within their everyday practices. Although some users do employ traditional journalistic conceptualizations of news, others negotiate or challenge such definitions through processes of compartmentalization, homogenization or reconceptualization, to mitigate tensions between what they cognitively recognize versus what they affectively perceive as news. Consequently, we argue that more inclusive epistemological approaches are needed to comprehend young people’s shifting experiences of news and conceptualize news from an audience perspective.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2-Nov-2023


  • affective news experiences
  • audience studies
  • conceptualizations of news
  • Instagram
  • media genres
  • news use
  • social media
  • young people

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