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10 Things We Learned in 2018 (And How They Can Help Your Newsroom)

 

1. Images and links at the bottom of the page help keep readers on your site. 

Getting readers to stay on your site can be a challenge. Our research found a few ways you can encourage them to keep clicking: 

  • Using an image with your links gets more clicks than just text 
  • Putting links at the end of the page results in more clicks than putting them in the middle of the page 
  • Generic wording (like “Related Stories”) works better than complex wording (like “What Else People Can Read on This Topic”) 
  • Linking to related content instead of popular content gets more clicks (unless the referral page is Facebook)

2. To appeal to new subscribers, avoid using your logo and tell people what they gain from subscribing. 

From email advertising to sponsored posts, we took a look at how newsrooms can gain subscribers. Here are a few takeaways:  

  • Don’t use your logo. Instead, use images like a journalist working or a picture from a top story 
  • When asking for subscriptions by email, tell people what they’d gain from subscribing instead of what they’d lose by not subscribing 
  • Ads for free newsletters get more clicks than ads for paid print or digital access 
  • Facebook ads alone likely aren’t worth the investment 

3. We really need to stop saying “fake news. 

The bottom line: exposure to the phrase “fake news” might matter more than exposure to fake news itself. Here’s what our research found: 

  • Seeing elites talk about fake news leads people to be less accurate in identifying real news 
  • Seeing elites talk about fake news decreases people’s trust in media 
  • It’s not just a partisanship problem: political ideology doesn’t explain these differences 

4. Positive images and issue-focused headlines increase Facebook reactions and comments on political stories. 

We looked at two aspects of political coverage: the positivity or negativity of news headlines and images, and the focus of news headlines on issues or campaign strategy. What our testing found: 

  • Negative images increase clicks, but positive images increase reactions 
  • Issue-focused headlines reduce clicks, but increase reactions and comments 

Though it might be tempting to use negative images and strategy-focused headlines to boost clicks, it’s not as simple as it seems.  

  • Studies suggest that strategy and negative political coverage can increase political cynicism and distrust in media 
  • Facebook’s algorithm prioritizes comments and reactions in addition to clicks, so focusing on just clicks misses the full potential of the platform 

If a newsroom’s goal is to generate a more engaged social media audience, then positive images and issue content may be the way to go 

5. Newsrooms can help bring diverse groups together.  

In the aftermath of the midterm elections, it’s clear our country is divided. Religious, racial, and economic divides can all feed into the idea of “us” versus “them.” From speed dating style meetings to a roundtable with Oprah, we looked at how news organizations are bringing diverse groups together. We also looked at strategies that have been explored by academics. Here are a few things we learned: 

  • Media can help make sure outgroup members are seen as typical when covering stories 
  • Those most in need of outgroup contact may be least likely to hear about it or seek it out 
  • Short, meaningful interactions between outside groups can reduce prejudice 
  • Effective contact can be face-to-face, mediated, or even imagined 

For more on what we can learn from newsrooms and academics, check out the full report.

6. The public struggles to detect fake news, particularly those with negative impressions of news. 

Together with the News Co/Lab at Arizona State University, we designed an online survey to measure transparency, engagement, and mutual understanding among newsroom staff, news sources, and members of the communities they serve. Here’s what our survey found:  

  • People with negative attitudes about news are less likely to spot fake news 
  • People have more trust in local news than news in general, but still have concerns about transparency and credibility in their local news 
  • On average, people rated their local news organizations as not very credible, trustworthy, balanced, fair, or transparent
  • People also thought their local news organizations could do a better job of engaging with their communities 
  • Three-quarters of the participants had trouble telling the difference between news, opinion, sponsored content, and analysis 

7. Online quizzes can get people politically engaged. 

We tested whether online quizzes can spark people’s interest in news and politics and increase their intentions to get politically engaged. We found that those who took a political quiz, compared to those who took a celebrity quiz, reported: 

  • Feeling more knowledgeable about politics 
  • Having more interest in political news 

For newsrooms, quizzes are a good way to expand and retain audiences. An added bonus is that open-access quizzes like the ones we used are free and easy to put together. Check out our tool, used by over 150 different news organizations. 

8. Online harassment of female journalists is a global problem. 

Female journalists often face the threat of online harassment as they try to engage with their audience over social media. We looked at how professional journalists around the world deal with this harassment and the influence it has on their ability to do their jobs. It’s clear this is a global problem that needs to be addressed quickly. Here are some standout results: 

  • Most female journalists we interviewed experienced feedback that took the form of harassment, with a focus on their gender or sexuality 
  • Most women reported that they felt their news organizations could do more to train them on how to handle abuse and to back them up after it happens 
  • They sometimes felt a lack of freedom to report abuse or felt that the news organization saw it as their personal problem 
  • More stringent moderation of online comments and more oversight of professional social media pages were identified as possible solutions 

9. Combining theater and journalism can politically empower audiences.  

In partnership with The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), we analyzed how audiences responded to a play about civil rights leader Vera Mae Pigee. The play was produced in Clarksdale, Mississippi as a partnership between CIR and Mississippi Today, a local nonprofit news organization. After the play, we found that audience members were: 

  • More confident in their political knowledge and their ability to engage in the political process 
  • More likely to say that they would contact a local public official 

This suggests that live theater performances based on investigative journalism can help politically empower audiences. 

10. We can better understand the Chicago news landscape through research.  

We explored attitudes towards, and preferences for, Chicago news media. In general, we found that: 

  • Those living on the West and South Sides of Chicago felt underrepresented or poorly represented by Chicago news media 
  • They are also the most interested in getting involved in Chicago news organizations 
  • Across all regions, Chicago residents see “crime and law enforcement” as the most important issue facing their neighborhood 
  • Respondents are more likely to donate $10 to a free news site than pay a $10 fee to access news