The News of Your Youth: Memory and Subjective Experience of Time During Major News Events
By Terry L. Britt
The presence of numerous pieces of archival news content online presents an opportunity for online media audiences to re-engage with news events they experienced at various times of life, which can stimulate memory retrieval of both the news event and personal experiences associated with the time of the news event. New media, exemplified by sites like YouTube, may act as a sort of temporal gatekeeper in providing news of the past and promoting cognitive and emotional memory associated with the news event. This study examines this phenomenon through the concepts of autonoetic consciousness (self-awareness in experiential memory content) and the reminiscence bump (a propensity for recalling details of events in one’s youth) with a qualitative interview-based study involving 18- to 23-year-old college students being shown videos of major news events that occurred when they were between 12-19 years of age. Findings show that these videos not only assist in several ways with recall of the news event, but also with memories associated with that time and with self-comparisons of attitudes and feelings about the past news event.
For all the well-documented and repeatedly analyzed information regarding the swift and, oftentimes, traumatic set of procedural, economic, and social changes visited upon journalism by the advances of digital technology and Internet-based communication in the last 20 years, one area that seems to miss out on the conversational limelight is that of the equally dramatic changes in online news content archiving. Digitalization of information in its various forms has also incorporated information that was first produced in the past, both pre- and post-Internet, and this includes film and television archives. In discussing film archives in Australia, Hughes (2016) states that archival materials and records “affirm a verisimilitude to life as it was lived” (p. 254). When it comes to news events of the past, media archives may not be perfect representations of reality, but one would have to wonder where social and individual awareness of the past would be without what we have endeavored to save in some format.
However, with the online tools now available, there may be a more deeply significant and long-term purpose for saving the news of our collective past. With what seems to be an ever-growing corpus of content available through websites and new media-based services, YouTube being one of those (Shohet, 2010), the opportunity for people to engage with online news archives, featuring information about events both small and large in terms of scale, impact, and interest, grows at an equal rate. Understanding the roles of new media outlets, news archives, and their connection to the human mind and memory is the focus of the current study, which employs a qualitative interview method following subject engagement with archived television news videos accessible online. The study utilizes conceptual and theoretical frames from both media sociology and cognitive psychology to explore the purposes and interactions central to news archives and their potential audiences. In this instance, the analytical lens is placed upon archives of news events corresponding with the time of adolescence, which, for the purpose of this study, has been defined as 12-19 years of age, and how online archival content might assist those who use it in reactivating, reinforcing, and reassessing their memories of the news events in question and experiences associated with the same time period of the news event. This study may serve as a springboard for related qualitative and quantitative studies on relationships between human memory and news media, as well as to serve as an exploration into social and individual uses of online news archives and the importance of new media as a tool for distributing archival content.
One of the four main functions of the media is transmission of the social heritage (Lasswell, 1948), which involves communicating information, values, and norms both to those coming into a society from outside and to future generations of a society (Severin & Tankard, 2001). Logically, one method of ensuring that all newcomers into a society will receive information that is integral to maintaining and continuing a social heritage is the formation of an archive. In this respect, media archives constitute a key portion of the information by which societies can create and maintain collective memory, a socially agreed-upon reconstruction of memories of past events or places (Halbwachs, 1946/1992). Contemporary societies place a high value on collective memories of past events (Schwalbe, 2006), and while individual memories of past events may be unique in certain characteristics, they remain born of connections with social units (Halbwachs, 1946/1992). Thus, the media, as a social agent, contribute to collective memory by generating news content about events in the present and maintaining an archive of that content to represent those same events when they become “the past.”
The execution of the archive concept often proves more difficult than one might imagine. In documenting a national effort by the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AIMA) to preserve local television station programming, Cariani (2011) explains that much of the physical media containing locally produced television programming, particularly news programs, “were deteriorating and being discarded at an alarming rate” and, “From the stations’ point of view, tossing it was often easier than saving it” (p. 139). Additionally, television archives, although of great usefulness to media scholars, exist more for their value to media outlets for inclusions in documentaries or other programming, and to audiences within a marketplace as retrospective collections (Scannell, 2010).
While the continued preservation of television news for public access has seen some success through the efforts of both public and private entities—most notably, the archive of national television news programming at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee—the arrival of online-based “new media” technologies seems to have opened new ground for preserving our past. It is one new media conduit in particular, YouTube, that presents itself as a veritable linchpin for this research study and for archiving of televised news events in general.
YouTube as Gateway to the Past
A growing body of literature (Armstrong, McAdams, & Cain, 2015; Gehl, 2009; McKee, 2011; Shohet, 2010) exists on the phenomenon of YouTube as a video-based cultural depository, including content preserving or archiving news events from various countries or societies at different points in time. The video streaming and sharing site, which began in 2005 and was soon acquired by Google (“A Brief History of YouTube,” 2010), has proven to compare favorably with the digital media sites of national archives and even rate stronger in some types of content (McKee, 2011). Issues of digital copyright conflicts often means that what one might find on YouTube one day may not be accessible the next (Patten, 2007). However, Gehl (2009) argues that rather than standing in opposition to corporate media and the digital content rights held by those corporations, YouTube, viewed as an archive, offers the opportunity for corporate media to take on a curation role in selecting and providing access to content through the site. In this sense, YouTube, by example, takes on the purpose of a recently developed tool for a form of digital-age gatekeeping, referring to the original theory developed by social psychologist Kurt Lewin (1943) and pertaining to the process by which the media curates available information and selects messages that reach audiences (Shoemaker & Vos, 2009). However, journalists as information gatekeepers are also in the position of being temporal gatekeepers with regard to how the past, through news events, is presented to audiences. Literature on this type of extension of the gatekeeping process is sparse, but one recent study including one national, one regional, and one local newspaper found a significant increase in time period references, both past and future, in published stories near the end of the twentieth century, with that trend continuing at a faster pace as the newspapers transitioned into their respective digital, online publications (Barnhurst, 2011). The increased access to online news archives may have aided journalists in acting as gatekeepers of the past, but “the modern inclination to refer to other past, present, and future events preceded and likely drove the use of resources the internet made available” (Barnhurst, 2011, p. 116). However, in keeping with traditional gatekeeping practices as well as temporal gatekeeping, online news organizations may choose to limit or ignore archival content. A study of online newspaper websites on the first, second, and third anniversaries, from 2003-2005, of the start of the Iraq War showed a dramatic drop in both use of war images on the websites’ homepages as well as in use of images of past events in the war (Schwalbe, 2006).
The phenomenon being examined through this qualitative, exploratory study concerns the ways in which new media, exemplified by YouTube, functions as a set of tools and channels for a type of temporal gatekeeping. To that effect, audience engagement with archived media content, such as news event-based videos, may activate and retrieve stored memory content associated with the time and place of the news event depicted in the media source. In recent years, this concept of memory-centric outreach to audiences through new media has been latched onto by news organizations; one of the videos employed in this study was found on the official YouTube channel of CNN. In 2013, CBS News marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy by livestreaming the network’s archived broadcasts over a four-day period in November 1963 exactly as television audiences in 1963 saw it—commercials included—and thus provided a time-shifting media event that would have been impossible or unlikely on any previous major anniversary of the news event (Britt, 2015). To further explore this idea and its relationship to human memory content requires establishment of a couple of psychological concepts central to this study.
Autonoetic Consciousness and the Reminiscence Bump
Modern research and theory in cognitive psychology may shed necessary light upon the memory re-engagement and retrieval process sparked by archival media content existent through new media channels. One of the concepts at work here is autonoetic consciousness, a type of episodic, or experience-based, memory that allows humans to consciously move back through a subjective construction of time to events previously experienced, and to do so in a state of self-awareness (Tulving, 1972, 2002). Autonoetic consciousness has also been defined as “based upon a specific human capacity of a self-reflective mental state of self-consciousness within time and other contextual dimensions so that the person virtually can re-experience the event” (Vandekerckhove, 2009, p. 5).
Taking this psychological concept and viewing it through the lens of gatekeeping theory—with new media as the metaphorical mirror—suggests there may be a dual gatekeeping process at work: The media archives acting as a gatekeeper of time and history simultaneous to the audience member’s brain and mind performing a gatekeeping process for his or her own memory content and self-aware experiences connected to the time of an event. For instance, at the actual time of a given news event, the audience member may experience thoughts and feelings connected to awareness of the news event; the person may also engage in conversation or activities with others in response to the news event. Archival media content, consumed at a later point in time, re-establishes the original event to the audience member, enabling him or her to retrieve stored memory content associated with the original event and begin the mental journey back in time through autonoetic consciousness. New media outlets like YouTube did not create the idea of the archive, but has served as a way to open up access to archival material (Gehl, 2009; Hilderbrand, 2007).
The other recent cognitive psychology concept central to this study pertains to human tendencies to store and retrieve a disproportionate number of unique memories from youth and early adulthood, something known as the reminiscence bump (Demiray, Gülgöz, & Bluck, 2009; Janssen & Murre, 2008; Koppel & Berntsen, 2015). This concept, which generally refers to experiences that occur between the ages of 13-30, has also been explored in terms of how much objective and subjective weight of importance humans give to events that occur during the lifespan years associated with the reminiscence bump (Koppel & Berntsen, 2014). The reminiscence bump has also been demonstrated in a pair of studies in which subjects identified a greater number of personally significant songs having been released during that span of life, and that those personally significant songs were more likely to be associated with episodic memories versus non-personally significant songs (Rathbone, O’Connor, & Moulin, 2017). In a similar vein, the aims of the current study focus upon a qualitative analysis of memory content, gleaned through interviews with subjects, formed during the entry and exit points of the teenage years from ages 12-19. The established literature briefly reviewed here produces a need to examine the connection between media’s roles in society, media archives, and human engagement with memory processes that may be initiated and maintained with the assistance of archival news content, and results in the following research questions:
RQ1: How do news video archives help subjects to remember details about news events from their teen years?
RQ2: To what extent does engagement with news video archives assist in subjects’ recall of memories associated with the time of the news event?
RQ3: After viewing news video archives, how do subjects think in the present about past news events, and about any changes in their thoughts and feelings about past news events?
The study utilized a convenience sample of students enrolled in a journalism principles course at a major Midwestern university. Undergraduate convenience sampling for qualitative interview research has been used for studies developing insight into uses of social media (Smith, 2016), experiences in massive open online courses (Shapiro et al., 2017), and online buying behavior of college students (Jadhav & Khanna, 2016). Qualitative interview-based research sheds light on lived experiences of subjects and provides understanding of “particular social phenomena” (Frey, Kreps, & Botan, 2000, p. 273); in the present study, the goal is to understand perceptions of major news events from the perspective of engagement with an online archive and the subject’s own memory of the news event. Additionally, the use of college students at the time of the study is favorable for obtaining more in-depth understanding of how online news archives, such as content presented through YouTube, might interact with memory of news events due to the subjects’ greater familiarity and engagement with new media sources like YouTube (Tapscott, 2009). The students received two points of extra credit for participation in the study or for an alternative assignment of a 250-word short essay about a personal memory of a major national or local news event that occurred when they were between 12-19 years of age. A total of 38 students (female = 27) participated in the study. Students were not asked their specific age, but all participating in the study identified as being between 18-23 years of age; one female student was disqualified from continuing in the study after revealing she had not yet reached her eighteenth birthday. Of the students who did participate in the study, 66% identified as White/Caucasian, 13% identified as Black/African-American, and 13% identified as Asian. Although no adverse psychological or emotional effects were expected from participation in the study, each subject was given contact information for university-based counseling and support services in the event negative psychological or emotional responses did occur during or as a result of participation in the study.
After being briefed with consent information and giving verbal assent to continue with the study, each subject viewed, on a laptop computer, two YouTube-sourced archival news videos correlating with major news events that occurred during the time the subject was between 12-19 years of age. The videos selected for the study included a “highlights” video of CNN’s November 2012 presidential election night coverage in the race that year between President Barrack Obama, the Democratic candidate running for re-election to a second term, and Republican Party challenger Mitt Romney, and an April 2010 video report from NBC affiliate KXAN-TV in Austin, Texas, on potential natural resource and wildlife damages from the BP Deepwater Horizon off-shore oil spill.
These videos were selected for the study on the basis of three criteria: first, they were both major national news events occurring during the chronological period of concern for this study; second, both events were among the top three in their respective years in the Associated Press Editors’ Poll Top Ten News Stories of the Year; third, the videos had been posted to YouTube and were of a nature that spanned no more than eight minutes in duration, or, in the case of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill report, could be edited below eight minutes in duration without any cutting necessary between the start and edited end of the video. This consideration preserved the original uploaded video content as much as possible. Additionally, regarding the second criterion, the principal investigator purposely excluded news stories involving mass shootings or similar acts of violence with multiple fatalities out of concern for negative psychological and/or emotional affect that such news videos might generate within subjects participating in the study. All subjects’ identities remained anonymous within the study, but basic demographic questions regarding age range, race or ethnicity, and gender were asked before subjects’ viewed either of the two videos. During subjects’ viewing of the two videos, the principal investigator stepped away from the immediate viewing area to avoid unduly influencing subjects’ viewing or thought processes during viewing.
Following the viewing of each video, subjects were asked a set of interview questions structured on the topics of memory of the news event featured in the video the subject had just viewed (Example: “What do you remember about the day or time period of this news event?”), personal experiences and feelings associated with the time of the news event (Example: “How did you feel upon first learning of this news event?”), and the video’s impact on memory recall and forgotten details about the news event (Example: “What memories did viewing the video of this news event help you to recall?”). Other questions regarding the subject’s familiarity with the archival news content and consideration of preserving digital content were also asked and an analysis of responses to those questions will be addressed in another article. Subjects were allowed as much time as needed to respond to questions. The principal investigator asked follow-up questions only when needed for clarification of information within responses to the study questions. The same set of interview questions in the same order was used for both videos viewed by subjects. Internal validity of the set of interview questions was ascertained with a pre-test involving two subjects, whose responses were not included in the research analysis. Finding no signs of issues with clarity of wording, meaning, interpretation, or phrasing of any of the questions in the pre-test interviews, the set was deemed valid and continued to be used for the remainder of the study. Subject responses to each question were written by hand on the interview question form and later transcribed manually to an electronic text file. The full set of subjects’ answers for each question was then analyzed both electronically for the presence of common words or phrases throughout the set, as well as analyzed manually by the principal investigator for recurring themes or similarities in answer content that might not be detected through an electronic word-match or word frequency count. Textual analysis of qualitative interview data has been used as a method in a variety of recent studies, including ethical dilemmas of using social networks as information sources (Suárez Villegas & Cruz Álvarez, 2016), the interrelationship between journalism and public relations (Macnamara, 2016), and use of development dialogues in the practice of journalism (Hujanen, 2013).
A manual textual analysis of overall responses to the interview questions after both videos revealed several significant and recurring themes in relation to the research questions. As might logically be expected, nearly all subjects expressed better recall of the more recent event, the 2012 Presidential Election, than the BP Deepwater Horizon’s oil spill in 2010; of the latter event, some subjects expressed difficulty in placing the exact time period (late April 2010). For most subjects in the study, the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill occurred when they were 12- to 13-years-old, while the 2012 Presidential Election occurred when they were between 14- to 16-years-old.
Emotions, Images, and Things Forgotten
In response to RQ1, the interviews revealed a strong link between engagement with the news videos and emotional affect coinciding with the time of the actual news event. In the case of the 2012 Presidential Election, this connection was often expressed by subjects as, “I remember feeling happy,” or “I felt excited,” if one was hopeful for re-election of Barack Obama that year, and expressed feelings of disappointment or resignation if one was hopeful for Mitt Romney becoming President of the United States. One recurring theme in responses regarding the election coverage video was intent to vote for a favored candidate had the then-young teens been eligible to vote in the election. Additionally, some subjects recounted participation in a mock election for President of the United States at their school on Election Day, and those same subjects indicated that they remembered feeling more excitement and interest in the actual election results that evening after participating in a mock election at school.
Remembered feelings of shock, surprise, and confusion dominated responses about memory of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Even in instances where subjects admitted weak overall memory of details of the event, they reported experiencing some type of emotional affect upon first learning of it. In a majority of the interviews, subjects remembered feeling great concern or fear for the effect of the oil spill on birds, fish, and other wildlife, and those subjects also tended to credit the video they had just viewed—one segment of which focused upon the wildlife/natural resources issue—for helping them re-engage with that emotive memory content. Subject 24, an African-American male, recalled the lingering worry he saw from his parents over the potential impact on the seafood industry, noting in the interview, “For a while, they were checking every package of seafood they bought at the store to make sure it didn’t come from Louisiana.” Several other subjects indicated that they also remembered feeling anxiety or worry about the price of seafood going up at the time as a result of the oil spill, availability of some seafood being reduced, or feeling concern or sympathy for those employed in commercial fishing in the Gulf Coast area. Such statements as those in this and the preceding paragraph suggest that archival news media can help audiences reconnect or re-engage with emotive memory experienced at the original time of the news event.
Visual content associated with the two news events also stood out among reported memories in the interviews. About one-third of the total subjects in the study stated they remembered watching CNN’s Election Night coverage in 2012, with a few others recalling they had watched a mix of CNN and a different network’s coverage, and that the highlights package video viewed in the study contained scenes or information (e.g. “red” or “blue” state results on the network’s graphic displays) that they specifically remembered from that evening. As for the BP oil spill news report, definitive memories of that event were more generalized, possibly owing to the younger age of the subjects at that time as well as the geographical distance of residency at the time for most subjects from the affected area, the Gulf Coast. One notable exception in the study was a subject originally from Texas who had a family member directly involved in an aspect of the oil spill. Typically, though, subjects who reported specific visual memories about the oil spill at the time it occurred spoke about images, on television or in news photographs, of oil-covered birds that had been rescued from the advancing oil spill in the water, or simply a proliferation of news reports similar to the one used in the study that they had seen on television at the time. Subject 9, a white female, summarized the video coverage by saying, “It seemed like it was in the news reports every day for about two weeks after it happened,” a statement echoed by several other subjects. The content of these statements throughout the study suggests a confirmation or reaffirming function to video news archives for visual images retained in memory concerning news events when they happen.
In a related matter that was posited specifically in one of the interview questions, most subjects admitted that watching the news videos in the study had helped them recover facts or images that had been lost from memory since the time of the actual news events. With regard to the CNN 2012 Presidential Election coverage video, several subjects noted that they had forgotten about the red-and-blue light coloring of the Empire State Building in New York City in accordance with state-by-state electoral vote victories for each candidate, something that was featured among the highlights in the video used in the study. Another recurring statement from subjects had to do with the closeness of the race between Obama and Romney in the early stages (“I had forgotten that Romney was in the lead for a while,” was heard multiple times in the study). A few subjects stated that they had forgotten the fact that the electoral votes from Ohio were the ones that pushed Obama over the required electoral count of 275, another item featured prominently in the CNN video. Recovered facts also came up in interviews about the BP oil spill video, most notably the information that 11 people had disappeared (and subsequently were never found) in the oil rig explosion that started the incident. These statements suggest that archival news videos also can serve as memory aids about events in the past, preserving information that people may not be able to recall on their own after the passage of time.
Conversations, Places, and Products
In response to RQ2, in exploring human memory connected to news events of the past, one of the aims of the interview with subjects centered upon memories not directly part of the news event itself, but associated with the time of the news event or the time of the subject first learning of the news event. This included a specific question about recalled conversations with family members or friends regarding the news event. In describing their memories of the news event at the time of occurrence, many subjects also divulged descriptive memories of places and activities during that same time period. In general, the interviews showed that most subjects engaged in conversation with their parents or other family members concerning the 2012 Presidential Election.
While some subjects were unable to recall specific details about the conversations, others were able to provide paraphrased statements or, in some cases, exact statements remembered from those conversations. Subject 22, an African-American male, said he remembered his mother “telling me that she thought this was the most important election in U.S. history, even more so than the 2008 election,” adding that she explained Obama’s ability to win re-election for a second term could indicate a societal change of even greater magnitude than his initial victory four years earlier. Subject 27, an African-American female, described a conversation with her stepfather and mother that was predominantly “about Congress and how we should expect them to act during a second term for Obama, and whether they would cooperate with him or not.” A few subjects described the general tone of disappointment they detected in conversation with parents and other relatives who had supported Romney. “I remember being on the phone with my grandmother. She called it (the election result) before anyone else that night,” said Subject 40, a white male. “I thought she had given up too early and I was trying to convince her that Romney still had a chance of winning.”
For other subjects, watching the CNN election highlights video brought back memories of friends and classmates at school, and pieces of conversations with them about the election results the following day. Subject 29, a white male, recounted the sour mood most of his schoolmates were in the morning after the election. “It was interesting what they had to say. They were angry about it, and that was because many of them said they felt his (Obama’s) first four years in office were a failure.” Several subjects recalled the existence of school policies that forbade teachers from discussing political preferences with students, but at least a few in the study spoke about enjoying discussions with high school classmates about the election in civics or political science classes they were taking at the time. School-based interactions also tended to be the topic of memories expressed about the BP oil spill, with about one-fourth of the subjects recalling in-class discussions with teachers, reading assignments or oral reports, or in-class activities or projects directly related to ecological issues central to the oil spill controversy. Overall, although the interview data did not yield strong support for detailed memory of conversations and personal interactions, most subjects were able to recall general topics or the tone of any conversations related to the news event.
Descriptions from memory of places associated with the news events tended to be an outlying feature across the interviews as well, but those subjects who did provide such descriptions did so in quite detailed fashion. Subject 28, a white female, was able to give a description of her parents’ bedroom where she watched the CNN coverage of the 2012 Presidential Election, and Subject 33, a white male, offered up specific details of the layout of the room in which he watched election results, including positioning and features of items in the room like the television set and the couch on which he was sitting on that night. Concerning the BP oil spill, Subject 12, a white female, spoke about a very unusual memory related to that news event: She and her family had started a vacation on the Gulf Coast just before tar balls generated from the oil spill washed ashore onto the beach where they were staying. The subject then described how she and her family joined others at the same beach in an effort to pick up and clear away the tar balls.
Interviews after subjects watched the news report on the BP oil spill also yielded information that could be of significant interest to researchers and professionals in strategic communications. A majority of the subjects said watching the archived news report brought up memories of an advertising campaign at the time for Dawn dish soap, in which the product was used to clean the feathers of birds, which had been rescued from the oil spill area. Most of those subjects indicated that the visual image of an oil-covered bird in the news report spurred recall of the Dawn advertising campaign. On a more negative side, about one-fourth of the subjects interviewed spoke of memories of people in their towns boycotting BP-brand gasoline stations after the spill began. “My dad stopped buying gas there, and going to a different station that was a little further away,” said Subject 18, a white female. Subject 19, a white male, noted several people he knew at the time joined in the boycott of the local BP station, but added, “Once BP finally got the oil well leak stopped, all of that boycotting started to fade out. I guess most people eventually forgave BP.” Several subjects stated that they also remembered seeing commercials from BP touting the company’s efforts to stop the underwater oil leak and provide financial relief to the affected Gulf Coast areas.
It is in this area of memory content that the concept of autonoetic consciousness may be strongest, enabling people to revisit interactions with other people, to varying degrees of detail, and to return to places they once stood or sat. At times, the process also involves re-engagement with mediated messages not directly about the past news event, but related to it.
Differences Between Now and Then
In response to RQ3, in a vast majority of the interviews, subjects, through engaging with memories of the news events depicted in the videos, spoke about perceiving changes in their attitudes, level of interest, or level of concern in the present time compared to the times of the news events in this study. Expressed changes in attitudes and concern levels prevailed in responses to questions about present-day thoughts and feelings about the BP oil spill. Subject 24, an African-American male, noting the passage of time and changes in personal maturity level since the oil spill, stated:
I don’t think I truly understood what was going on at the time. I knew it was something bad, especially for the wildlife in that area, but when you are 12 years old, you still are wrapped up in your own world. If something like that happened today, I would be much more involved in the issue and feel a lot more affected by it.
In a similar vein, most subjects expressed a greater appreciation of the political process and level of interest in politics in the present compared to their memory-based experiences of 2012. This should come as no large surprise, given the fact that the 2016 General Election marked the first opportunity to vote for nearly all of the subjects who participated in the study.
Even for those who indicated high interest in the 2012 General Election, the opportunity to participate in the political process was cited as intensifying their awareness of their political stances. “Looking back to that time, since I’ve now voted in a national election, it’s a lot different for me, so much more emotion in it,” Subject 30, a white female, stated. Several subjects who indicated they had rooted for Obama as non-voting teens in 2012 said viewing the CNN video made them somewhat nostalgic for what they perceived as having been a less divisive and more respectful campaign between Obama and Romney, compared to the 2016 election in which they voted. “I definitely remember it very fondly,” said Subject 29, a white male. “I don’t consider myself very ultra-liberal. But I do think the way this year’s (2016) election campaigns went, it seemed to put everything then in a new context.” Subject 28, a white female, described feelings of “both happy and sad” after viewing the CNN video. “I remember how excited I was then … but also how sad I felt about this crazy election we just had, the way it tore people apart.”
The takeaway from interview data regarding RQ3 is that the archival news videos may have assisted subjects in formulating comparatives in psychological and emotional self-assessment, all in relation to self-perceptions at the time of the news events. This is also a function of autonoetic consciousness, allowing people to mentally reconstruct time elements and the memory content, which spurs perceptions of changes in self-image.
Discussion and Future Research
The interview data collected in this study point to several qualities of memory content retrieved with the assistance of media archives, in this case, television news videos of major events that are preserved through a new media-based website (YouTube). The events selected coincide in time with established literature (Demiray et al., 2009; Janssen & Murre, 2008; Koppel & Berntsen, 2014; Rathbone et al., 2017) pertaining to memory content created during a portion of the lifespan years associated with the reminiscence bump concept. Findings suggest that media archives of major news events may help audiences retrieve and re-engage with memories connected to initial awareness of the news event, especially emotional affect experienced at that point in time and visual images and information connected to the news event. The findings also suggest that audience members, having viewed archival content, may engage in episodic memory retrieval or autonoetic consciousness related to interactions with other people, self-placement in particular settings at the time of the event, and recall of other media content related to the news event being remembered. Lastly, the engagement with the archival media content may also help audience members fashion comparative self-evaluations across different points in experienced time or become aware of differences in attitudes and beliefs from the time of initial awareness of a mediated message to the present time of self-reflection. The information from this exploratory study may also help to strengthen or underscore the importance of some of the social functions of media and the relevance of building and maintaining viable, accessible archives of content to achieve societal goals.
As presented, this study does contain some limitations. The interview data from the convenience sample of 18- to 23-year-old college students may not be generalizable to older age ranges of people, who will have a different set of news events having taken place during their adolescent years and whose responses to the same set of questions regarding archival video content about those news events may be quite different. Additionally, the use of journalism students in the study may constitute a set of responses from individuals more naturally interested in and willing to engage with online news than college students in other majors or programs. Also, it is possible that some of the findings in this study may have been different in a significant way with the selection and viewing of different videos on the same news events. This may be due to differences in content, selection and emphasis of certain facts, or subjects’ familiarity with the news source. Finally, the archival news videos used in this study are from U.S.-based media organizations about news events of high significance in the United States. Future research on this topic might examine the same research questions applied to memory and viewing archival news videos among older age groups, especially middle-aged adults and senior citizens, to see if similar themes emerge and remain constant with longer time spans since the time of the news event.
Going forward, additional research on the role of new media in presenting the mediated past to the public eye, and its connections to psychological and sociological structures that result from that presentation and access, may be achieved through both qualitative and quantitative methods. The present study offers enough content to substantiate further exploration of these matters. While the concept of time travel may be confined to the realms of science fiction stories in books, television, and movies, moving through the past as we remember having experienced it is a very real phenomenon, aided and augmented, in part, by the media content preserved through our own efforts. Media archives not only serve to preserve the events that of the past, but our individual and unique experiences of life connected to those events.
Terry L. Britt is a second-year doctoral student in the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri. He is a designated teaching fellow in the doctoral program at Missouri and has instructed students in both news reporting and journalism principles courses. He graduated from the University of Texas School of Journalism with a Master of Arts degree in the program’s Media Research and Theory track in 2015. His research interests include media’s associations with individual and collective memory, media psychophysiology, and social identity through media consumption. His research paper “Back and forth in time: Online news archives and presence as transportation” was published in #ISOJ, Vol. 5, Issue 1, and presented at the 2015 International Symposium on Online Journalism. Prior to graduate school, Britt spent nearly 30 years in the newspaper industry in a variety of jobs for weeklies and small dailies throughout Texas, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi. Britt has two sons: Ryan, 25, a college student in psychology who lives in Arlington, Texas; and Jesse Crews, 12, with Britt’s fiancée, Amy Downing Crews, who is an administrative assistant in the Math Sciences department at the University of Missouri.
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