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May 2, 2018

Audiences see local news as more ‘noteworthy’ than national news in survey

By Jessica Mahone, Democracy Fund Public Square Research Associate

Conversations between academic research and local newsrooms are often siloed. Interesting and useful findings from research are trapped in long papers that those in local newsrooms may not know about or have time to sift through. This series, Research Roundup, highlights some key findings from recent research and what they could mean for those working in local news.

In this installment of Research Roundup, we’re featuring research on the role of news values in audience interest in news and audience sharing of news online.

Whose News Values?

Newsrooms have long been guided by a number of news values — characteristics of stories intended to help in decision-making about what content is produced. These values include things like timeliness, proximity, conflict and controversy, unusualness, and impact and prominence. But how do those values relate to audience values? This month, we’re featuring research about what news audiences say is relevant to them and what news values appear in the content audiences share online. The articles featured below are behind paywalls but can often be accessed by contacting the authors directly.

(Important note for those that want more specific details —  some identifying information, such as the names of news organizations or locations, are not specified in the papers due to practices to ensure that peer review processes remain blind. The goal is to ensure that reviewers cannot identify authors and will instead judge works based on their quality, rather than who the authors are.)

What’s important to newsrooms isn’t necessarily what’s important to audiences

“When Newsworthy is not Noteworthy,” Journalism Studies, Angela Lee and Hsiang Iris Chyi

In a survey of 767 American adults, the authors examined how valuable audiences view news using the concept of noteworthiness — relevance and interestingness to readers, offering a challenge to the concept of newsworthiness that guides many newsrooms. The survey asked respondents to indicate how much of news they see from mainstream media is either relevant or interesting to them. Respondents said an average of 36 percent of content is noteworthy. The authors also found:

  • Local news is seen as more noteworthy — relevant and interesting — than national news. Respondents said an average of 43 percent of local news is seen as more relevant or interesting to them.
  • Women and those 55 and older are more likely to say news content is generally relevant to them.
  • And noteworthy content offers a financial benefit: Finding content relevant and interesting was the strongest factor in whether or not respondents were willing to pay for print newspapers and was one of the top three factors in willingness to pay for online news content.

The study did not offer insights into specifically what respondents believe is relevant or interesting. However, engaging with communities offers a way for newsrooms to find out about the concerns and interests of potential audiences and can bring them into the reporting process, and there are a few ways newsrooms can learn more about such engagement. Gather is a community for sharing strategies for community engagement with other journalists. Hearken provides a platform as well as consulting services to power public-centered journalism, and Journalism That Matters focuses on services and events to build local capacity for community engagement.

What’s Valued is What’s Shared

“To Share or Not to Share: The Influence of News Values and Topics on Popular Social Media Content in the United States, Brazil, and Argentina,” Journalism Studies, Victor Garcia-Perdomo, Ramon Salaverria, Danielle K. Kilgo and Summer Harlow

Using the tool NewsWhip to gather data on Facebook and Twitter shares of content, the authors conducted a content analysis of 600 articles to find out what news values are reflected in the news people share with others online. They found that online news content most often employed the values of timeliness, conflict and controversy, impact and prominence, and proximity. However, those were not all in line with the news that people share online. Specifically, they found:

  • The news value most reflected in shared news content was human interest, followed by conflict and controversy, unusualness, and impact and prominence, showing a slight disconnect between the content that is produced and distributed online and the content audiences share.
  • However, news values are only one factor in whether or not news is shared online. Other factors such as the topic, country of publication, and whether the publication is print or digital native also play a role in online news sharing.

Although this study didn’t offer insights into why audiences prefer to share the content they do, it does highlight how the disconnect between audience values and newsroom values influences the way people engage with news. For insights into how to improve engagement with news, the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin offers research and tools to enhance audience engagement with online content.

Do you have a project or paper that the audience of the Local News Lab would be interested in? Is there something that you want to know more about from local news related-research? Let us know at localnewslab@democracyfund.org.

Photo Illustration by Melinda Szekeres

Mahone, Jessica Headshot 165px_200pxJessica Mahone is the Research Associate for the Public Square program at Democracy Fund. Previously, she was a researcher with the News Measures Research Project at Duke University and a temporary Research Associate in journalism at Pew Research Center. Her research interests are varied but center around local news, civic engagement, and diversity in media.