Currently viewing the tag: "audience behaviour"

By JASMINE BALA
Staff reporter

A guessing contest in The San Francisco Examiner on Sept. 29, 1895 (Courtesy of Paul Moore).

Building audience engagement has long been a newsroom preoccupation, only today it involves Instagram and Facebook, while in the past publishers seduced readers with paper cut-out toys and thrilling accounts of reporters on around-the-world races against time.

New research on the history of Sunday newspapers by Paul Moore, an associate professor in Ryerson University’s sociology department, examines one of the greatest audience engagement gimmicks of all time: The New York World’s decision to send reporter Nellie Bly travelling around the globe. Bly was assigned to beat the fictional record described in the Jules Verne novel “Around the World in Eighty Days.” She completed the trip in 72 days.

“There was, of course, a guessing contest for readers to be more personally invested in The World’s regular reports of Bly’s travels,” Moore and Concordia University professor Sandra Gabriele write in their forthcoming book, The Sunday Paper.

They examine Bly’s exploits as part of their research on the history and role of weekend newspapers in mass consumer society between 1888 and 1922 in North America. The research, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, will be published by the University of Illinois Press as part of a larger series, The History of Communication.

The 1890s was a period of innovation and experimentation as publishers tried to attract audiences and teach people “how to read the newspaper when it was a new object – a mass-leisure object,” Moore said. What was happening back then, he explained, is similar to what’s going on today: News organizations faced with massive disruption due to digital technologies are experimenting with “new practices of reading and new practices of engaging with the [news] now that it has a new form.”

Guessing contests were a popular form of audience engagement in the 1890s. In the case of Bly’s travel assignment, readers were asked to guess how many days the trip would take. The winner received a free trip to Europe. Guessing contests, Moore added, almost always required the purchase of a newspaper to obtain a ballot, so the device was “clearly about selling papers. But it’s also about engaging people with the act of buying the paper and with the act of reading the paper closely.”

The guessing games usually involved contests more modest than circumnavigations of the globe. In 1895, for instance, both The San Francisco Examiner and the San Francisco Chronicle ran contests asking people to guess the size of their large Sunday editions and offering cash prizes to the winners, Moore and Gabriele wrote.

The publishers asked “how many words [were] in a 32-page Examiner or how many words [were] in a 28-page San Francisco Chronicle…which is just crazy to think of,” Moore said. “But people sent in guesses – educated guesses – and won those contests.”

Advertising, puzzles and photographs in the Sunday paper were other early strategies designed to make reading the paper and engaging with the news a habit. Supplements like paper cut-out toys were included for younger audiences; The Boston Sunday Globe, for example, gave away paper dolls with miniature stage sets.

A cut-out paper printing press with dolls from a 1896 copy of The Boston Sunday Globe.

 

While the supplements weren’t news, Moore said, “they are as important as the news itself or even more important than the news itself for that role that the historic newspaper had in creating [engagement in] mass society.”

Publishers also built engagement by offering readers behind-the-scene glimpses of how newspapers were produced. The Chicago Herald and The Philadelphia Inquirer did this by installing viewing galleries overlooking pressrooms to show off their new press machines at work, Moore and Gabriele wrote.

While the technologies have changed, the authors argue that variations on the same strategy are still used to engage audiences. These days, for instance, the Chicago Tribune offers opportunities for readers to meet Tribune journalists in person as well as two-hour tours of their printing plants for $25.

Other newsrooms are using virtual reality (VR) tools to provide audience experiences. “They’ll make a New York Times VR documentary about the production of the paper itself,” Moore noted.  And when The New York Times Magazine (NYT) published its first virtual reality piece, “The Displaced,” two years ago, it gave all print subscribers a Google Cardboard VR viewer with the weekend paper so they could watch it.

Still from the virtual reality documentary “The Displaced” by The New York Times Magazine.

More recently, the magazine created its own Minecraft world as part of a larger feature on the video game. Readers could log onto the NYT server and explore the magazine’s world if they had the game downloaded. A video that showcased the world was available for those who did not have Minecraft.

Historically, Moore said, the Sunday papers touched on all parts of daily life: leisure, business, democratic engagement and shopping. But in the 21st century, he observed, the newspaper for the most part no longer carries the department store ads, movie listings and the classifieds that are all easily accessible online.

“The paper has been left with only the news and not the other sections in the same website,” Moore said. “So, you know, the internet itself, unfortunately for newspapers, is the new Sunday paper in the 21st century…The internet itself is that form that contains all the supplements to the news and that doesn’t hold out hope for traditional news organizations maintaining their commercial dominance.”

Audience Engagement Then

  • Contests: Prizes were offered to individuals who won guessing contests on everything from elections outcome and census population counts to the newspaper’s own production statistics.
  • Paper cut-out toys: As Sunday papers turned to colour print papers they introduced paper cut-out toys such as paper dolls and miniature stage sets. The Boston Sunday Globe also gave away miniature toy versions of their colour printing machine.
  • Tours: In the 1890s, news organizations including The New Yorks World, The Chicago Herald, The Boston Globe and The Philadelphia Inquirer offered tours and installed viewing galleries above their pressrooms.
  • Hot air balloon trips: In 1887, The World’s Sunday edition sent a reporter out in a hot air balloon to go from St. Louis to just outside of New York. The trip, inspired by another of Jules Verne’s novels, was designed to show readers that the newspaper could bring fiction to life.
  • Comic mascots: Some of the earliest recurring cartoon characters were newspaper mascots.  The Boston Sunday Globe’s “Globe man,” for example, had a torso the shape of a globe and a waistband reading: “The Largest Circulation in New England.”

Audience Engagement Now

  • Virtual reality documentaries: The New York Times has a virtual reality app to showcase its VR films while other major news outlets, like The Globe and Mail, are experimenting with the new immersive technology.
  • Social media apps: Most, if not all, major news outlets can be found on Instagram and Facebook, where they engage with their readers through comments. The New York Times has combined an app with celebrity by collaborating with Nigella Lawson to create a food-themed Pinterest board for Valentine’s day.
  • Tours and meetups: The Chicago Tribune and other news outlets offer tours of their pressrooms and face-to-face meetups with their journalists to give readers a look into what goes on behind-the-scenes.
  • Collaboration between writing and radio: The New York Times has worked with public radio WBUR to create a podcast of its weekly “Modern Love” column, and with WBEZ Chicago’s This American Life to tell a patient’s story about being shot in the chest by hospital guards.

By STEPH WECHSLER
Special to the RJRC

Moderator Christopher Waddell (Carleton University journalism professor) and panelists Edward Greenspon (Public Policy Forum president),  April Lindgren (Ryerson School of Journalism instructor) and Allan Gregg (Earnscliffe Strategy Group principal) discuss the journalism industry’s financial woes at a Canadian Journalism Foundation panel.

Although Canadians value journalism and believe it is essential to a well-functioning democracy, they don’t want to pay for it, concludes a new study that examined the state of Canadian news media.

A survey conducted as part of the Public Policy Forum (PPF) report, “The Shattered Mirror,” found that the Canadians surveyed do not make a connection between the news industry’s layoffs, closures and other financially-induced problems and what this means for the amount of news available to themselves as readers.

“They assume much like dancers will always dance, painters will always paint, journalists will always cover stories,” said Allan Gregg, principal at the Earnscliffe Strategy Group, which conducted the poll.

“They make no linkage whatsoever to the absence of revenue to news gathering organizations with the inability to pay journalists.”

A 2016 Reuter’s poll cited in the PPF report showed that only nine per cent of those surveyed in Canada pay for online news.

Gregg was joined by April Lindgren, academic director of the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre and Ed Greenspon, president of the Public Policy Forum, at the Canadian Journalism Foundation’s Jan. 28 talk: “The Changing Ways Canadians Get Their News.” The panel discussion followed the release earlier in the day of the forum’s report and its policy recommendations.

The survey of 1,500 Canadians, conducted this past fall between Sept. 22 and Oct. 2,  found that 70 per cent of respondents think that news has a major role to play in democracy and 60 per cent think that journalists play a major role.

When they were asked to assess the consequences of the decline of news organizations, 73 per cent of people surveyed said having less investigative reporting would be a serious problem and 69 per cent said having less coverage of local news would be a serious consequence of news media decline. Having no one around to keep politicians honest or hold powerful interests accountable were considered serious problems by 68 per cent of respondents.

Gregg said the survey results also suggest Canadians hold journalists in high regard –so much so that they balk at the possibility of the government intervening to bail out the news business. Only 25 per cent of those surveyed said they believe government should help struggling news businesses. Respondents said that journalists’ ability to act as watchdogs on power would be compromised by government involvement in the news industry.

“It is the very thing they value most about news – its role in democracy, especially holding the powerful to account – that forms the objection to government doing anything to get the industry out of the dilemma it obviously faces,” said Gregg.

Forty-four per cent of survey resonsdents said they agreed they would be concerned about journalist’s ability to cover governments if said governments financially supported the news business. Another 24 per cent indicated that they strongly agreed.

Although the poll data make it clear that Canadians feel inundated with news, most said they had little to no information about the industry’s economic challenges.

“Fewer than half – which is kind of ironic – have heard, read or seen anything about news organizations facing business and financial difficulties,” said Gregg. “(It) is not part of the public consciousness.”

He pointed to possible explanations for the disconnect between the importance Canadians place on journalism in democracy and their lack of awareness of the news industry’s financial woes: “They haven’t really come to grips – they haven’t started thinking about the demise of newsgathering organizations – what it means to me as an informed citizen,” he suggested. “Or they simply reject the premise that declining news gathering organizations would result in the decline of availability of news.”

Lindgren, who leads the Local News Research Project, has been investigating what she calls “local news poverty” in Canadian communities. Her research, she says, suggests that local news is available unevenly across the country and is increasingly at risk. Data from The Local News Map, which she created with the University of British Columbia’s Jon Corbett, shows 171 local news outlets have closed in 131 communities across the country. The list of closures documented on the crowd-sourced map includes 120 community newspapers.

Another study by the Local News Research Project examined the output of local news outlets in eight Canadian communities and found major differences in how much reporting they did on the local race for MP during the 2015 federal election.

“Where you live is a big factor in the availability of local news,” Lindgren said, noting that her research shows digital-first outlets do not seem to be filling the gap left by the loss of more traditional news producers.

Greenspon said the challenge in writing the PPF report was “how do you design something that supports journalism without the government gaining undue leverage?”

Some of the report’s 12 recommendations, he said, are “no-brainer(s),” including changes to Canada’s charitable status laws. Current rules that limit the resources a charity can devote to advocacy before having its status revoked have historically limited charitable funding of journalism initiatives in Canada.

The report says the “chilling” provisions related to charitable giving reflect “priorities and mores of 19th century England” and removing them could foster the sort of robust not-for-profit, charitable foundation-funded accountability journalism has seen in places like the U.S and Germany.

The “Shattered Mirror” report also recommended the creation of a Future of Democracy and Journalism Fund, to first be financed through an initial investment from the federal government, and then ultimately funded through the taxation of digital advertisers based outside of Canada. The money would be allocated to digital innovation initiatives outlined in the report and the fund would be overseen by an independent board.

The report also recommended:

  • providing additional funds to CBC online to eliminate ad sales.
  • supporting Indigenous news organizations and training journalists to increase the amount of reliable Indigenous journalism.
  • creating an institute for the study of journalism and democracy.
  • establishing legal advisory services for small, young and university news outlets to pursue accountability journalism “without fear of reprisal.”
  • overhauling the Copyright Act’s fair-dealing clauses to enable content creators to retain stronger intellectual property rights to their work.

Audio of the CJF panel is available in full.

By ILINA GHOSH
Staff Reporter

When Beyoncé released her latest album, Lemonade, exclusively on the music streaming service Tidal, new user sign-ups rose by 1.2 million. But since then, the service’s popularity has once again waned. The same effect can be applied to modern journalism, says Alex Watson, The Telegraph’s former head of product.

Events like elections and terrorist attacks can draw audiences to news sources, but they result in short bursts of engagement. Whereas significant, yet small, improvements in the interfaces and delivery systems of news organizations can result in long-term, generalized effects, says Watson, who recently took on a new role as the head of product at the BBC.

“[The product of news] is more than the journalism. The delivery system is doing far more than delivering content, it is shaping how people behave,” he said.

Audience behaviour was a central focus of Journalism Transformations, a recent colloquium organized by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre. The day-long conference explored the major shifts taking place in journalism today in terms of audiences, education and technology. Researchers, academics and industry innovators from Europe, the United States and Canada gathered at the Ryerson School of Journalism in April to discuss these paradigm-shifting changes. (Click here for full coverage of the Journalism Transformations event.)

While the past decade has seen significant shifts in audience behaviour and interests, speaker Retha Hill, professor of practice at Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Journalism, says the news industry is still not taking an audience-focused approach to journalism.

“If news or storytelling is our product and that’s what we’re supposed to be focused in on, we have to do a better job of understanding our clients,” Hill said during the colloquium’s opening session. “It seems to me to be critical that [if] we understand more of audience behaviour and analytics … we could be better at providing audiences with relevant, actionable content.”

While other industries are tapping into modern audience research tools to better sell their products Hill, who teaches media entrepreneurship and virtual-reality storytelling at Cronkite, says journalists are still slow to do so.

“We [should] use more of the tools that are currently available to us, tools that are serving our competitors well, all the other content providers that are competing for our audience’s attention. If the point is to get our audiences to consume news, isn’t it incumbent on us to pull out all of the stops to get them relevant information whenever and wherever they’re in a position to consume it?”

This resistance to giving the audience exactly what it wants is a long-held viewpoint, said panelist and media researcher Philip Napoli, a professor and associate dean at Rutgers University.

“Journalism, as a community, has tended to have an aloof detachment from its audience, this paternalistic notion that it’s our job to know what [the audience] needs and that we need to maintain some independence and autonomy from what the audience says it wants.”

Napoli says there has been a fundamental disconnect in journalists’ understanding of audience demand for news, pointing out that for decades newspapers were sources of much more content. Even in the “golden age of journalism,” when circulation was high and people subscribed to multiple newspapers, he noted, much of the demand stemmed from the other information papers provided, such as job listings, coupons, movie listings and apartment listings.

“We have a much better sense of [the audience] now and realize now that this was probably not a time when people were much more avid news consumers, but that it was easier to connect news with other products – exactly the kind of thing that eBay and Monster.com and Craigslist ultimately decoupled.”

Armed with this better understanding of consumer behaviour, news organizations are in a unique position “to figure out how to better directly connect the nature of the content that is produced with the nature of consumer demand [after] the luxury of generations of not having to do that,” Napoli said.

Napoli’s presentation also touched on his recent research, which attempts to uncover what audiences want from their local news coverage and examines audience behaviour and engagement with journalism.

In his study of three New Jersey communities, he found that the kinds of news people want varied vastly by community. While bigger cities like Newark demanded hard-hitting journalism from their news sources, smaller, upper-middle class towns had fewer pressing concerns.

He said his work on the news behaviours of participants found that many were self-reliant news consumers: people who understood that news comes from multiple sources and felt it was up to them to be informed. Some people recognized the need to actively search for news, but in many cases did not do so, he said. The research also suggested most people aren’t interested in being citizen journalists and pointed to the continuing significance and relevance of interpersonal sharing of news.

“People [often] mentioned the street corner, the coffee shop, the dog walking. This emerged over and over again… as something quite prominent,” he said.

Panelist Kim Schrøder, a professor of communications at Roskilde University in Denmark, presented the results of his research on which media forms are most consumed by Danish audiences. Participants in the study were given 36 news platforms and formats to choose from and asked to rank them by importance.

Six news media repertoires emerged from the results:

  • “online quality omnivores”: those who primarily read quality online news content
  • hybrid public service lovers”: those who primarily rely on public news organizations
  • “light news snackers”: those who occasionally read tabloid newspapers or watch 24-hour news channels
  • “mainstream networkers”: those who use social media and quality news sources
  • “intellectual/professional networkers”: those who primarily use social media, in addition to current affairs programs and professional magazines
  • “print addicts”: those who rely on print newspapers for local and national news needs.

Schrøder says that the future of the news industry is dependent on the changing interests and news consumption habits of users.

“The future shape of the news landscape depends on which technologies, softwares and platforms users appropriate and domesticate,” he said. “It is my observation that the users are playing a tremendously important role here. Of course, there are other factors which determine what kinds of news people will get, but the users are the ultimate decision makers.”

A live-blog transcript of the presentations can be viewed here.