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Understanding the role of relevance in news consumption

February 27, 2019 | By Rande Price, Research VP – DCN

Today’s consumers navigate a high-choice multiplatform environment to find their news content. Understanding their news consumption habits – what’s relevant to them, and why they read what they do – is a complex process. However, while data rankings show which stories are clicked on, shared, and liked the most, there’s little information about why consumers choose to read the content they do. Kim Christian Schrøder’s new report from The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, What do News Readers Really Want to Read about?, delves into the process by which consumers choose the news the consume. The research evaluates the ways in which people are drawn to news, how it helps them make sense of their lives, and shapes their views of the world.

Relevance is a key driver in consumer decision-making on news content. Ultimately, perceived relevance determines whether consumers end up engaging with a particular news story.

Examples of relevance include if the news is:

The factors that drive and define news relevance.
  • personally relatable, the potential impact on one’s own life and family
  • socially shared or sharable
  • stories that speaks to a more general, perhaps civic nature
  • known news brand
  • familiar, the headline and/or sub headline provides enough information

Understanding the role of relevance helps explain why important news stories may not always rank according to national interest. Article rankings are often algorithmically charged by the number of “likes” and “shares.” While social indicators often increase visibility, they are not necessarily reliable factors of relatability and quality content.

The four clusters of news readers

In addition to identifying relevance as an important driver, the research also classifies four distinct clusters of news readers according to news preference.

  1. People with political and civic interest in news. This segment is mainly interested in stories about health, education, and the environment.
  2. People with a social-humanitarian interest in news. This cluster like stories with a humanitarian perspective on the world. They also gravitate to news reports on soft politics (e.g. Britain’s royal family).
  3. People with a cultural interest in news. This segment values news stories about children, health, educational issues, and environmental protection. However, they dismiss clickbait articles designed to lure them into reading human-interest and celebrity focused stories.
  4. People who seek (political) depth stories. This segment likes their news from a mixture of general and more specialized news sources. They are big readers and selective in their news sources.

Schrøder provides insight into what drives audience choice when it comes to news consumption. Understanding relevance and its impact on how readers build their personal media selection is an important step in identifying consumers’ news preference. Further, the identification of consumer news clusters offers four distinct reader groups of content preference without imposing the standard news categories. Both set of findings heighten our understanding of how consumers select their news content.

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