As a media manager, it’s important to know your newsroom, understand your audience – and also keep track of the broader trends in the news media industry. 

While academic research takes time to surface and sometimes lacks specific recommendations for professionals, it offers a thorough explanation of today’s trends in the media world.

The Fix prepared a roundup of three recent research papers on news media and journalism – on news diversity, reader habits and trust in news.

Is news diversity getting better or worse?

  • Erik de Vries, Rens Vliegenthart & Stefaan Walgrave (2022) Telling a Different Story: A Longitudinal Investigation of News Diversity in Four Countries, Journalism Studies, DOI: 10.1080/1461670X.2022.2111323

Democratic societies view diversity both in newsrooms and in news coverage as extremely important. However, with a huge demand for information and stiff competition on the media market, there are concerns that topic diversity might actually decrease.

“Without proper time to select deviant news stories and to develop their own approach, journalists produce news stories that are interchangeable”, part of this concern goes as summarised by Erik de Vries, Rens Vliegenthart and Stefaan Walgrave.

However, the authors’ research into markets in four European countries – Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and UK – does not support this hypothesis. Rather, news diversity slightly increased over time, and the research shows that “newspapers differentiate rather than converge in the content they offer.”

What might that mean for the news industry? 

First and foremost, despite the fact of the high concentration of news media in the hands of few publishers, journalists are able to maintain a variety of coverage. Moving to digital also meant that more news outlets are adapting more interpretive roles, which in turn means diversification and encouragement to form a more distinctive media profile among the publisher’s portfolio.  That means that big media conglomerates are able to produce diverse coverage.

There are limitations to the study, as the four chosen countries had a well-developed and independent media landscape. The situation in other regions in Europe might be very different. However, the findings are enough to show a trend that news diversity across different countries is doing rather well.

How to fit a news subscription into the readers’ routine? 

  • Tim Groot Kormelink (2022) How People Integrate News into Their Everyday Routines: A Context-Centered Approach to News Habits, Digital Journalism, DOI: 10.1080/21670811.2022.2112519

Getting people to sign up and pay for the news is not the end of the story. Sustaining subscribers for a long time is the next challenge.

While it might seem that people who already paid for the news are motivated to read them, in reality, news organisations need to help build a long-term habit. Tim Groot Kormelink, after interviewing news consumers, offers insights on what publishers should pay attention to in order to establish audience habits. 

According to the author’s research, the first weeks are crucial for forming a news consumption habit. A new habit creation relies heavily on the feeling of fulfilment and reward from the experience of reading news.

So what kind of rewards subscribers expect?  

  • Positive experience with content. People will come back to the news outlet if they enjoy what they read. One user even compared consuming content with having “a perfectly boiled egg for breakfast”.
  • Ability to discuss content with others. Participants of the study mentioned that one of the rewards connected to habitually reading news is the ability to discuss it with other people. However, this factor proved to be less reliable than positive experience with content, the research shows. 
  • Having a moment of quiet time for themselves. In the times of news avoidance because of the stress that news brings, it almost sounds counterintuitive to see that readers are turning to news to have a moment of peace. Alas, according to findings, people view news reading as a relaxing experience that they can do on their own. 
  • Feeling more useful. Another reward is a feeling that by reading news people are avoiding “wasting their time on playing games and watching series”.

Now that we understand the motivation behind the readers’ experience a bit more, there are some findings that can direct towards concrete advice on how to form a habit.

  • Work on visual clues. Apps, push notifications, or presence on social media are great tools to remind users about you. The research showed that the visual presence helps them remember the news outlet and come back to it later.
  • Test your registration flow. If your reader had some trouble with digital accessibility, they might give up on subscriptions completely. So testing the registration flow and quick response in case of difficulties is one of the ways to avoid this issue. 
  • Deliver on your promises. One of the reasons why subscribers are not sticking around is because their expectations have not been met. For some, the articles were too long, for others the content presented turned out to be not so interesting. It is important to remember who is your target audience and serve them the best you can.

Do people stop believing news or news platforms?

  • Camila Mont’Alverne, Sumitra Badrinathan, Amy Ross Arguedas, Benjamin Toff, Richard Fletcher & Rasmus Kleis Nielsen (2022) The trust gap: how and why news on digital platforms is viewed more sceptically versus news in general, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

News trust has been a pressing issue recently. Partisanship and attacks on press freedom from politicians have turned certain groups of people away from news outlets.

Now, as many people consume news online through social media and search engines, the concern that trust will decrease because of these platforms grows even stronger. A team from the Reuters Institute tried to address key concerns over digital platforms and if they are coming true. 

Overall, the research finds that the levels of trust in platforms (social media, search engines, messaging apps) are lower than trust in the news.

Negative perception of news can be formed on social media, as it is one of the most often-cited places where people see criticism of journalists from strangers and from close circles. The study shows that people are dependent on what their social circle says about the news outlets on social media. So if a friend, family member or a colleague calls a news outlet “fake” or not trustworthy on social media, it might cause the person to think the same. However, news is usually not associated directly with social media, as people mostly use social platforms for entertainment or communication with others, so it might not be the decisive factor in people’s mistrust towards news media. 

Overall, the correlation between distrust in the news and the medium in which it is presented might not be as strong as some might fear, the research finds. It is especially true for established media outlets, as audiences have already formed their opinion and social media does not have much influence on their overall perception. However, social media might be a problem for new publishers, as relatively unknown brands who will appear on these platforms might be not trusted “by association”.