Part 1 Understanding Your Audience
As consumer habits and newsroom economics shift, a deeper understanding of local news audiences is of heightened importance. Greater attention to local audiences can help identify potential solutions to many journalistic challenges and strengthen relationships between readers and newsrooms.
While newsrooms have an array of new tools and metrics at their fingertips — ranging from data on audience size, composition, and time spent on a site, to social media data on likes and sharing activities — this information generally does not permit deep dives into the motivation and behavior of news audiences.
Focus groups can add critical qualitative data to help newsrooms better leverage other metrics. Most commonly associated with market research, focus groups originated in the 1940s, when academics and media companies formed research partnerships that focused on media audiences.[i] We believe focus groups remain a very useful tool for understanding audiences in ways that cannot be achieved by other methods, such as surveys, server log analyses, or analyses of social media activity.
Focus groups offer a window into how local news audiences think and talk, providing a critical resource for “bridging gaps” between news producers and the community they serve. When focus group participants discuss their experiences with local news and information, they provide insights into their habits and preferences that go beyond what they click on or share online. The process of discussing and reacting to other participants’ ideas can produce a richer and more deeply refined set of findings than would be possible through individual discussion alone.[ii] In the sections that follow, we outline the basic processes associated with designing and conducting focus group research on local news audiences.
[i] David E. Morrison, “The Search for a Method: Focus Groups and the Development of Mass Communication Research,” University of Luton Press, Luton, UK, 1998, Print.
[ii] Monique M. Hennink, “Focus Group Discussions: Understanding Qualitative Research,” Oxford University Press, New York, January 14, 2014, Print; See also David R. Krathwohl, “Methods of Educational and Social Science Research: The Logic of Methods,” Waveland Press, Long Grove, IL, March 30, 2009, Print; See also David L. Morgan, “Focus Groups as Qualitative Research,” Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA, 1988/1997, Print; See also David E. Morrison, “The Search for a Method: Focus Groups and the Development of Mass Communication Research,” University of Luton Press, Luton, UK, 1998, Print; See also David W. Stewart, Prem N. Shamdasani, and Dennis W. Rock, “Focus Groups: Theory and Practice,” Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA, 2006, Print.