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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Do people choose the news? Recent evidence says yes.

March 20, 2017 | By Terri Walter, Chief Marketing Officer—Chartbeat @Chartbeat

There is a broad spectrum of news out there, ranging from well-balanced, high quality content to alternative facts. However, many have expressed concern that the media may not be covering key issues fairly. That, of course, begs the question: Whose version of the story is true?

Recently, The New York Times’ Upshot team and Chartbeat published results from a study of supply and demand in the news. Essentially, we sought to uncover how many articles news organizations wrote about a given event compared to the demand for these articles among their readers, measured by “engaged time.”

Both Sides Have a Story

Chartbeat researchers looked at 148 news publishers, divided into liberal and conservative buckets by The Upshot using scores from a study done at the University of Michigan. They then studied article supply and reader demand of six recent news topics:

  • Inauguration crowd size debate
  • Alleged Bowling Green massacre
  • Muslim travel ban
  • Michael Flynn’s resignation
  • Super Bowl LI
  • The Grammy Awards

The results showed that key issues were covered roughly equally by the left and right.

Demand and Supply

However, while the supply of articles written on each topic was generally consistent across conservative and liberal news outlets, the demand from readers was not. Depending on the topic, conservative and liberal readers each showed different patterns of news avoidance. Could this be due to stronger left-leaning coverage or readership in the media, or variations in distribution methods among publications?

According to Kevin Quealy of The Upshot, there could be another simpler reason stemming from decades of psychology on the subject: People don’t like hearing bad news. “Generally, people prefer information consistent with their beliefs, views and prior behaviors, and avoid information that’s inconsistent,” said James Shepperd, a professor of psychology at the University of Florida who has written extensively on information avoidance.

Polarizing shades of reality may not only be shaped by Facebook distribution or the content supplied from news organizations, but also by what consumers read. It’s consumer behavior that shapes what gets read and what doesn’t. After all, news consumers are the ultimate constructors of their own realities.

(Want to learn more? check out The New York Times’ The Upshot.)

Terri Walter, the Chief Marketing Officer of Chartbeat, works every day to ensure that publishers and newsrooms have the tools and insights they need for quality content to thrive. A digital marketing veteran of 20 years, Terri has worked over the course of her career to position high potential brands and spearhead thought leadership in media and analytics at companies including DoubleClick, Razorfish and Microsoft Advertising.

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