Political Engagement & the Audience for News

Lessons from Spain

Kevin G. Barnhurst

Journalism & Communication Monographs 2.1. Columbia, S.C.: Association for Education in Journalism & Mass Communication (AEJMC), Spring 2000.

The author is associate professor of communication, University of Illinois at Chicago, where a Great Cities Institute fellowship afforded time for writing. An appointment as visiting professor at the University of La Laguna, Tenerife, supported field work in Spain. The author gratefully acknowledges the thesis direction of Holli A. Semetko and critical input from Ellen A. Wartella, Juan Díaz Nicolás, Denis McQuail, and others at the University of Amsterdam. He also wishes to thank Carmen Rodríguez Wangüemert, José Manuel de Pablos Coello, María José Canel Crespo, and Federico Javier Fernández Obregón, who helped gather essential documents, and Susana Ropero Foche for coding assistance. Presented at the Northeast Political Science meeting in Boston, November 1998.


Comparative Case & Background

Young Adults

Methods of Study


School Years
Transition to Adulthood




The News Ritual
Generational Memory
Form & Content
Politics & Media


General Conclusions

Works Cited


As fewer young Americans attend to newspapers and television newscasts, their levels of political participation have declined, along with their trust in political institutions and in the mass media (see Buckingham, 1997, for a summary). U.S. television news has lost half of its young adult viewers since the 1960s and newspapers have lost an even larger share as part of a longer trend in declining readership that began in the 1920s. In surveys political participation does coincide with attention to news, especially newspapers, and young citizens have voted in declining numbers as their readership levels have fallen. These trends cannot sound heartening to the major U.S. news organizations or to those concerned with the informed citizenry of American democracy.

The trends have also been confirmed by field studies. One study based on life histories recounting experiences with newspapers (Barnhurst & Wartella, 1991) found that young U.S. citizens attending college do report difficulty with becoming committed newspaper readers, just as the survey data suggest. Among the many reasons they have a hard time committing, one seems the most important: They find the stories do not touch on the areas of civic activity they encounter in their daily lives. Although the newspaper retains its meaning as a symbol of adulthood, the young adults often fail to sustain the family ritual experienced in childhood. A second study, on television news (Barnhurst & Wartella, 1998), found that college students who turn away from newspapers do not appear to substitute another news medium to inform themselves as citizens. Although they hold television news in minimal regard, they still credit the first major news story they remember from television with making them feel part of the larger national community. In spite of this fairly strong generation effect from watching news, many of the young adult participants consider newscasts primarily a form of entertainment, and only a few mention any other source for news, such as radio or the Internet.

Surveys and field work confirm that, although some older Americans may experience a strong need for news, the younger generation does not share that appetite. A growing minority of young Americans get along without what the major news organizations serve up daily, and those who do pay attention, especially to television news, do so without attaching great significance to the news as the fourth estate in American political life. The view of the news arena as a space where the public sphere operates is declining among the young citizenry.

Because of the clear impact on the civic role for news businesses, with the potential to weaken political participation, the trends among young Americans have aroused debate about the future of democracy (see Barnhurst & Wartella, 1991). Carried on without reference to other countries, the debate raised questions requiring comparative research abroad. Are the increasingly negative experiences with news among young citizens peculiar to the United States? Or do the changes pertain as well to young adults in other contemporary societies? To search for answers, this monograph presents the results of two qualitative studies abroad that closely replicate the U.S. research, examining newspaper and then television news experiences that college students recount in life history narratives.

Spain was selected as a comparative case for several reasons. The most compelling comes from data on the young audience for news: Among Western democracies, only in Spain is news viewership reaching an almost universal national audience and newspaper circulation growing among young citizens. Spain provides a setting within another advanced country that differs from the United States in most particulars: Spain’s development came recently, as did its return to democracy. Besides their differing language and parliamentary monarchy, young Spaniards grew up in close-knit extended families and attended highly structured schools that emphasized rote learning. More importantly, the Spanish media arena diverges greatly from that typical in America. Where local newspapers and commercial broadcasting dominate the American press, national newspapers and public television predominate in Spain. In such a contrasting political and media settings, young citizens will likely report distinct ways of informing themselves as citizens.

The decisions of young adults in another country present opportunities to build grounded theory. By looking at groups that contrast strongly with those previously studied, field work can seek cases that break the rule, clarifying the contours of the new relationship to news emerging among the young. The process may also generate concepts useful to understanding subjective experiences of the news arena. Comparing groups reared under a greatly differing news arena permits a search for common patterns. Any strong similarities found to cross cultural or national boundaries would contribute to the general understanding of subjective experience. The comparison could yield insights into the structure of generations as the news media globalize. Expected differences might indicate alternative policy choices for news organizations and their role in informing citizens.



 The idea of comparing nations has long been employed to build theories of politics and society. Since Durkheim and Weber, "the father of cross-national research" (Kohn, 1989, p. 25), tried to understand modern society by holding it up against historical and primitive groups, scholars have used examples from different nations as a way to illustrate their ideas, from the social Darwinism of Spencer and the functionalism of Radcliffe-Brown, to the structuralism of Levi-Strauss. Herbert Blumer (1966) criticized these comparisons to remote societies as an exercise in nostalgia. Comparative studies of contemporary nations, on the other hand, gives observers a vantage point closer to home, reducing the danger of romanticizing a traditional or historical society.

Interest in comparative research was surging, principally at the intersection between sociology and political science, when Seymour Martin Lipset wrote his classic studies (Marsh, 1967). The new field, political sociology, took on several topics that cross the borders of the two fields, such as the fate of democracy, the role of the media, and the participation of individual citizens as part of different generations (Dogan, 1996). Defining and measuring "the political culture of democracy" and "the social structures and processes that sustain it" inspired the pioneer study of comparative political attitudes in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and Mexico (Almond & Verba, 1963, p. 1). The news media clearly took part in these structures and processes. To illustrate the patterns found in survey questions about media use and political interest, the authors also conducted life history interviews.

During the early 1960s Americans facing the cold war, fearing a domino effect if small nations fell to Communism, wanted to know how to encourage the broadest democracy without causing instability. "How can the apathetic peripheral man [sic] become the aspiring participant man without a deep sea-change in the psychic weather?" asked Daniel Lerner (1966, p. 265). The answer was found in Lipset’s three requirements for political democracy: a regular means to change officials, a loyal opposition, and (important for this study) a mechanism for the largest possible share of society to participate (Marsh, 1967). Communication seemed to provide one of the most likely mechanisms. "In the world today — whether you like it or not, whether it is advisable or not, whether it is good policy planning or not — tremendous developments in communication," Lerner went on, "are occurring in every country" (1966, p. 265). These changes at mid-century began to shrink the global community, and several contemporary studies identify communications (including newspaper consumption) as a strong indicator of political development (Marsh, 1967).

Subsequent studies have paid most attention to voting (see, for e.g., van der Eijk & Franklin, 1996), but the news media also provide a key to citizens’ involvement in democratic governments. As mass communication grows, clusters of older social, economic, and psychological commitments end, and citizens become more open to new patterns of action (Olsen, 1982). The commitment to participate in politics can clash with the roles the media play in generating economic profits, and this contradiction may limit their legitimacy and effectiveness in the political system (Wolfe, 1977). News media can block as well as encourage change, because "the construction of political reality is essentially a ‘mediated’ process" (Kaid, Gerstle & Sanders, 1991, p. 4). Young adulthood, when political reality takes firm shape in personal commitments (Becker, 1981), is rarely studied. Socialization research emphasizes childhood and adolescence and pays little attention to the media (Buckingham, 1997), although media research shows that television often provides the earliest encounters with politics in America (Atkin, 1981). Cross-national research on media and politics usually focuses on media content, not audiences (see, for e.g., Semetko, 1996), and mass media researchers have called for more comparative study of public communication (Blumler, McLeod & Rosengren, 1992).

This monograph on young citizens and the media has two theoretical aims. One is to describe and delineate elements in the structure of subjective experience. In his suggestions for studying the media, Herbert Blumer (1969) proposed that they do not operate within clearly demarcated and distinct outlets and forms, such as newspapers and television, but instead act within a larger zone that he called an arena. Viewed from the perspective of citizens’ symbolic interactions, subjective experiences with the news arena have been little studied. To extend understanding of the political sociology of news, this monograph employs a descriptive strategy to discover grounded theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). After identifying other groups for comparison, a principal task is to describe subjective experience in detail, thus adding to the store of empirical observations of responses to the media arena. To build theory, groups are chosen as negative cases, selected to delimit the news arena and clarify its role in young citizens’ experience. That Americans increasingly reject news invites the search for cases where a different news arena holds sway. Cross-national research looks for similarities between nations because "if the same factor produces the same effects in two very different situations, its influence tends to be confirmed" (Dogan & Pelassy, 1990, p. 130). National distinctiveness makes finding the same processes less likely in more than one country, and so similarities are not only unexpected but also valuable to add to the general understanding of the media arena. Differences contribute as well, and the most important source of contrast, of course, is national history (Kohn, 1989). As they confront problems, the citizens of various countries find alternatives and reach different decisions. Their contrasting responses can be used to suggest policy options.

Another theoretical aim is to examine generational change. Generations are produced only in modern societies, where rapid changes produce long-term shifts in ideology (Eisenstadt, 1956). Events give each new group of children a different set of experiences that tie them strongly to others their age. What people know about politics is influenced by their position in a generation (Jennings & Niemi, 1981), and studies of generations suggest that their collective memories emerge not only from massive traumatic events such as wars (Wohl, 1979) and large scale demographic shifts (Inglehart, 1977; Easterlin, 1980) but also from mass exposure to events shown in the media (Connerton, 1989). Karl Mannheim (1952) notes that an actual generation, whose coming of age coincides with a set of common experiences, does not necessarily interpret those shared events uniformly. The conflicting meanings they assign events divide them into what Mannheim calls generational units. Maurice Halbwachs (1980) agrees that collective memories play a central role in distinguishing different social groups and classes. Mannheim further suggests that, although their life spans may overlap, different age groups experience the same moments of history differently, each generation living in its own subjective era, as he called it. This has been borne out in subsequent research (Schuman & Scott, 1989). Finally, Mannheim proposes that national differences effectively separate people of the same chronological age; citizens in Germany and China in 1800 could not form part of the same actual generation, because they could share no formative experiences. The growth of news organizations that extend beyond national borders, the consolidation of media ownership globally, and the resulting international spread of political reporting styles raise the question whether citizens of nations separated by geography and language had begun to share sufficient media experience by the end of the 20th century to form a generation in effect.

These theoretical considerations guide the study: the search for commonalities that indicate new social and political meanings for news crossing national boundaries, the observation of differences with an eye to discover alternate policies for American news organizations as they inform citizens, and the testing of boundaries of subjective experience between a political generation and its units in America and Spain.


Comparative Case & Background

As a practical matter, choosing countries is the first task in any cross-national comparison. For the greatest detail and depth, a binary analysis — comparing only one country to another — works best. Because it "leaves out neither the specific nor the general," binary study can contribute "to an understanding of general phenomena" (Dogan & Pelassy, 1990, p. 127). The choice of countries requires a balance. The two should share enough to make reasonable comparisons but also have enough differences to make for robust results.

The United States shares with Europe many cultural, political, and economic traditions, including the modern phenomenon of youth culture. Within Europe, Spain differs from the United States perhaps more than any other nation. The United States and Spain stood as complete opposites in the early 1960s (Russett, 1964). Among developed American and European nations, Spain had the lowest newspaper circulation (70.0 per thousand population) and the penultimate rate for televisions (13.1) — only the Portuguese owned fewer sets. During the Franco era, Spain also had no meaningful gauge of voting. By contrast, the United States had newspaper circulation in the middle of the range (326, compared to the United Kingdom, 506) and the highest number of TV sets (306.4). The percentage of U.S. citizens who actually voted, while not high (64.4 in 1960), ranked with those nations lacking mandatory voting laws. The United States also had the highest level of college enrollment (1,983 per hundred thousand population) and Spain (258) the lowest (Britain had 460, but a larger share of enrollees graduated). Perhaps because of these differences, most Americans know little of Spain beyond the tourist clichés of bullfights and flamenco, necessitating a brief overview of recent political, media, and generational history.



Unlike the United States, Spain experienced an extended pause from democracy during the Franco regime, which had a profound impact. The "executions, the imprisonments, the torture, the lives destroyed by political exile and forced economic migration point to the exorbitant price paid by Spain for Franco’s ‘triumphs’ " (Preston, 1994, 786). Despite these depredations, Spanish citizens remained committed to the ideal of civic culture. Under Franco, citizens in the different regions of Spain preferred democratic rule by "all of us" rather than by one caudillo, even in the most conservative strongholds (Linz & Miguel, 1966). The commitment to democracy was based on the culture of Spain, rather than springing from economic factors or social structure.

In Franco’s later years, Spain underwent a "Prussian-type economic development, . . . beginning in the mid-1950s and promoted by national ruling classes" (Maravall, 1982, p. 8). Preston (1994) characterizes the 1960s as a period of robust economic growth resulting in broad social changes. Business and professional people became independent-minded in increasing numbers, and unrest from the worker movements applied growing pressure for change (Maravall, 1982). The Franco regime did institute some liberalizing policies, such as the Press Law enacted in 1966 (Gunther, Sani & Shabad, 1986). Liberalization took firm root in such places as the universities, where Marxist publications became widely available and prominent intellectuals criticized the regime, calling for reform, and where "tolerance at the ideological level was unquestionable" (Maravall, 1979, p. 26). Spain also experienced greater contact with the outside world, through flows of migration from Europe and increases in tourism primarily from the western hemisphere (Díez Nicolás, 1995).

The assassination in 1973 of Carrero Blanco, the ultraconservative head of Franco’s government, "was a factor of overwhelming importance" (Maravall, 1982, p. 10). He was replaced by Carlos Arias Navarro, who, although not progressive, did support limited reforms. In his most important act, televised on February 12, 1974, he announced that "the national consensus in support of the regime must in the future be expressed in the form of participation" (quoted in Gunther, Sani & Shabad, 1986, p. 32). Arias Navarro’s speech opened the door for Francoist institutions to reflect more political pluralism, although that aim faced repeated setbacks (Desfor Edles, 1998). The regime then enacted a Statute of Associations, which allowed groups to register, although few did (and opposition political parties remained prohibited).

The hopes for reform in the early 1970s clashed with economic frustration over Franco’s "paternalistic regulation of the labor market" (Preston, 1994, p. 786), as well as his policy of keeping Spain out of the European Economic Community. The energy crisis put a break on increases in the standard of living for the working class, which lacked political rights and became increasingly militant (Maravall, 1982). By 1975, "it had become clear that socioeconomic and institutional change as well as modifications in political beliefs at both the mass and elite level of Spanish society had eroded away the underpinnings of the authoritarian regime" (Gunther, Sani & Shabad, 1986, p. 33). Franco himself became ill, and the media kept a vigil outside the palace. The extreme measures to postpone his death, the machinations to extend the regime, and the hope of installing a new head of the Cortes (Parliament) who would resist change — these things came to light only later. At the time, Spaniards witnessed only the head of government in tears, announcing Franco’s death on TVE1, the state channel.

Transition. Franco left behind a constitution that envisioned Prince Juan Carlos becoming King. This went as planned. The King would have ruled only as the successor to Franco, without full dynastic legitimacy, but then his father Don Juan de Borbón renounced his right to the throne (Preston, 1994). Arias Navarro continued as head of the government from November 1975 until the King replaced him in July 1976 with Adolfo Suárez, who followed a strategy of seeking pacts with the right and the left. He got the approval of the military and Cortes for a Law on Political Reform, ratified in 1976. The process secured the right to form political parties, granted political amnesty, dissolved the state labor unions and the single Francoist Movimiento party, and then set free elections for the Constituent Assembly (Maravall, 1982). The consensus completely rejected Franco’s plan: "trade unions were legalized, political parties, including the hated Partido Comunista de España [PCE], were permitted" (Preston, 1994, pp. 786–7). Extremists of the right wing began a violent backlash, which reached a nadir in Madrid, January 23 to 28, 1977, during the semana negra or "black week" that left student activists and lawyers, as well as policemen, murdered. The fate of Spanish democracy seemed uncertain.

In May 1977, during preparations leading up to the first general, multi-party elections, the Unión Centro Democrático (UCD) formed, a center-right coalition of political forces (Huneeus, 1985). The communists (PCE) "played a major role in the transition and . . . gained 10 percent of the vote in the 1977 election" (Preston, 1994, p. 787), and the socialists (PSOE) won more than a quarter of the vote (28 percent and 118 seats). The center coalition (UCD) received one-third of the votes (165 seats) and began a period leading a minority government that lasted until 1982 (in the 1979 general election, the UCD won 34 percent and 168 seats, and the PSOE won 30 percent and 121 seats, see Barnes, et al., 1986). The country put its economy on a better footing with the Moncloa Pacts in October 1977. The accords imposed austerity, with budgetary control, tax reform, limits on wage increases, and a devalued peseta. As a result, inflation decreased (from 29 percent) and exports went up, but unemployment also increased. The accords caused discontent when many of the promised reforms failed to materialize (Maravall, 1982).

"Inevitably," Preston writes, "the most dramatic difficulties encountered by Spain’s newborn democracy were the direct legacy of Franco’s rule" (1994, p. 787). One of these, the Basque separatist movement (ETA), enjoyed some popular support through the 1970s. The rigid centralist policies of the Franco regime had left such regional movements stronger, especially those in the Basque country and Catalunya (Díez Medrano, 1995). Although the new constitution adopted in 1978 recognized regional autonomy, the separatist movements still presented a violent threat (Desfor Edles, 1998). A military trained to distrust democracy presented another difficulty. This bore fruit when Lieutenant Colonel Antonio Tejero led a group of senior military officers in an attempted coup d’état on February 23, 1981. The King went on state television to denounce the failed attempt, and the public responded with mass demonstrations.

From 1977 to 1982, the socialists remained the principal opposition party. Then the socialist era arrived: "Felipe González became prime minister in 1982, after his party’s crushing victory in the elections that year. His second administration (1986–1989) saw Spain enjoy dramatic levels of economic growth. His third administration (1989–1993) was marked by internal party strife, exacerbated by growing evidence of corruption" (Heywood, 1995, p. 195). Following an unexpected victory in 1993, the government became increasingly mired in charges of corruption and got defeated in 1996 by the Partido Popular (PP), which formed a minority government with Catalán support. The 1996 elections marked the end of the transition from the Franco era.

Since the transition, Spain appears to have entered a period of stability, similar to the quiescence characteristic of the mature U.S. democracy. At a time when the left-leaning socialist party controlled Spanish government, the United States by contrast had a series of conservative administrations. A decline of trust in American government and institutions marked the period. Surveys of opinions and attitudes since the transition to democracy indicate a Spanish citizenry consistently moderate in ideology and supportive of democratic principles (Maravall, 1982; Montero & Torcal, 1990). They also have low levels of political interest and information. From the late 1970s through the late 1980s, a consistent share (about three quarters) said they knew little or nothing about politics (Montero & Torcal, 1990). When asked their general response to politics, a majority expressed boredom or indifference, while one-third expressed interest and enthusiasm and one-fifth expressed annoyance and disgust. These survey results lead researchers to identify an "outstanding feature in the political attitudes of Spanish people, namely, their political passivity" (Montero & Torcal, 1990, p. 131).



In a study in the 1960s, the United States and United Kingdom plotted high and near the regression line correlating communications (an index computed from newspaper consumption, newsprint used, telephones installed, and mail volumes) and political development (Marsh, 1967). Spain stood near the middle in communications development and the low-middle in political development, well below the average. This combination suggested a country poised, because of its communications development, to experience a spurt in political development — an accurate prediction, as it turned out.

Under the Franco regime, changes in the laws governing the press took a first step toward liberalization (although an extremely small one by U.S. standards). The 1966 reform changed the process (but not the fact) of censorship, ending it before publication but imposing "post hoc suspension or closure" (Gunther, Sani & Shabad, 1986, p. 31), so that editors had to guess what might get censored. "Franco, the Falange, the Army and the principles of the regime could not be criticized, but for all the limitations, the law constituted a real change, and the most reactionary elements in the regime were furious at the implications" (Preston, 1994, p. 727). The policy change "gave rise to hopes of more substantial political change" (Gunther, Sani & Shabad, 1986, p. 31). Under the new law, periodicals such as the newspapers Informaciones, Ya, and Madrid and the magazine Diario 16 published criticism of the government and called for reform, working within the constraints of the regime (Maravall, 1982). (The newspaper Madrid came under censure in 1971 and then closed.) Publications also sprang up in regional languages such as Catalán.

Spanish television was founded as a state monopoly in the 1950s. "Under the Franco regime, television held the key to reading the eyes and ears of the Spanish population" because, unlike newspapers in the country, "television commands massive audiences" (Heywood, 1995, p. 76). After Franco’s death, government control continued over what were by then two state channels, TVE1 (also called La Primera) and TVE2 (La Dos). Newspapers gained much more freedom, and the transition saw several newspapers start up. The most important national paper to emerge, El País, established a left-leaning socialist editorial line, in contrast to the right-leaning monarchist position of the newspaper ABC. The strong political agendas of Spanish newspapers did not come as a novelty. Much earlier, for example, "Franco spoke of the monarchist daily ABC as an ‘enemy’ " (Preston, 1994, p. 735).

During the period of socialist rule, two important shifts occurred in the Spanish news media, bringing them closer to their U.S. counterparts. On one hand, the government revised (by some accounts timidly) the broadcasting laws. "In the 1980s, Spanish television evolved from a public monopoly, with only two state channels, into a competitive multi-channel system" (López Escóbar, 1992, p. 161). Two new channels began free broadcasting, Antena 3 and Tele5, and a third emerged based on subscription, Canal Plus. On the other hand, Pedro J. Ramírez founded in the late 1980s a national newspaper, El Mundo. Ramírez, who worked as a young intern in the Washington Post newsroom the day Nixon resigned, introduced investigative journalism at El Mundo. The paper took a strongly anti-socialist line against Felipe González and his government. Ramírez made himself a household name in Spain by pushing the stories of corruption in government to the forefront of the political agenda.

The national newspapers in Spain circulate throughout the country, alongside (and in competition with) the local and regional press, and both continue growing in circulation (Armentia Vizuete, 1993). By the 1990s, all the older Spanish newspapers had reformatted themselves as smaller tabloids. The press has adopted an aggressive pattern of redesigns and received a number of awards, particularly El Mundo for reporting and El País for design. U.S.-based journalism associations have named both of these among the best newspapers in the world (Heywood, 1995). The changes in newspapers accompanied an erosion of press partisanship, with an increase in claims to professionalism among reporters and in market orientation among publishers.

Television news also has a history of partisanship in Spain, although less overt than the printed press. A study of the 1993 election, for example, shows that the state-controlled TVE1’s favorable coverage of González and the socialist government became especially pronounced in the pre-campaign period (Díez Nicolás & Semetko, 1995). In that election the private channels, Antena 3, Tele5, and Canal Plus, first covered the campaign in full. The entry of commercial broadcasters "has created a new audience map, and all the networks and stations are increasingly guided by ratings" (López Escóbar, 1992, p. 161). As a result, public broadcasting, although still dominant, has seen a continual erosion of its audience and income.

Despite some growth, newspapers still do not receive wide readership in Spain, and total circulation reaches only one in ten of the population (Armentia Vizuete, 1993). The press has been expanding, however, with the number of newspapers published increasing since the 1980s. At the same time, the trends have been toward greater concentration of ownership, including the growth of newspaper chains and cross-ownership of television and radio stations and magazines. These trends have parallels in the United States.

American News. Electioneering in the news media of various countries has begun to follow a pattern as elections become Americanized (Swanson & Mancini, 1996). That trend makes a clear picture of U.S. news essential for understanding the Spanish media. Historically, the American news media have operated under market competition with only limited government regulation. Public broadcasting arrived late and has played a very small role. The press remains predominantly local, with competition at that level declining as newspapers have closed or consolidated.

Coverage of politics has changed substantially since the 1960s, when newspaper reporters and television correspondents gave a largely descriptive chronicle of the candidates’ words and movements during election campaigns. Studies show that U.S. journalists have increasingly described presidential campaigns using the metaphors of conflict or the horse race, positioning themselves as political interpreters for the public. As a result, media organizations may have largely supplanted political parties as the principal power brokers in the selection of American leaders (Patterson, 1993).

Competition for readers and viewers has imposed entertainment values on American news. Since the 1960s, television journalists have greatly shortened politicians’ sound bites and increased the relative share of time and emphasis given to their own judgments about campaigns (Steele & Barnhurst, 1996). Newscasts became dramatically more visual in the 1970s, at the time when they reached a pinnacle of audience share and advertising revenues (Barnhurst & Steele, 1997). Seeing themselves in competition with television, newspapers followed suit, updating their designs at a rate that accelerated in the early 1980s (Barnhurst, 1994).

Both television and newspapers began to face audience declines in the mid-1980s, as cable expanded the alternatives for news (including CNN and C-SPAN). Newspaper executives identified and attempted to slow the erosion of readership among young adults (Bogart, 1989). By the early 1990s, news executives viewed computer networks as a potential competitor. Unlike the ideological competition among Spanish newspapers, the American press sees itself as part of a news market, where television broadcast news competes with cable and radio and where newspapers — most of them local monopolies — compete with broadcasters. Driven by market considerations, the American news media aim for the greatest visual and emotional impact within the constraints of the widest possible audience appeal.


Young Adults

A persistent puzzle of Spain since Franco has been the political culture that survey researchers characterize as passive, with low rates of participation, weak party allegiance, and limited social capital, as measured by memberships in civic associations and neighborliness (McDonough, et al., 1998). Despite low participation, the levels of cynicism and efficacy in Spain during the transition were no worse than those in the United Kingdom and the United States, and in general the "political culture in Spain did not differ too greatly from the political cultures of stable democracies" (Maravall, 1982, p. 86).

The period of rapid change in Spain did, however, produce clear differences between generations (Díez Nicolás, 1993). Those in young adulthood during the late 1970s belong to what has been called the transition generation, born after 1951 and reaching adulthood after Franco. In 1980, 21- to 25-year-olds had the highest feelings of political efficacy and lowest cynicism of any group (Maravall, 1982). On the whole, the young voiced more support for democracy, had more interest and confidence in politics, participated more, and had greater party allegiance, while they indicated less trust in the actions of authorities and in their country as a whole than did older Spaniards. General levels of participation ranked lower, but the young were among the most likely to participate in politics. The idea "of a generalized lack of interest in politics among the youngest age group is not borne out" at that time. (Maravall, 1982, p. 82). They culminated a trend in which each succeeding generation, in response to the dictatorship, identified more strongly with the left in Spain.

Young adults of the post-transition generation are even less the product of their country’s period under Franco than were their parents. Born near the time he died, they are reaching adulthood with Spain fully integrated into the European Community. They appear to be moving away from the left. Recent surveys show that they have levels of political interest similar to those found in 1980 (Instituto de la Juventud, 1991). The highest level of interest appears among those recently of voting age, and the level and growth of their interest corresponds to the availability and access to information such as news about politics. Their most common modes of political participation include voting, informing themselves, joining associations, and discussing politics. They report being most influenced by the media and by friends, followed by their families and by schools. They overwhelmingly support democracy as a political system, although they tend to judge their own country’s system harshly in comparison to others in Europe. The survey data tend to contradict popular wisdom among the transition generation that their heirs in the post-transition era are less interested in and knowledgeable about politics, and more disengaged from and cynical about public life. No previous field work has examined this contradiction.

In the young generation’s media experience, the newspaper landscape has had regular growth in circulation and in the number of newspapers published. Unlike their parents, they see El País as a fixture and, of course, the anti-socialist, crusading El Mundo as a novelty. Despite growth, newspapers form a small part of the media environment, but they offer a range of competing ideologies (contrary to the rule in the United States or in Spain under Franco). Newspapers during the young adults’ lives have been constantly changing — not only growing but redesigning and altering formats — requiring regular adaptation and adjustment by the audience. Television, however, remained under state control through most of their formative years. Public broadcasting provided the only news on television through the 1989 campaign, when the post-transition generation entered its teenage years. The addition of private channels occurred in the political calendar during the last two elections, just as the young generation reached voting age.

In other ways, the new generation of Spanish citizens presents a particularly interesting case. The country saw a baby boom immediately after Franco’s death. Upon reaching an all-time high, the birthrate then dropped in subsequent years to reach the lowest level in the world. As a result, the group reaching young adulthood in the mid-1990s is the largest in Spain’s history (Miguel, 1995). Their demographics create a case study in contrasts. On the up side, they have experienced the expansion of education and stabilization of democracy. The number of Spaniards completing college doubled between 1973 and 1992, and successive elections since the transition to democracy have produced rising levels of voting and other participation among the young (Topf, 1995). On the down side, the large size of the generation has caused problems. With general unemployment high (22 percent at the time of the 1996 election), discontent among young voters became a factor cited in the defeat of the socialist party (Simons, 1996). The counterpart cohort of young Americans are also part of a bulge generation, the children of America’s earlier baby boom, and they have suffered similar economic consequences, with the attendant levels of discouragement (Steinberg, 1982).

Indicators Today. By the 1990s, the gap in political and social indicators between the United States and Spain had closed substantially (Miguel, 1995). The share of Spanish workers employed in white collar jobs had grown dramatically (from 30 to 44 percent, 1960 to 1981). Television had reached close to saturation in 1994 (99.3 percent of households), and half had more than one set (49.9) and a VCR (57.6). However, the average electoral turnout remains much higher in Spain (73.9 percent of eligible voters, since the death of Franco, 1977–1993) than in the United States. On average, Spaniards use the media in very different patterns (according to 1996 data from the ASEP survey group). They view only three and one-half hours of television a day (210 minutes). The state channels still receive a third of the audience share (TVE1 at 28 percent, TVE2 at 10), with private channels dividing up most of the rest (led by Antena 3 at 26 percent, Tele5 at 19). Satellite channels from abroad play a much smaller role. Large differences appear especially in the printed press (according to 1996 data from the FIEJ survey group). The number of newspapers continues to grow (up 13.6 percent from 1990 to 1994), as does daily circulation (up 36.6 percent). For comparison over the same period, the number of dailies in the United States declined (by 4.5 percent), and weekday circulation was also down (by 5.3 percent).


Methods of Study

Although political sociology since its founding has relied on data from statistical samples of various nations to use as indicators of political and social life (Russett, 1964; Merritt & Rokkan, 1966), qualitative methods have also played a role. Personal essays written by citizens were considered a standard technique (Manaster & Havighurst, 1972). In recent guides to cross-national study, half of the recommended methods require field work (Kohn, 1989), and qualitative tools seem especially useful to examine subjective beliefs (Dogan & Pelassy, 1990). Because survey data "necessarily abstracts institutions, events, and processes from their unique social and cultural context" (Swanson, 1991, p. 13), field studies become all the more important.

Autobiographical techniques have a long history in studies of the media and citizens, beginning with the groundbreaking examination of Polish peasants and immigrants to America (Thomas & Znaniecki, 1927). The full length autobiography has generally been used in the social sciences to study foreign or marginalized others (e.g., Shaw, 1930; Bogdan, 1974). By simplifying and focusing autobiography more narrowly, researchers found a way to apply the technique to the mainstream. Blumer (1933) asked young people from many walks of life to write shorter narratives about one aspect of their experience, their memories of and reactions to movies. This technique, the limited life history, has found wide application in recent years among scholars in the social sciences and cultural studies (Plummer, 1983; Clough, 1988; McCall & Wittner, 1990; Clandinin & Connelly, 1994).

The limited life history technique is especially effective for spanning time — the longitudinal section — as political culture is transmitted across generations. Life histories also impose an expanded view of political participation (Verba, Nie & Kim, 1971), not only including such elements as party affiliation and political interest included in questionnaires but also leaving open a full range of other activities, whatever participants choose to address in their narrative essays.

To find out about young Spaniards’ subjective experiences with news, colleagues helped me collect life history narratives from young adults in Spain. During 1996, 62 undergraduates at three Spanish universities contributed their news experiences. The universities are located in three very different regions in Spain: the capital, Madrid, the industrial Navarra region, and the depressed autonomous community of Canarias. Because each of the universities draws from a wide area, the mix of participants includes many other regions of Spain. The participants form what is called a "saturation sample" (Bertaux, 1981, p. 37), the qualitative standard for gathering sufficient examples. Saturation, the point at which any additional examples would add only particulars without increasing the general understanding about the group, is reached in most studies somewhere between twenty-five and thirty.

The study group is appropriate for two purposes. It first allows a close replication of the studies of U.S. college students. Second and more importantly, it represents the small but significant sector in Spain of the affluent and educated young. They form not only the core of up-scale audience members that news executives seek to attract and sustain but also the source for the next generation of political leaders, activists, and attentive citizens essential to democratic government.

The participants were asked to write a short life history essay, beginning with their earliest memories and continuing to their current activities. They received the same instructions (patterned after Blumer, 1933) as did the U.S. groups in earlier studies, translated into Spanish, one set for television news and another for newspapers. About a third of the participants agreed to write two essays, one on each medium, to allow a comparison of their ways of writing and thinking about the two. All participants also completed a questionnaire with standard demographic, media use, and political items, the same completed by the U.S. groups but translated into Spanish.

The group is not intended, of course, to be a representative sample at the morphological level. The questionnaire was collected to allow a clear comparison to the previous studies as well as to national measurements of young Spaniards. In the survey responses, the volunteers do resemble the U.S. groups from previous studies (Barnhurst & Wartella, 1991, 1998): mostly communication majors, predominantly white, and roughly two-thirds women. Unlike the U.S. participants, a slightly larger share of Spanish volunteers hale from cities and large towns (80.0), with most of the remainder from smaller towns and rural areas (16.0). Their parents also differ, the largest share of whom attended only some high school (72.0 percent of mothers, 50.0 fathers) and work mostly in labor and in the home.

The Spanish students report higher levels of media use than do the Americans (the mean for each measure is shown). They read newspapers more often (5.4 days "last week") and watch newscasts more (6.1). More of the Spaniards say they read a national newspaper (36.0 percent), local paper (40.0) or both (20.0), and none reports reading a student paper. There are no non-readers. For television news, more Spaniards report watching local news (52.0 percent) and national news (54.0, and some watch both), but satellite and cable get no mention. There are no non-viewers. Besides their higher attention to news, they pay slightly more attention to audio-visual media. They say they watch a bit more TV on average (84 minutes "yesterday") and listen to radio somewhat more (58). In contrast, they spend substantially more time with the newspaper (31). They read more books (2.1 "last month") but fewer magazines (3.6). They also watch many more movies (8.4 viewed, plus 1.0 rented).

The participants’ media use roughly matches audience statistics for urban Spaniards their age. In national surveys (all figures from 1996 ASEP data), young adults generally use print media and radio more heavily than do older adults. Young adults read newspapers more (50.0 percent "yesterday") than do all adults (37.0), although the gap appears to be narrowing. The same share of young and older adults watch television (89.0), but slightly more of those under 30 watch news (76.0, compared to 73.0 "yesterday" for all adults). The study group, although smaller in number than the U.S. volunteers, is much more geographically diverse than either of the American groups. However, the saturation sample did not yield sub-populations large enough to break out for comparison. The differing minority populations in the two countries do not permit comparison in any case.

(I also gathered fifteen essays from Spanish adults older than 29, ten about newspapers and five about newscasts. These get mentioned parenthetically in the following sections. The older group, all white, splits evenly by gender. They range from 30 to 52 years old, with the mode at 36. Their parents hold roughly the same types of jobs and attained about the same educational level as in the younger group. However, the older adults come predominantly from small towns and rural areas [53.3 percent]. They pay much more attention to newspapers, reading more days [6.3 "last week"] and for longer intervals [37 minutes "yesterday"]. They watch television news less often [5.3 days "last week"] and spend less time with television [66 minutes "yesterday"]. In fact, all their uses of media fall substantially lower [except movies rented, 4.5 "last month"].)

To help compare these life histories, I studied the newspaper essays separately from the television essays. For each group, I first read a small number (about a fifth) to look for the recurring themes found in the previous studies (Barnhurst & Wartella, 1991; 1998) and revised the list as needed (this amounted to adding a few items). An assistant then used the translated and annotated list to code the essays for the presence or absence of each theme. To check reliability, I re-coded some of the essays (20 percent). The reliability coefficients between coders are quite good on average (Scott’s pi .86).

In reporting the results, I have hewn as closely as possible to the form and structure of the two earlier studies. Although lengthy, this strategy produced a wealth of description and allows the maximum direct comparison to the studies being replicated. The analysis in the next two sections, then, weaves together three strands: qualitative readings and quotations from each group of essays, the quantitative results of coding, and related questionnaire responses. To these dimensions I have added the following types of comparisons: with the counterpart group from America, with Spanish national statistics when available, and with records of important news stories since the mid-1970s, drawn from two chronicles the leading national newspapers published (El País, 1995; Sinova, 1995).

Quotations from the essays given in the following two sections identify the writer’s gender, hometown size, and frequency of attending to the news medium (occasional 3 or fewer days "last week," regular 4 or 5, and habitual 6 or 7). Age is shown because I followed the Spanish norm of including adults under 30 (the U.S. statistics on young adults usually, but not always, include only 18- to 24-year-olds). Unless indicated, the writer comes from a town.



In broad strokes, the Spanish essays on newspapers reaffirm the centrality of daily rituals for acquiring the reading habit. Although they do not present their newspaper experiences as uniformly by periods as did the Americans (Barnhurst & Wartella, 1991), the Spaniards do provide detailed accounts of the newspaper ritual for each stage in the American chronology: in early childhood at home, middle childhood in school, and transition to adulthood, with various influences and political consequences in the present. Unlike the Americans, the Spaniards became newspaper readers (and in quotations from these essays, the writer reads the newspaper habitually, unless otherwise noted). Many aspects that make the Spanish press more attractive and accessible to young adults flow from the partisan ideologies newspapers overtly espouse. The partisan distinctiveness gets echoed in the Spanish essays themselves, which on the whole seem much more varied and individualistic than the American essays.


At first the newspaper simply exists in the jumble of early childhood memories. Spaniards and Americans alike say they have a hard time remembering their first glimpse of one. An urban male occasional reader, 21, writes, "It’s like trying to remember seeing a bed the first time or the bathroom of your house. They’ve always been there and there just wasn’t a first time." A few do report a memorable first encounter:

When I was five, snooping in the old family bureau, I discovered a pile of yellowed papers, gnawed by mice. I unfolded it and found before my eyes a kind of revelation: one of those newspapers from before, on sheets so large you could roll me up in them. That was the first time I saw a newspaper. —a male regular reader, 25

Many of the essays, like the U.S. group, say they experienced newspapers as a constant presence (70.0 percent) throughout their upbringing. Once the newspaper emerges from the fog of early childhood, however, the initial uniformity in Spanish and American experiences dissolves. The strength of habit and family training comes through strongly among the Spaniards. A majority of their essays describe newspapers as a part of family routine (56.7 percent), a share exceeding that found in the U.S. essays. None of the Spanish writers concludes from the repetitive nature of their early experience that newspapers therefore had little importance or played no role in their lives.

The Spaniards describe many ways the news routine unified them with parents. Two-thirds of the essays say that their first encounters with newspapers occurred in the presence of parents (66.7 percent), and many of those who do not cite parents instead mention grandparents. The essays talk of morning rituals for purchasing bread and newspapers that made them feel part of the adult world. An urban female, 21, writes, "When he took me to school, we used to stop at some kiosk and he gave me money so I could buy the paper. Since I was very small, it gave me the illusion of going alone to buy it, and I felt grown up."

Spaniards report more parental encouragement than do the Americans. Quite a few essays say parents urged them to read the paper (40.0), and on the questionnaire a majority (66.7) say parents encouraged them either "strongly" or "somewhat" (compared to very few essay mentions and much lower ratings by the U.S. group). The Spanish parents also encouraged their children to read books (83.3, only slightly below the U.S. group), the essays say, suggesting that the difference springs from their beliefs about newspapers, not about reading in general.

Some Spanish parents went beyond urging and read aloud or discussed the newspaper. Unlike the Americans, more Spaniards say their parents read to them from the newspaper (20.0 percent). They also describe the family having conversations based on the newspaper.

I remember my father in the kitchen reading the paper while my mother served lunch. He also, after reading something interesting, commented about it to my mother, and they both began a conversation, filled with constant exclamations. —an urban female, 20

With all the urging they received as children, the Spaniards express impatience with parents (6.7 percent) only about as often as the U.S. group does, but they less often define the paper as exclusively for adults (33.3, compared to almost half of the U.S. essays).

The gap between the child and the newspaper as an adult activity seems smaller in Spain. Responses to the format of the paper, for example, create less of an issue among the Spanish participants. Children from both countries encountered broadsheet pages as youngsters, but the Spaniards then watched the changeover to tabloid size. About a third of the essays mention the change (30.0 percent), and none talks about continuing frustration with the large pages, as the Americans do. Instead, they remember large broadsheets fondly as objects from childhood. An urban female, 20, recalls, "With that enormous paper I could make the biggest paper hats you’ve ever seen." Although some young Spaniards mention the ink rubbing off, none express the sort of irony on the subject found in the U.S. essays. An urban female, 21, says she likes newspapers because "it didn’t matter if I tore them up or spilled on them because the next morning a new one appeared in my father’s hands."

The Spanish essays do not reveal the climate of conflict apparent in the American stories, although the gender and power order for reading the paper worked about the same in both countries. The Spaniards mention fathers being first (30.0 percent) a bit more often than Americans do, but the Spaniards also mention mothers reading first (10.0), or "parents" (6.7), or others, especially grandparents (13.3). (This represents a change from the previous generation, according to the older Spaniards, who say twice as often that their fathers used the newspaper first.) Only one essay reports sibling rivalry over newspaper access. A female regular reader, 21, says "there were even fights in my house because both of us wanted to be the first to read it. In the end, what always ruled was the strong arm." Although some of the gender issues Americans discuss surely exist in Spanish home life, most of the essays do not seem troubled by the disparity between gender roles.

The Americans express much more conflict, with the newspaper as a form and object, with its role in defining the power relationships within the family, and, most importantly, with the adult world it represents. Americans define their situation by the yawning rift in their social world, between themselves as small children and the distant, sometimes incomprehensible world of grownups.


School Years

When describing the newspaper during their middle childhood years, the Americans report resenting the pressure from parents and teachers, who nagged and cajoled at home and assigned difficult homework to make them read. The Spaniards tell a strikingly different story. Parents and teachers made their expectations known through gentle persuasion, acting as models by reading and discussing news, and through in-class activities, not homework. At home, the Spaniards say their parents would repeat a proverb — a touchstone of the transition generation — to the effect that one cannot change the world unless one knows something about it. Several essays cite the phrase. There seems to have existed a general expectation that young people would eventually read newspapers, and that was that.

The schools the participants attended appear to have integrated newspapers into the curriculum much more than did those of the U.S. group, not only as an art medium or tool but also as content. An urban male, 23, describes a reading circle, where "someone had to read a small book or story and then retell it aloud to the other children, but I remember the time when instead of books they gave us the task of looking in a newspaper for ‘good news’." Two-thirds of the Spaniards (66.7 percent) report schoolwork involving newspapers (more than three times the share of U.S. essays).

Where most assignments for Americans involved homework, many of those who mention assignments in Spain say they took place during class (80.0, others do not specify and only one mentions homework). Half of those who say they used newspapers in school (55.0) describe role-playing, games, or a publishing activity built around newspapers. In many cases, the training described appears to spring from something akin to a media literacy approach, in which children get armed with intellectual tools to see through or pull apart media messages. After repeating the proverb about changing the world by knowing it, an urban female, 21, says, "Little by little, from the doubts that she raised in class, I began to realize the importance, not so much of the newspapers, but of what gets reported in them."

Spanish teachers often modeled their own newspaper interest, the essays say, by mentioning what they read to students (19 percent of those reporting school activities) and by bringing the paper to class.

The strangest thing was that my religion professor, during exams and tests, hid behind the newspaper as if absent from what was going on in the room, but when somebody opened their mouth or turned around to copy, he would call on them and threaten them with suspension. —an urban male, 24

Of course, the incidents where teachers simply read during exams (not included in the above percentages) add to the uses of the newspaper in school. The essayists rightfully do not consider such occasions part of their schoolwork, but they point to teachers’ demonstrated interest in newspapers, sanctioning them as acceptable activity during certain moments of the workday.

Outside of school, only a minority of the essays describe using newspapers (36.6 percent). Paper routes — and home delivery — hardly exist in Spain, and recycling did not begin until recently. These activities get no mention. Nor do any essays mention newspapers used in churches or in scouting, an absence that reflects traditionally lower involvement in clubs and associations among Spaniards. (A third of the older Spaniards made a point of saying they never used the paper in other settings.) The few outside uses of newspapers varied extremely, with no example repeated by more than one participant.

Many participants nevertheless describe newspapers as a constant presence in their school years (70.0 percent). Those who did not experience newspapers as a constant typically grew up in a small town, and in fact, the smaller the city or town, the less constant a role the newspaper played (ranging from 85.7 percent among urbanites to 60.0 among townsfolk). (Just under half of the older participants call newspapers a constant, following the same hometown pattern. A rural female, 33, writes that seeing her father occasionally read the newspaper influenced her own attitude: "The fact that a person who hardly knew how to read would take the trouble to buy a paper and then spend hours reading it meant it was something important." The difference between father and daughter reflects the generational experience as people moved to urban areas and education became compulsory after 1971.) Some of the young adults do describe their parents modeling newspaper use and, for instance, mention that adults often conversed about what they had read in the paper (23.3).

Regarding their middle childhood, the Americans describe lower institutional support for newspapers in school (but not elsewhere), express resentment over homework, and report cheating to evade the assignments. The Americans present a scene of conflict and economic activity surrounding newspapers, in contrast to the Spanish emphasis on persuasive modeling and critical training. Yet the Spaniards’ experiences may have been constrained by political circumstances. As an urban male regular reader, 26, recalls, "My school years coincided with our transition to democracy, which meant that my teachers used the newspaper with real caution."


Transition to Adulthood

The Spaniards describe moving smoothly into newspaper reading, where the group in the United States followed a rocky and often unsuccessful path. The few Americans who conquer what most consider a dull and ungainly product tell dramatic conversion stories. Only a quarter of the Spanish participants describe the newspaper as boring (26.7 percent), and a few say they always found it interesting (6.7). They seem satisfied that adults read newspapers and accept reading as the mature thing to do. Several aspects of the content and format contribute to their successful transition into adult reading.

The Spaniards conceive of newspapers primarily as an information source (93.3 percent); the Americans largely do not (5.5). (All the essays by older Spaniards define the paper that way.) A few Spanish essays mention the difficulty of reading the newspapers, but lacking a store of factual knowledge does not produce the series of attempts and failures the American essays describe. The Spaniards usually expend not so great an effort (and show none of the self-righteousness found among the American readers):

Little by little I adopted my family’s tradition of reading the newspaper over breakfast, until I got to the point where now if I don’t read the paper at breakfast, it’s like having coffee without sugar. By fifteen I remember being caught up completely in the tradition.—an urban female, 19

Although their progress toward more demanding content develops in parallel with Americans — from softer, more familiar stories gradually to national and international events — the Spaniards focus more on news and less on the entertainment. The comics, for instance, enter only occasionally into the Spanish narratives (which refer to a generic pastimes page containing games and puzzles). What attracted and held the Spaniards’ interest was hard news. Not all the essays address the subject (63.3 percent), but of those who do a majority call news the primary draw (68.4). A smaller share keys their interest to sports (21.0), and the remainder say they prefer other subjects, such as arts and leisure.

The tabloid format helps the Spaniards move from softer content (in the back of the single section) to serious news (in front). American broadsheets actually create a barrier to that progress by separating different kinds of news physically into sections. The Spaniards often describe the habit, what a male regular reader, 24, calls his mania "for reading the pages backwards, that is, starting from the back."

News of local places and people attracts young people in both countries. An urban female, 21, says, "My mother always kept them on the dining room table, and I leafed through them because I liked seeing the pages with places and people I knew." Among the minority who describe memories of a first story (13.3 percent), a few recollect seeing their family or friends in the paper, just as the Americans did.

I don’t remember the first paper I read entirely but can recall one of the first I bought, looking for a picture of my school Ping-Pong team, so I started buying papers out of sheer vanity. —an urban male regular reader, 26

That closeness to home, what journalists call proximity, provides a universal hook — for some a school paper, for others a local paper — but living in Spain provides an expanded sense of the local. The Spaniards include not only such events as a plane crash in a nearby airport but occurrences throughout their country (which is no larger than a state or region of the United States), such as the Pope’s visit, and even international news, such as malnutrition of children in Africa, happens fairly close by.

A sense of the newspaper as informative, an amenable format, and proximity to other countries all build on the Spaniards’ newspaper experiences in childhood. In the end, they simply became readers, often as pre-teens (unlike the U.S. group). "When I began to acquire a ‘certain taste’ for the harmless vice of reading the press," says an urban male, 23, "I was about eleven years old." As young adults, a majority of the Spaniards say they read the paper habitually (53.3 percent), and another quarter regularly (26.7). The remainder say they read occasionally, and none reports being non-readers. (Almost all the older participants say they read the paper habitually [6.2 days "last week"].) Only one essay by a young adult contains any of the shame or embarrassment for sometimes failing to read the paper (an emotion found more often in U.S. essays).

The Spanish participants say they read the paper regularly (5.4 days), uniformly across gender, age, and parental education, with one exception: hometown size. On average, the city-dwellers say they read the paper habitually (5.7 days). The lower rate of readership among town-dwellers (4.9), although not extreme, reveals the status of newspapers. Several of those from small towns or rural areas describe the newspaper as a accouterment of "the upper class," as a 25-year-old male puts it, "that is, those who read newspapers were cultured, intellectuals, and people with money." Participants from the provinces describe their interest in newspapers as part of a process of self-improvement, to lift themselves out of a marginal world into the mainstream. (An essay by an older provincial male, 49, says that "newspapers had an immense attraction, they were the door opening onto a new and unknown world.")

The smooth and direct move into readership among the Spanish provides an extreme contrast to U.S. examples of bumps and failures. Both cases, however, share a key attraction: the importance of softer, local news. Coverage touching on young people’s lives in Spain, as in America, gave the participants the surest entrance into the newspaper reading habit.



The participants adopt a sophisticated stance toward newspapers, calm and accepting but not uncritical. They actively compare various news sources and read newspapers with a bemused skepticism and tolerance. The frequent changes in design and reduced format, as well as the ideological differences among newspapers, invite greater awareness of how journalists construct news. The Americans, by contrast, adopt a stance fraught with internal conflict before journalism they see as monolithic. The U.S. essays protest too much — how unimportant the newspaper is, how little it influences them, and how indifferent they feel toward it — and then contradict themselves, citing specific examples of its influence on their actions.

The Spaniards consider the press important but not as a guide to conduct. Many more of them deny the influence of newspapers on their actions (66.7 percent) than do the Americans. The Spaniards less often call newspapers unimportant in their current lives and rarely report an attitude of indifference. Their essays are also much more consistent. Fewer describe any actions the newspaper influenced (10.0), and none of these goes on to deny the influence (a contradiction common to the American essays). The Spaniards offer a balance, one sixth expressing positive attitudes toward newspapers and another sixth providing specific critiques. (The essays by the older generation take this even further, most offering praise while many offer criticism, often along with praise.) Almost half the young adults reply on the questionnaire that they consider news accurate only "some of the time" (46.7 percent), and they rate the overall job of the news media just below the midpoint (2.4 on a four-point scale) between "excellent" and "poor." Their attitudes come out in the essays:

At home we always buy one paper, not because it seems the best, since there isn’t one that we like everything about. You could say that it’s the one we dislike the least. Many times they publish stories in a way we disagree with, such as getting the facts wrong about a demonstration when they estimate the number of people. But each paper has its own morality, and I understand that, so I enjoy comparing newspapers. It’s the easiest way to get close to the truth. —an urban female, 21

An important component of the young adults’ sophistication comes to light when they enter into comparisons of the various news outlets. A third of the essays do so. They compare national to local newspapers, newspapers to radio coverage of the same events, and television news to the printed press. A 20-year-old female writes, "I figured out that simply the order that stories appear in two papers revealed a discrepancy in their editorial principles." A male regular reader, 24, says "television has made it so these days people take a different attitude toward the press, that of critical reflection about the events carried out before our eyes." With the newsstand as the primary distribution point, the Spaniards confront a wider array of choice and comparison each day.

They declare their skepticism much more often (46.7 percent) than do the Americans (13.4), and a qualitative difference emerges as well. Where the Americans express an almost cynical doubt about newspapers, the Spaniards seem matter of fact. Of course newspapers give a limited view of the world, the Spaniards imply, and of course they cannot be relied on completely — one cannot be gullible. "Newspapers aren’t infallible Bibles whose arguments we must believe and follow in lockstep. You have to be critical of the critics and benefit from their arguments when adopting one position or another," writes an urban male regular reader, 26, who also thanks "the press for stimulating in me the ideal of tolerance, of listening to different opinions without prejudice, and for sharpening my critical sense, including toward the news itself." Tolerance emerges as another theme in the Spanish essays. An urban female occasional reader, 21, says, "It has helped me broaden my view of the world and see that there are a lot of people, all very different. This wider view has made me more tolerant of those around me." Such expressions, quite common in the Spanish essays, hardly enter the American ones.

The Spaniards’ sense of the constructedness of newspapers might result from the process of change that ended broadsheets in Spain. More than half of the essays note changes in the visible form of papers (56.7 percent), and they most often cite the change in format (52.9). They say they felt surprise when papers reduced their size. One suburban female, 21, says her first impression was "that they didn’t have as many things to report," but then she found "reading much more manageable." A large share also recall the shift from black and white to color printing (41.2). The American essays hardly note any design or format change. The Spaniards, in response to the flow of changes in their newspapers, build an expectation for more. A female regular reader, 24, notes the "modern formats, new styles, and very different looks" add value, "so that newspapers don’t get monotonous." An urban male occasional reader, 21, says, "The newspaper I read even now continues changing and searching constantly for a more agile form that allows it to reach the public in the most direct way." Such young readers convey a sense of riding the wave of change.

The sophisticated attitude also emerges when the participants describe the ways newspapers affect their moods. About half report some type of emotional influence (56.7 percent), and of these almost two-thirds say they experienced anger or disgust (64.7). In most cases, this feeling amounts to an annoyance at the depravity of humanity, but sometimes the participants say the manner of reporting, rather than the content, annoys them. For example, several of the essays written by those living in the Basque Country point out how their experience differs greatly from the impression newspapers give of constant violence by ETA, the Basque separatist group. A few of the Spaniards say they feel fear or happiness (10.0 percent), but twice as many report sadness, usually over the state of the world. Here again, news of ETA plays a role. An urban male, 23, says, "I felt terrible anguish" after reading the newspaper account of an ETA car bomb that killed two people.

Finally, a common mood among the Spaniards, absent among the Americans, describes the tranquillity a newspaper encourages, for which they use the English term relax. (This mood also turns up in essays by older adults. For example, an urban female, 36, who reads regularly, describes it as "a moment of leisure and introversion. It gives me a secret pleasure to read the paper abstractedly in a green space, a cafe, or a public bench in the sun.") Although the U.S. newspaper essays lack any specific reference to relaxation, they do come across as much more serene than the counterpart essays on newscasts. The newspaper experiences for both countries have that tranquillity in common. Despite the presence of political violence within Spain, for instance, the Spanish newspaper essays do not mention fear as often as do the American newscast essays.

In contrast to the U.S. approach, press policies in Spain encourage a sophisticated stance. The ideological clarity of Spanish newspapers positions readers at the nexus of political choices, a freedom echoed in the form of newsstand distribution, and the format and design changes clarify the inventedness of the newspaper form. The participants respond to news as mediator, not as the neutral conduit the Americans see in the U.S. press.



The political experiences in the essays often spring from the way newspapers take a more strongly partisan stance in Spain than they do in the United States. The Spaniards have a three-step recipe for handling the outpouring of partisan news. First, some of them use several news sources:

Luckily my own political opinion doesn’t derive from reading just one daily because, as I said, I usually go through several throughout the day, and . . . I squeeze out what I consider the most . . . closely adjusted to reality. —an urban male, 28

Second, they employ their knowledge about the political leanings of each paper. "Knowing more or less the ideologies of the newspapers in my country, I try to read critically," writes an urban female, 20, who concludes that "not all politicians are as good or as bad as they appear." Some essays list the papers they prefer as a way of describing their own political position, rather than the other way around. Saying one always reads El País, for example, reveals a preference for the left-wing liberal interpretation of events, whereas a dedication to ABC suggests a disposition to conservative and monarchist interpretations.

With a clear sense of the differences, the Spaniards say that, third, they then contrast what they learn from the news, especially about political matters. "What I do is read and compare so that I can act in the most balanced manner, according to my personal convictions," says a suburban female, 21. That personal compass helps them retain a discriminating distance. As a rural female, 22, puts it, "Reading the newspaper has . . . helped me get a more critical view. . . . I’ve arrived at the conclusion that many times it’s best to read without getting too caught up." Especially during elections, writes a female regular reader, 21, "I think . . . the facts and opinions are the least trustworthy, due to the number of interests that hide behind that information."

Sometimes participants say the news discourages them, especially considering what a male regular reader, 25, calls "the role certain papers played in our country during recent years by denouncing cases of corruption." Disappointment with politics comes more often from women. "In my political views, reading the daily paper has filled me with irony," writes an urban female occasional reader, 21. "I think it’s better to take it with humor." On the whole, the essays by women seem slightly less politically oriented than do those by men. The difference also turns up on the questionnaire item for political interest (men 1.2 and women 1.5, on a three-point scale of "very," "somewhat," and "not at all" interested).

In the end, the competing political ideologies in a variety of newspapers, along with some citizens’ skills at parsing the messages they read, may build a stronger connection to politics. In fact, the young adults seem to connect with politics more through newspapers than they do through political parties, for which they say they have little sympathy. Only a minority express an affinity with any of the three main political parties, socialist PSOE, leftist IU (both 10.0 percent), or conservative PP (13.7), and fully half leave the item blank or wrote "none." Yet almost all rate themselves "very" (80.o) or "somewhat" (36.7) interested in politics.



It comes as no surprise that the Spanish participants become newspaper readers while the Americans do not. The Spaniards give the impression of participating from their earliest years in a family project to bring them into the newspaper habit at home, placing them, of course, within the minority in a country without widespread newspaper reading. The young adults remember their parents as not pushy or nagging but encouraging, a result that confirms Mannheim’s (1952) observation of how rarely didactic approaches work in transmitting values between generations. The process comes clear in this extended example:

I remember that my parents used to read me the strange and odd events that happened, from briefs on the last page, and they also explained any important news they’d read. They also urged me to read the paper. They would say, "Oh, did you read this or that happened?" as if for me to have read it were an ordinary thing. That way they encouraged me to take the time, because it was really interesting. They still do that, but now I almost always say yes, I’ve already read it. What was certain was that I didn’t especially like reading the paper. I could read one or two articles but I got tired right away. —an urban male, 24

The essays also say that newspapers enjoy substantial support from teachers. Unlike the American model of homework, Spanish schools make daily newspaper reading appear painless, through in class activities and the reinforcement of teachers’ behavior. The media literacy approach, teaching children a critical distance from the press while emphasizing the importance of things reported there, appears to produce more assiduous reading, rather than the opposite.

The teacher’s idea for the class was for us to read a lot of papers of different ideological stripes, to analyze events from different points of view. I refer to this because it was when I changed my attitude toward newspapers. From then on, they interested me much more and I read them differently. I focused on the editorials, as well as on the political stories and their different interpretations. —a female, 27

The material side of the press encourages reading in Spain. Newspapers all have a manageable format, and almost all have reduced the problem of ink rubbing off on the hands. Regular redesigns, whatever their meaning to older readers, appeal to these young adults, who express impatience with papers that fail to ride the wave of change. Clear competition at the newsstand also helps build their interest. From a wide selection — national, regional, and local dailies augmented by sports and business papers — some young adults purchase several, just to see how a story gets covered (this despite the high cover price, usually more than a dollar a copy). The competition seems not to have degenerated into pandering, although a few of the essays mention a recent shift toward more graphic and disturbing coverage. The local paper "has tended to become more aggressive," says an urban female, 19: "All you have to do is compare the same news story in different newspapers." An urban male, 24, writes that as newspapers try to sell serious news by running it "between curiosities and lighter news, . . . entertainment slowly takes over."

These differences teach some important lessons for newspapers in the United States, despite the contrast in social settings and the Spaniards’ exceptional access to news, education, and other advantages. Local newspaper monopolies typical in America probably do not encourage readership among the young, but neither do competing papers unless they have ideological differences obvious enough for readers to perceive a difference and sustain the variety. A clear ideological line, which some U.S. editors might fear would drive readers away, apparently has the opposite effect in Spain. Support from parents and from teachers seems to spring from or respond to the sobriety of the Spanish press as well as its commitment to a political point of view regardless of economic consequences. At school, the U.S. curricula that emphasize doing the hard work of reading at home probably backfire and create resentment. On the other hand, American resistance to media literacy curricula, because of fears that they will produce troublesome, critical readers, do just that in Spain, with the effect of increasing their interest in newspapers. The empowered readers read more. Finally, although they like the smaller format and regular design change, the young Spaniards respond with suspicion to efforts that sell the news by packaging it for entertainment value. Their sophistication as readers produces just the sort of tolerance that political theorists expect from a free press in democratic societies — a hopeful outcome of ideological competition, media literacy, and design innovation.

The similarities between the U.S. and Spanish groups, although far fewer, have more to teach. In both countries, the fate of newspapers parallels their respective abilities to make news reading a daily ritual at home. Including newspapers as a constant presence in the schools also seems uniformly crucial. The routines of publication and the schedules of production and delivery — the temporal bases of newspapers in modern societies — are just what new electronic versions of newspapers conspicuously lack. Information without a physical form that must get manufactured on regular deadlines may float unattached to temporal processes until readers or electronic publishers invent some other ritual as a replacement.

The same content of the newspaper — another commonality — appealed to the young adults in both countries. News in the paper had to touch close to their lives in each case. Both groups find themselves drawn into the newspaper specifically (as opposed to other news sources) through stories involving people and places they know. Newspapers have other strengths. Americans as well as Spaniards mention the power of news to recognize events as important and make people seem worthy. At the same time, the content encouraged a placid response: newspapers did not in either country produce the fear incited by American newscasts (Barnhurst & Wartella, 1998). In general, when the newspaper’s strengths as a setter of daily ritual, as a giver of status, and as a facilitator of calm rationality combine with truly local news content that overlaps the social worlds they inhabit, young adults become readers.

The similarities in the two groups could provide a list of goals for the American press: altering the regulatory environment, the structure of the industry within local and national markets, as well as the content of news and the format for presenting it. Newspapers in the United States would have to make a host of changes at every level to replicate the Spanish experience. Such a wholesale revision of the American press seems well beyond reasonable expectations for printed newspapers, but perhaps not for electronic forms. The comparison of narratives from Spain and the United States does help account for the failures and successes of newsprint among young citizens, pointing to ways publishers can convey the political information needed to sustain democratic participation.



The young Americans in previous research (Barnhurst & Wartella, 1998) seemed to resist the idea of writing a life history with newscasts, but the stories they relate reveal various conflicts with what they consider a powerful political actor. They see themselves as weak compared to television news, which they then attack with all sorts of criticisms of bias, sensationalism, and triviality. The Spaniards take a greatly different view that leads them to feel empowered themselves. That central story emerges from the details reported in this section.

One general observation deserves mention as preface: The forms of news they encounter seem implicated in the ways the young adults in both countries think and talk about their experiences. Depending on which medium they describe, the participants have different ways of writing. About a third of the Spaniards (twelve in all) volunteered to write two life histories, one about newspapers and the other about newscasts. The two essays by a single writer have a consistency of skill, language, and complexity, and those who write at length tend to do so for both topics. However, most of the television vignettes they tell are slightly shorter (and within shorter paragraphs). The ease of simply referring to images, as well as the abrupt shifts in topics, result in essays that do not run quite as long, regardless of which essay comes first or whether the writer makes small economies by referring in one essay to things already related in the other.

On the whole, the television essays seem less detailed, tend to mention more images, and tell less elaborate stories with thinner descriptions — a pattern similar to that found in the American essays. The contrasts require more formal study, because language differences make comparing essays from the two countries difficult. At least within each national setting the structures of the medium, or perhaps the habits of thought each encourages, appear reflected in the ways the young adults write about their experiences. In short, the forms of news may delimit how people understand their political worlds.


The News Ritual

The ritual that participants describe for watching television news appears much stronger in Spain than in the United States. The differing historical development of television, as well as the cultural heritage in Spain, makes watching newscasts a universal practice, reinforcing the importance of family routines for the success of televised news.

Compared to the history of the U.S. medium, television entered Spain later and the industry converted to color more recently, producing among the participants a greater awareness of the television as a material object. Some of the Spaniards (12.5 percent) use that sense of the TV set to begin and frame their essays (none of the U.S. essays do):

It’s easier to remember when you got your first television set or when you changed from black and white to color (I was nine), just as it’s not easy to remember when you saw a car for the first time, although you can always remember the first one you owned. —an urban male, 21

Such material memories extend to the appearance of the newscast. "I remember that they began with a clock that covered the whole screen," says another urban male, 21, "which we used to check our own to see if it was exactly on the time shown." An urban female, 21, recalls that "the broadcast had only one person and was presented about like the radio news used to be, reading from a sheet of paper." Another says the news "seemed made by hand."

In national custom, watching television news became deeply entrenched in Spain. The midday break from work for many Spaniards runs from one and four o’clock, and the afternoon news at three consistently ranks among the highest rated television programs. "It seemed incredible that my grandparents ate lunch and dinner as fast as possible so they could watch the news," says an urban female regular viewer, 25. "At home it wasn’t such an obsession, but we did always eat lunch with the national news in the background." An urban female, 19, says, "At home the television news has always been sacred, at midday as well as in the evening. Whenever the symphonic theme music came on at home, the living room fell silent."

(The television ritual dates from the childhood of this generation, because a majority of essays by older adults say they specifically did not watch at a routine time and place. In the Franco era, not everyone owned a TV set. "The only television in my village was owned by the parish church," says a rural female occasional viewer, 41, "and we would go there to watch, paying in advance." The older adults also note the greater appeal of news during the transition. "My interest in TV news," writes a male regular viewer, 43, "surged as soon as the Franco dictatorship ended. Since that moment I’ve watched newscasts with real interest as often as possible."

Although just about everyone adopted the news-viewing habit after Franco’s death, attention to broadcast news has even older roots. An earlier generation became attracted through radio in the 1930s. Their grandchildren, the young adults in the study, describe the grandparents’ current habit of watching el parte and comment on the name, derived from the Spanish Civil War, when people called radio bulletins from the front el parte militar.

The strength of the family news practice produced some conflict, the essays say. Describing the news anchor, an urban female, 21, says, "How could a lady that my parents didn’t even know personally get more of their attention than I, their own daughter?" Almost a third (31.3 percent) mention feeling resentful of parents for their news-watching habit, a rate greatly surpassing the very few such expressions in the U.S. television essays. History there intervened, with the process of adding more television sets to the home giving Americans the option to choose other programs. Multiple TV sets came later to Spain and hardly get mentioned. The participants say that in small urban apartments they had few alternatives. "For the smallest ones this began the most painful thirty minutes of the entire day," says an urban female, 21. "It was a torture to not be allowed to talk or squeal for such a long time."

The Americans faced frustrations not only with both parents, who dictated which program to choose, but also with their fathers, who relaxed with the news while mothers cleaned up. When such differences appear in their essays, the Spaniards either do not remark on or do not make much of them. The Spanish state monopoly until the 1990s had no commercial competition, making the news on Televisión Española (TVE1 or La Primera) the news. A further American frustration, with the racism of newscasts, receives no mention at all among the Spaniards.

A combination of some gender equality and fewer contested role norms tends to mute the feminist reaction to news watching in Spain. In many cases participants describe home routines that included women and men equally. Newscasts themselves also included women. The state channel had female anchors from the participants’ earliest memories. Since the addition of a second state channel and three private channels, women continue in anchor positions, although usually in secondary posts (presenting the sports segment, for example, or the weather, both of which appear in national newscasts). The Spanish women also accepted male prerogatives with tolerance. A suburban female regular viewer, 25, says that "it was one of the few things my father always wanted to watch, because the rest of the programs on television didn’t interest him much."

Even when the essays mention being told to be silent during the news (21.9 percent), the demand reiterates the communal quality of the activity. An urban male, 24, says, "I remember that when it didn’t interest me and I’d start to talk, my grandparents and parents would all go ‘Shhh!’ and I had to be quiet." No essays mention parents getting angry in the authoritative way found in the U.S. cases. The Spanish group also recalls that conversation reinforced the news-watching ritual (9.4 percent), which hardly receives notice in the U.S. group.

During the midday meal, someone in the family would bring up a topic of conversation and refer to what they would see on television. That way I kept getting more interested in the news and in what happened in the world, because if not, I would never understand the conversations at home. —an urban female, 20

Frustrations the Americans felt led them to a feel indifference toward newscasts. Even with the relatively high level of childhood frustration, only some of the Spaniards express indifference (9.4 percent). The ritual in Spain had largely the opposite effect. An urban male, 24, writes, "A lot of times I could stand watching the newscast because, if all the grown-ups were full of interest and anticipation, they must have been expecting something."

Outside the Home. The Americans describe a variety of ways institutions reinforced news watching. Many remember watching newscasts in school, usually aimed at having fun and entertainment. The Spanish essays reveal much less institutional activity supporting television news. A majority say newscasts never had any role at all during school (71.9 percent). (An even larger share of older Spaniards agree.) "It’s true that in some courses like language arts they covered some things about news," writes an urban male, 21, "but they were almost always related to newspapers rather than to televised stories."

When they mention in-school experiences, only a minority say they ever watched news at school (9.4 percent). A few mention role-playing (6.3). One participant, 24, says her class had an assignment to "act out the work of television journalists, although without knowing anything about the technical process." Such tasks took a fairly serious tone, not meant to entertain. The activity the Spaniards most often cite, class discussion (9.4 percent), trained them to think critically and present articulate arguments about the news. Teachers, often in language arts classes, explained the ways newscasters "employed the language," says a 24-year-old participant. The approach goes without mention in the U.S. essays, where the only discussion they note happened in the school yard.

For homework, fewer of the Spaniards report assignments involving TV news (9.4 percent, and 56.3 deny receiving such assignments). (Even more of the older Spaniards concur.) A few young adults who did have homework describe how their families worked with them. One participant asked to watch a news story on an assigned subject says —

I sat with my father and, with great patience, he started to translate the news into a more understandable language. . . . But he not only told me what they said but also tried to reconstruct the history, so I could contextualize the news story. —an urban female, 21

Although not in schools, watching the news did occur in other public places, the essays emphasize. An urban female, 19, says, "I discovered that the newscast was sacred not only at my house, but anywhere else you went — everybody was paying attention, at my grandmother’s, my friends’ houses, or any restaurant or cafeteria."

The newscast ritual emerged primarily outside of school life in Spain. The television essays mention class discussions, role-play, and homework assignments much less often than the newspaper essays do. The symbolic environment of Spain in that respect matches what the U.S. groups describe. While reaching a much wider audience, Spanish newscasts receive a much lower level of support that do newspapers in the cultural values the essays describe.


Generational Memory

Television news emerges in the previous study as a force that — through an initial major news story — helps young adults identify with their generation (Barnhurst & Wartella, 1998). The U.S. essays focus on the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger as the event to catch attention. Coming from a wider span of ages (eleven years instead of six), the Spanish essays do not agree on a single first event. In those recalling a first story (43.8 percent), three major events stand out. The story most often cited (12.5), the death of Generalísimo Franco, lasted more than a month in 1975, prolonged as doctors went to extraordinary measures under pressure from those wishing to extend the Falange regime (Sinova, 1995). The final announcement left a strong impression:

I do remember one image . . . that had an impact. It was of Carlos Arias Navarro [the head of government] crying before the camera as he announced the death of Franco. I’ve seen that image many other times, but I believe that the reiteration has served to reinforce in memory that first time it appeared. —an urban male, 24

The young adults also say they (like the American group) shared a universal response with family and friends. A 24-year-old female remarks that after the announcement, "I recall my parents’ faces marked with fear for what would happen next."

The event occurred very early in the lives of many participants, some of whom instead refer to one of two subsequent incidents (each 9.4 percent). Regarding one, the attempted coup d’état in 1981, a rural female, 22, says, "I remember having seen the news about the golpe de estado of February 23." The essays cite the image of Lieutenant Colonel Antonio Tejero firing shots in the chambers of Congress, with the TVE1 cameras broadcasting live. Others cite, without elaboration, the election of Felipe González and the socialist party (PSOE) in 1982.

The important moments in Spain’s transition to democracy contain the qualities also found in the U.S. first-story accounts. The essays do not for the most part describe the event, but instead merely point to its name or date or principal protagonist. In most cases, the Spaniards say they experienced the event as communal, not in the schools, where the U.S. students watched the shuttle explode, but at home with the family. Both groups remember the event primarily as visual — in Spain an image of Franco, the King, the Colonel, or Felipe González, with another telling detail such as tears or senators diving for cover. Finally, the element of surprise comes through in both groups. Even for Franco’s death the actual moment, although not unexpected, caught some families with one member away.

Among the other first news events they recall, a few mention the shuttle explosion that plays so prominently in the U.S. group. Whatever the event, the participants all assign similar meanings to their first news story. Besides defining the event as universally shared and understood, they center the retelling on the operation and importance of the news media. Repetition also plays an important role. "I no longer remember if I saw it the year it happened," says a 19-year-old female. "They repeat it almost every year." Finally, the essays follow a pattern of mentioning discussion, which reinforced the event, its significance, its universal interpretation and emotional charge. The shared understanding of a key moment (and in some cases the same moment) in their interaction makes television news central to forming a generation’s identity.

Becoming a Viewer. A majority of the U.S. television group reports regular or occasional news viewing, and the group’s essays generally do not describe any rites of passage leading to a commitment as a viewer. None of the American television essays tells a story of trying to join the audience and failing, unlike their counterpart newspaper essays. Although less tortured than the accounts of the U.S. newspaper group, the television essays by Americans report a variety of tensions and conflicts. Many recall their parents urging them on, and some complain about the nagging. Others say they faced social pressure from overachieving relatives or friends. Those who acquire the habit write with derogatory language — far from the self-righteous attitude among the U.S. newspaper readers — identifying their high level of news viewing as an addiction, with binges or other extreme swings from time to time. Little wonder they grew into an inconsistent and desultory habit of attending to newscasts.

The Spaniards acquired a much higher commitment to watching the news, without much anxiety or complaint. According to the questionnaire, they watch daily for the most part. Many identify themselves as habitual viewers (78.1), and of these, most say they watch every day (84.0 of habitual viewers). Regular viewers make up the next largest group (18.8), only one reports viewing only occasionally, and none reports not watching at all. The only difficulty they cite, newscasters’ use of complex language, turns up infrequently. "It was a challenge to connect with what they tried to say and keep up to date was a difficult task," says an urban female, 20. "I think only now am I really understanding the news."

The Spaniards say they reached high levels of viewership without much parental urging. Only a minority of the essays say their parents gave any overt encouragement (18.8 percent), and nearly as many say their parents did not encourage them at all (12.5). They rate the level of parental encouragement at the midpoint (3.0) on the questionnaire, indicating their parents neither encouraged nor discouraged them. The neutral rating makes sense. With the custom of news watching a given, parents have little reason to urge it on the young. A majority call the news a constant, repetitive presence during their middle and late childhood (78.1 percent).

The content of news programming more often provides the impulse. Several essays mention one particular program: "I remember from a very young age my parents watching ‘Informe Semanal’. I didn’t know what it was, but there were some reports I liked," says an urban female, 21. "At home ‘Informe Semanal’ is something of an institution." The Saturday evening program appears to have the same traditional position among Spanish TV news magazines as held in the United States by "Sixty Minutes" (which no American essay mentions). The Spanish program runs more to documentary without a hard news treatment:

One Saturday, during those cold, boring winters of my adolescence, I found myself wide-eyed, watching a story from "Informe Semanal" and without realizing it I got caught up in those reports. I still didn’t like the regular newscasts, but on Saturdays I had a regular date to get to know the world. —a female regular viewer, 26

Most participants do not mention the age at which they began watching news for their own interest, rather than as part of the family ritual. Those who do, specify an age ranging from nine to sixteen. Of course, a strong family tradition makes the issue moot in most cases. The essays more often say when the news they watched daily simply began to interest them. Some call their own progression normal. "I’ve always chosen freely the programs that were broadcast," writes a suburban female regular viewer, 25. "At first I liked the children’s shows, later I preferred movies, and finally news programs began to interest me."

In sum, the Spaniards write without the disparaging comments of the U.S. newscast viewers and without the self-righteous tones of the U.S. newspaper readers. None of the Spaniards expresses regrets, apologies, or hostility for failing to view (of course, all but two watch news at least regularly). From a young age, the participants consider news viewing an activity for adults (37.5 percent of the essays mention this explicitly), and the general tenor of the writing seems to accept the news as the natural avenue toward adulthood. The routine at home grew uneventfully into an adult habit.


Form & Content

The young Americans previously studied do not recall many changes in the look of news. They consider newscasts information, especially appreciated for its visual form, and they have regrets for missing the show. Their preference for news and weather (in that order) reinforce the sense of the centrality of news.

In contrast, the Spaniards consider newscasts with somewhat more reserve. They less often equate TV news with information (78.1 percent) or remark on missing the broadcasts (perhaps because they simply miss it infrequently). Several essays do highlight the value of the visual content of news, just as the Americans do. An urban female, 21, cites the example of getting a sense of other countries. "With the visuals, it’s much easier to remember," she says.

The Spaniards, however, have more awareness of its constructed look, commenting more often on the changes in the newscast (40.6 percent). The end of the dictatorship brought a general thaw in the style of newscasting. "Back then," says one urban female, 21, "the news was cold and distant from the viewer." (The older Spaniards remember the old broadcasts vividly. "The news, back in the time of Franco, was censored and very filtered, and seemed gray and terribly discouraging to me," writes a 40-year-old male. "They presented a Spain in positive stories that seemed dull and ingenuous, and an exterior world in negative ones, as somewhat dangerous . . . .")

The entry of commercial channels in the last five years recently opened the state television stations to competitive pressures, with a resulting increase in sensationalism (Obregón, 1996). A few of the young adults note specific visual and technological changes, but mostly they comment on the accompanying shift in the tenor of news content, from the values of serious knowledge to the values of entertainment, a transformation that mimics Americans newscasts.

Everything now seems more like a variety show, like something serious in content but perfectly planned to keep viewers watching the station. The package shines brighter all the time. The coif of the anchor and the smile of the co-anchor contrast with the quantity of negative images and stories. It’s quite depressing to watch the news these days. —an urban male, 24

Just over half the Spanish essays express a preference for a particular content (56.3 percent), and weather (the Americans’ second favorite segment) figures hardly at all (6.3). In both countries, news tops the list. For some Spaniards, that interest started early:

Since I was small, I paid the most attention to international stories, because I wanted to know the why of things and the world situation. I found it enjoyable getting to know what happened in places with odd names, although at first I didn’t understand a thing. —a female, 22

News shares first preference with sports (both 28.1) among all participants, but by gender the males (like their American counterparts) mention sports most often (37.5, and not one calls news a top preference). The women, on the other hand, list news most often (37.5) followed by sports (25.0), a notable attraction not shared by American women.

When I was thirteen, for fifteen days during the Tour de France I became "glued" to the TV screen. When time came for the news, I’d turn on the telly even though I only paid attention to the last five minutes, when they talked about sports. —an urban female, 21

In some cases, the writers credit interest in sports with leading to their commitment to watch all the newscast, just as in the American examples. "Little by little I began to pick what interested me, at first sports more than anything else," writes a rural female, 22. "Later I began watching the entire newscast."

The Spaniards acquire the habit of viewing with relative ease, primarily through the news and sports, but they also acquire a critical distance. Besides a sense of how journalists construct news (a result of recent Spanish media history), their response to sports stands in contrast to the Americans’ second choice: weather. Sports covers invented games, where weather supposedly reports reality.



The Spanish essays seem reticent to talk about their moods in detail, and fewer of them say that television news changes their emotional states (53.1 percent) than do the Americans. Spanish television, at least before the 1990s when commercial stations appeared, did not emphasize danger and violence, and the essays do not refer to many cases of fear during childhood. The Spaniards, even more often than the Americans, list the various emotions they felt without elaborating. When they do specify, the essays give examples of human suffering, just as the Americans do. For example, an urban female, 21, writes, "The images of the charred bodies affected me so much I didn’t watch the program again for several years."

The emotion the Spaniards most often cite, anger (25 percent), appears more frequently for women (29.2) than for men (12.5), just as in the U.S. group. An urban female, 21, writes, "The images of terrorist attacks and resulting activities always affect me, but instead of fear, they make me feel anger and helplessness, and that sensation stays with me all day." The participants sometimes direct their anger toward government policies and politicians. "The story that made me mad, not that long ago — and I believe it angered not only me but all of Spain — was the coverage of corruption," says a rural female occasional viewer, 23. (The story she cites enters in the next section.) Anger also focuses on the newscasts themselves. An urban male, 21, says the news "provokes my indignation because of the way the stories are treated, usually from the most macabre angle."

Next often the Spaniards cite fear (21.9 percent), but at less than half the rate of the Americans. In contrast to the U.S. group (in which women, especially from the cities, express fear strongly), the Spaniards have no major gap between the numbers of men and women reporting fear or its qualitative expressions. In a typical example, a 26-year-old female regular viewer says, "When the news reports come out about anorexia or depression, the statistics on the incidence of these illnesses are frightening." Such statements cite fear without expressing much emotion.

Sadness, the Americans’ most frequent emotion, the Spaniards cite least frequently (6.3 percent), and happiness gets mentioned more often (12.5). Every instance of these two feelings comes from an essay by a woman (in the U.S. group, only women say they ever felt sad, but men express happiness more often than do women). Daydreaming does not stand out in the Spanish essays, with one notable exception:

I had a dream the day the Berlin wall fell. I was with the rest of the Germans, celebrating the event, and Hitler was there as well, giving a speech and dressed like a peasant with a smiling face. Everybody laughed at what he said. —an urban female, 19

In their emotions, the U.S. group tended to passivity, with men understated in their responses, and women experiencing more volatility. The Spaniards, male as well as female, took a somewhat more active stance, reacting most frequently with anger and newscasts and their content (while understating the passive emotions such as fear and sadness. That pattern extends as well into the actions they take in response to newscasts.

A substantial minority of the Spaniards say TV news did have an influence on their actions (34.4 percent), but none mentions any changes in dress, hairstyle, or tone of voice — the authoritative airs that some American women say they imitated. Nor do the Spaniards mention news affecting any decisions about their present or future jobs or family. They report only one action that newscasts influence: using information in conversations.

If there is something that stands out from watching news on television, it’s the comments we make afterward, whether in the family, with friends or around other people. We have the custom of commenting on a news story and exchanging opinions about it. —an urban male, 23

Another important difference in how the news activates the Spaniards but leaves the Americans reactive appears in the precautions they take. The tenor of fear does not come through among the Spaniards, who mention no precautions and do not appear to share the American fear that one wrong move might spoil their lives. As a result, a majority of the Spaniards (53.1 percent) maintain that TV news does not influence their actions. Like the Americans, they seem dismissive of the idea that news might affect them. Unlike the Americans, they do not then contradict themselves by listing specific ways the news affected their appearance and actions, including major life decisions.


Politics & Media

The young Americans writing about television news report a limited interest in politics to match their moderate viewing habits. Unlike their elders, they tell no stories of using the news to take political actions. The young adults tend to define themselves as ineffectual and relatively powerless, seeing television news (often mentioned with the generic phrase "news media") as a potent political actor. Some essays mention observing cynicism in themselves or in peers as a response to media power and their own political impotence. Although they give a positive overall rating to the job news outlets do, they see entertainment values corrupting the news. Somehow the media, they believe, supplant political parties and weaken political discourse, limiting their own options. Some of the Americans see their only option as a choice between television news and newspapers.

The essays from Spain reveal a stronger interest in politics, which also turns up in the questionnaire. The group has a mean rating between "very" and "somewhat" interested in politics (1.5 on a three-point scale). Although higher than the national average, the rating reflects the group’s median age (21). Surveys indicate that Spanish youth have the highest political interest in the years right after they reach voting age (Instituto de la Juventud, 1991). The participants also link their political interest with media use. In the questionnaire, those "very" interested in politics watch news habitually (6.0 days "last week"), and those "somewhat" interested say they watch somewhat less (5.5). None reports being "not at all" interested in politics.

The Spaniards most often mention a type of action they call a political decision, which they usually define as making a choice between political alternatives. Some essays also mention voting, and several specify other actions. "These days the news still has an impact on me," says a female regular viewer, 26, "and perhaps those are what in a given moment made me try working in a non-governmental organization or making a donation or whatever else to help out." The national survey of political attitudes among the young also measured a high rate of participation (Instituto de la Juventud, 1991). A majority of 18– to 29-year-olds say they voted in elections (69.2 percent), and about half say they usually follow political stories in the media (51.9). Consonant with other statistics, only a small share report joining associations (13.8).

When they talk about politics, the participants consider the use of power central, and they see themselves, not television news, as capable of exercising power. The exception, a 20-year-old female, remarks, "Everyone knows perfectly well how important a politician’s image is when televised. It’s the only medium that they can count on to reach the entire population and share their ideas." Even here the politicians take center stage, not the journalists, and the passage lacks the sort of cynicism found among some Americans. Instead, the Spaniards tend to play down the importance of the news media generally and television news particularly in their political world. They rate the overall job the news media do in Spain (2.4) lower as a result. An urban male, 21, says, "More than a few times the newscasts give too much importance to an exchange of insults between politicians." The Spaniards see the shift toward spectacle in television news as confirmation of their judgment that TV news can play only a partial role in their political thinking.

Such a critical stance toward television news appears to go hand in hand with their own sense of potency and independence. The Spaniards emphasize their own position as decision-makers. "I think the stories get too little coverage to be used as the only base for information," says an urban female, 21. More than a quarter of the essays describe comparing the various news media (28.1 percent). A rural female, 22, says that newscasts led her "to take a more critical view, since the different ways of presenting stories on the different television networks give you contradictory images. Only after thinking about them can you then form your own opinion." The essays also bring newspapers into the discussion. "I always like to watch several newscasts to see the different ways journalists have of narrating the stories," says a suburban female regular viewer, 25. "I also like to contrast this with the press." The Spaniards do not treat newscasts and newspapers as competitors, between which to choose. Instead each news outlet has a use. As do their compatriots who wrote about newspapers, the TV group also takes a sophisticated attitude, judging television news harshly but also acknowledging its usefulness.

I’ve always thought that assimilating information from newscasts is relatively complex. The bombardment of information is so rapid it’s difficult to absorb what they say. Now I also believe it’s much more powerful seeing images on television than reading them in the paper. TV touches my emotional fiber as a spectator. —a suburban female regular viewer, 25

The essays most often cite one political topic: the corruption scandals surrounding the former socialist (PSOE) government (a current issue in the news just after the 1996 election). Revelations by news outlets illustrate the importance of a free press in Spanish democracy, the essays say. More than half of the essays talk about the value of television news (56.3 percent) since the transition to democracy. The scandal coverage, followed by a substantial young adult vote against the socialists, appear to have especially enhanced the participants’ sense of power to make political decisions, independent from the older generation that repeatedly elected socialist governments.

Instead of concluding that the media somehow supplant political parties and weaken political discourse, the Spaniards discount the role of newscasts as only one source among many. They emphasize their own thinking, as well as their ongoing political discussions with family and friends.

Media Criticism. Complaints about bias in media coverage play prominently among the Americans. Women and members of minority groups such as African Americans include examples of discrimination in their essays and vent their harsh judgments of newscasts as a result.

Similar complaints of bias do not play so prominent a role among the Spanish group. Several participants from the Basque region, however, do decry the false impression television reports give of life in their communities.

A person from Jaén, for example, who sees the news, must think that in the Basque country and Navarra we all go around armed and that it’s almost like Bosnia. But if you live here, you realize that’s not reality. —a suburban female regular viewer, 21

In general, however, the essays do not censure newscasts for discrimination. The only example parallel to the U.S. criticisms involves images of women. A suburban female regular viewer, 25, writes: "I remember seeing a room full of men. One of them brought in a girl of seven or eight. They tied her with esparto rope . . . and proceeded to cut off her clitoris." The essay describes this "montage of images," intended to expose discrimination, as an example of the cruelty to women "they show on television every day." Several women complain of the recent turn of television toward shocking or violent news. The essays date the shift to the arrival of competition. They denounce the new commercial channels for trying to attract viewers without considering the repercussions:

What I like least about TV news is how very morbid they are, how, when something happens, they thoughtlessly show it all without thinking of the consequences. They only care about being as dramatic as possible, and sometimes the scenes they show . . . can harm the people involved. —an urban female, 19

Although not as prominent as in the U.S. essays, such complaints mark a shift in the meaning of television news to the Spaniards. Both groups appear to share a sense that news has become degraded under commercial pressures. The transformation that the Americans note, however, has just begun entering the situation the Spaniards describe.



The experience of television news among the Spaniards presents myriad contrasts to the American group. Many of the differences result from the distinct historical contexts in the two countries. The recent change from dictatorship helped produce a more widespread custom of news watching, which some attendant resentment hardly weakens. More of the young Spaniards become viewers without much overt parental encouragement and with little support from the schools. Instead the reinforcement of daily practice builds a deep commitment.

The Spaniards, despite their constant attention to television news, tend to discount its importance. Changes in news form give them a greater awareness of the constructedness of the newscast. The Americans, by contrast, see their preferred content (news and weather) as information about a factual reality and respond with sadness and fear. The Spanish group reacts to news with anger, a relatively active emotion, and the women express less fear. In general, the Spaniards present themselves as more independent of TV news. It influences their actions less often, although they report more conversations about it than the Americans do.

The most intriguing differences occur in the political realm. The young Spaniards, at least in the particular moment after an election, take more interest in politics. They not only engage in discussion but see political decisions as theirs to make. They follow politics and watch TV news more than the Americans do, but at the same time they have a lower opinion of the news media. Where some in the U.S. group feel powerless, the Spaniards do not. They describe themselves as free to make choices and see an array of options for informing themselves. The Americans instead tend to see the necessity of choosing between television and newspapers, and some of them see the media as powerful. By rejecting this view, the Spaniards avoid falling into the cynicism found among the Americans.

The U.S. television news industry cannot, of course, replicate the national historical experience of Spain, but the different experiences the Spaniards report can recommend practices for American newscasters interested in creating a high level of commitment to and critical independence from news. The Spanish example suggests a reasonable alternative to the American definition of a news market, in which television must compete with newspapers in a winner-take-all contest. Such a view probably does not contribute to young adults’ sense of their own options. In Spain the media cooperate as a way of competing in the news arena. Newscasts commonly highlight newspaper stories, show images of the pages, and then go on to illustrate alternative points of view. The practice teaches viewers to read newspapers, watch the newscast, and listen to radio with the intent to learn more by comparing and drawing their own conclusions.

It is tempting to attribute the cross-fertilization among news media to the growing consolidation of media outlets in Spain. However, the television news segments highlight the main stories of all the principal newspapers. In the United States, as a result of cross-ownership such as the Chicago Tribune and the WGN super-station (Channel 9), newscasts plug only the company’s own newspaper and Web version. The case clearly differs in Spain, where anchors present news as a cooperative endeavor in which each medium has its use. Newspapers provide flexibility in time — they await the opportune moment — but their efficiency and convenience define newspapers as private reading. Television news has a program schedule, and that inflexibility in time helps build a family ritual, although it also makes newscasts ephemeral.

By emphasizing and promoting alternative sources, the American news media could provide a sense of abundance and variety similar to what the young Spaniards note. The sacrifice each medium in Spain makes in its own position as an authoritative source is small. The cooperative spirit does not dispense with competition, but highlights it, producing a rising tide of news coverage that lifts all ships, for the young as well as for newspapers, electronic news, and newscasts. The young gain a sense of independence — freedom to explore and make decisions. In the bargain, the news outlets get what they need most, viewers (and readers) who stay attentive and critically aware.

Similarities. The experiences of the American and Spanish groups do have some important parallels. In both settings, a ritual at home supplies the most powerful and universal meanings of newscasts. Viewers acquire the practice through the rhythms of childhood experience. The temporal quality, then, comes not just from the news as something new, but in the daily-ness of the process, especially in Spain. The ritual also involves the presence of parents, who share in witnessing both the news and the family watching the news. In this sense, news watching depends on generational experience. The older generation, in Spain as in the United States, appears to transmit the practice through daily example more than through preachment, as predicted. Schools probably cannot reproduce the experience.

The young generation also brings its common experience to the news, and, in turn, the news of both countries contributes to the memories of the new political generation. The experience of being caught up in a national event occurs in both countries, which tends to confirm the generation-building effect of television news. In some cases, young adults in both countries share the same initial news event. The international reach of some major stories appears to tie young people in what may be an emerging trend toward actual generations, to use Mannheim’s term, that cross national boundaries. That first news story does more than initiate the young generation’s memory. At the same time, the common experience of the two generations, in the presence of news, ties them together in the national political identity, although as Mannheim predicted, their qualitative experiences of the event differ.

At the center of television news stands the image. The young viewers value the images of people and places they would not otherwise know. Such images help them define what belongs within the nation as well as without, to the familiar self and the foreign other. The everyday procedures of news work do not often manufacture the kinds of images vital for linking young people to news. The events that tie the young generation to the old and fuse them all into national consciousness usually happen unexpectedly and overtake the newscasters at the same time. The element of surprise makes a difference. The news that marks a generation’s memory transcends the daily routine of news and leaps outside the boundaries of the newscast as a temporal ritual.

One final commonality, the shift away from serious content and toward the rhythms and style of entertainment in the newscast, plagues both countries. The transformation, quite advanced in America, appears implicated in the dispirited and cynical attitudes among young citizens. The changes young adults observed in Spain presage a similar reaction among the generation to come. The stronger ritual in Spain, as well as the custom of comparing news outlets, has built sturdy links between generations, at least for the young adults studied here. However, the move toward sensational coverage and ratings competition seems most likely, in the long run, to harm Spanish broadcasters — their own reputation and position in the constellation of news options.



When developing the life history technique in the early twentieth century, Herbert Blumer attempted to create a lens for looking at the facts of his participants’ childhood encounters with movies. The idea was simple: just ask them. The critique of empiricism in the intervening years suggests that life narratives, rather than simply reflecting the past, instead operate as a primary tool in the construction of identity in the present. The stories young adults write do reveal the occasional event from history, such as the military coup in Spain, but their importance lies elsewhere. The stories give insight into subjective responses, the meanings and values young citizens assign to events in past.

Their narratives are public documents, not revelations of private goings on. The method of collecting written stories, despite the consistent offer of anonymity, generates an official version of events as the participants would like them seen. The picture they offer of themselves as audience members represents their ideal, along with a frank admission in many cases of how they fall short of that model. In their experiences as citizens and members of media audiences, the young adults depict themselves as public persons. That image comes as close as possible to citizenship, making life histories an appropriate tool for understanding how the young adults explain their identities as citizens. In short, life narratives reveal not historical facts (although they allude to them) but symbolic interpretations, which in turn influence how the young act out their citizenship.

The success of the news industry in America and elsewhere depends on a range of decisions, from editorial content to corporate strategy, which rarely take into account the symbolic worth of the enterprise. As young Americans abandoned news over the past twenty years, the loss, although financial in the short run, has symbolic weight in the long run. Yet research has not usually examined that elusive quality, the subjective value of news. A cross-national comparison of how young citizens understand the news helps fill the gap.

The contrasts between subjective experiences in Spain and the United States shed light on the consequences of a news arena organized for market competition. Some things that American journalists avoid most assiduously may in fact provide antidotes to the declining role of newspapers in the political life of young Americans and to their disregard for newscasts as an alternative. An explicit ideological position seems foremost among them. Reporting that consistently covers events from two opposing sides puts journalists in the role of neutral arbiter and leaves citizens out of the decision-making loop, as mere spectators. In the United States, the ideology of balance makes for powerful journalists but weakened young citizens, who respond by disengaging and in some cases turning cynical. Taking a political position and speaking consistently from it has had the opposite effect in Spain.

Another activity that American journalists avoid may suggest a second remedy: a willingness to talk directly about the competition, its news decisions and ideological aims. When news organizations compete mainly in the market, mentioning the competition becomes a taboo, an unseemly intrusion of money matters into the high-minded business of public information. Fairly uniform coverage, which accompanies the silence about competitors, enhances the authority of journalists as professional news-handlers and leaves citizens with branded versions of what amounts to the same news product. In the United States, the limited choices reduce young citizens to mere consumers, who respond with boredom and indifference. Talking about the many points of view available in competing news outlets creates a vibrant news arena with the opposite effect among elite young adults in Spain.

The similarities in subjective experience between Spain and the United States suggest further remedies. In both countries the key to open newspaper reading and news watching to more young citizens lies in a daily ritual, observed in the example of parents and teachers. Didactic methods such as those employed in recent Newspaper Association of America campaigns seem ill-advised. The results reported here imply that the campaigns would have better success if built from in-school activities rather than homework, and in any case, getting parents to engage with news daily seems essential, and schoolwork ancillary.

As news has become more professional in the United States, journalists have moved away from reporting the local and the particular (Barnhurst & Mutz, 1997), preferring to cover more significant and impressive events. In all the groups studied so far, however, young citizens report that local events most sparked their interest. The trends in American journalism go against the subjective preference for news that stays close to young citizens’ social worlds, reporting on familiar people and nearby places. Refocusing on the local community, as the recent public journalism movement proposes (Glasser, 1999), may help slow the decline in interest among young citizens.

In the context of remedies, it bears repeating that in the groups from both countries, models of entertainment and commercialism for news produce a similar negative response. The young adults’ interpretations bring to mind the logic of the traffic jam. When passing an accident, drivers may prefer not to look but cannot resist. Despite their mounting frustration over so-called gaper’s delay, each car slows down at the scene of mayhem (which always reveals less than it promises). Young adults react to shocking and entertaining news in much the same way, looking against their better will, but resenting their brief union with the crowd. For the purveyors of news, any short term gain in ratings or circulation from such coverage only feeds a long-term malady: the weakening subjective sense of the value first of news to citizens and then of citizenship itself.

All these recommendations interrelate. In the end, the U.S. news industry would be wise to target older adults primarily, organizing all efforts around building a daily habit. Whatever the cost in the near term, seriousness will build a more lasting commitment. Techniques that draw from entertainment and advance commercialism may attract momentary attention from a young audience while doing damage to parents’ willingness to incorporate news into daily living, thus sacrificing the next generation of viewers and readers. American news businesses likewise would benefit by making their usually unspoken ideological stands overt, contrasting themselves clearly and openly to other news outlets. Whether motivated by politeness or professional brotherhood, journalists who fail to highlight honest disagreements about news in effect devalue not only political ideology but also the news itself. News deserves better. Variety and conflict between news organizations create, paradoxically, a cooperative news arena, increasing interest among the public rather than limiting the audience for news.

Building Theory. Besides the policy implications of the research, the Spanish case study and the comparison with the American studies also contribute to theory. Three principal insights deserve elaboration, two that advance existing theories — generations and political participation — and one that builds grounded concepts from subjective experience.

Similarities between the Spaniards and Americans help clarify the role of news in the formation and structure of generations. First, the young adults in each country share memories of particular moments in their national history covered in the news, especially, in the case of Spain, the events in the transition to democracy. That groups from both countries also share memories spanning national borders — such as the explosion of the space shuttle — suggests the emergence of cross-national generations, which were a conceptual impossibility at the time Mannheim wrote. Although probably not sufficient to form an actual generation, their common experience does point to an emerging global news arena and a potential internationalization of citizenship.

Second, the college students in each country might form a distinct unit within their own national generation. A next step should investigate groups of young adults from other socioeconomic levels. In the United States those who enter college form a large unit, but further study could profitably compare them with others who do not. Additional study seems especially appropriate in Spain, where fewer young citizens attend universities and read newspapers. That need does not, however, reduce the importance of an initial comparison of elites in the two countries.

The present study sheds light, for instance, on the persistent puzzle of participation in Spain. How could a citizenry deemed passive on many survey measures accomplish and sustain so successful a transition from dictatorship to democracy? The evidence presented here contradicts the statistics for the population as a whole and expands the understanding of surveys focusing on youth (Instituto de la Juventud, 1991). Instead of the picture of a post-transition generation hopelessly disengaged from politics, the participants (unlike their American counterparts) knowledgeably and willingly tackle political issues, foreign and domestic, while disparaging political parties and even their own government. Clearly the general indicators of knowledge, involvement, and efficacy fail to measure the dimensions of a subjective environment where, to paraphrase the classic statement by V. S. Pritchett, nothing mediates — no association, party, medium, state, or church — between Spaniards and whatever power directs their world.

Finally, the study suggests a concept grounded in the contrast between young Spanish citizens and their counterparts in America. The comparison reveals a pattern in which several aspects of the participants’ responses tend to cluster together in what can be termed a subjective posture. On one hand stand many of the Americans, whom the earlier studies describe as responding with indifference to politics and activism, with resentment toward the media, and with a sense of fear and powerlessness. Another posture turns up in the essays by Spaniards, who have considerable interest in politics leading to activism, view the media with a detached but critical eye, and respond to news by comparing and making choices among political options. The two postures, or clusters of subjective responses, seem to mark endpoints on a continuum.

Certain kinds of enrichment or impoverishment define that range, which, for lack of a better term, might be called subjective affluence. The term affluence, of course, refers here to something other than material poverty. Both countries are relatively well off, and the groups studied enjoy substantial economic advantages. Their differing postures, where the observed personal responses cluster, have striking parallels, however, within the surrounding media environment.

The Americans experienced an arena for news driven by commercial competition. The news media avoid taking overt ideological stands, in favor of a uniform standard of coverage. A market mentality furthermore drives news outlets to employ the techniques of entertainment, along with an emphasis on private tragedy and public violence, to make the news more captivating (that is, to win higher ratings or circulation). The Spaniards experienced a very different news arena. The driving force of partisan ideology aims to present an politically coherent depiction of public affairs, and, moreover, holds up examples of other news media and their differing news judgments.

Of all the evidence presented, recent changes in Spain support most strongly the interpretation that these two arenas mark (in lived experienced) the endpoints on a continuum. Participants describe a shift within the Spanish arena toward the American version of things. They bear witness not only to external events, as media outlets Americanize, but also to subjective events, as the young Spaniards themselves respond to that changing media environment. The subjective postures in the two countries link, not to their material prospects in this case, but with their responses to the symbolic arena. The subjective postures and the news arenas interact and together define the relative wealth of the subjective environment. Despite material abundance, the Americans experience a symbolic poverty, brought on by trends that now have begun spreading to Spain. Further study of subjective affluence could clarify the complex relationships emerging between news and citizens, while examining the long-term consequences for trust and interest in the press and in politics.


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