The challenge of engaging youth online: contrasting producers' and teenagers' interpretations of websites.
European Journal of Communication, 22
Media research has long known that those who produce content and those who receive it construe textual meaning differently. Such differences may be interpreted in political, cultural, institutional and psychological terms. However, the insights from audience reception and ethnographic studies have yet fully to inform research on responses to online content. This article addresses attempts to overcome youth civic disengagement through the design and promotion of public sector, Internet-based content and services. Specifically, it integrates interviews with website producers and teenage users to compare and contrast the encoding and decoding processes in an exemplar website (www.epal.tv). An analysis in terms of genre reveals a range of communicative challenges for website producers in terms of subject matter, formal composition and mode of address. Further, critical questions arise in relation to the action consequences of online participation, interface design as this relates to teens' Internet literacy, and the power relations instantiated between producer and user. It is concluded that audience studies can constructively be extended to the analysis of Internet use and, substantively, that the policy challenge lies less in the question of whether youth is civically engaged and more in the question of who will listen to youth if and when they do become so engaged.
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