Field Research

To set the stage for our product development classes, we conducted field research to develop a qualitative understanding of local news audiences and potential audiences.

For the Local News Initiative, Knight Lab is running a series of product development classes integrated with the Lab's own development process. The series begins in January, 2019 with a two-quarter design studio which partners Masters' students from Medill's Journalism program and the EDI program in the Segal Institute of Design. As an input to that work, we set out to develop an understanding of the way people interact with news and media today. We engaged Insitum to work with us to design and execute a qualitative field research program. The results of that research are summarized below. The full report is available as a PDF download. We will combine these findings with other research conducted for the Local News Initiative, as well as work done elsewhere, to set the context for the class.

Research Methodology

We divided our sample of research participants into three groups: non-users, secondary users and primary users. This helped us understand the spectrum of needs, behaviors and attitudes shown by local news audiences. This framework, in tandem with a mobile diary study and in-home home interviews uncovered the role local news plays in people's lives and where there is room for improvement.

Non-User

Locally aware consumer

  • Don’t consume local news.
  • They don’t subscribe, pay or donate to any local news publishers.
  • They might consume at very low frequency.

Secondary

Low engagement non subsriber

  • Consume local news several times a month.
  • They consider local news to be somewhat important or neutral to them.
  • Consume either Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle or Indianapolis Star depending on market.
  • They follow 3-5 specific topics, like local politics or local sports.

Primary

Locally engaged subscription junkie

  • Consume local news frequently, multiple times a week.
  • They have a least one paid subscriptions to a local news publisher.
  • They consider local news very important to them.
  • They are highly engaged, they tend to consume news actively, participate in civic life, share local news, get notifications and/or are long-time followers.
  • They donate to one or more news organizations.
  • They follow 5 or more topics.

In-Home Interviews

Objective: Understand key challenges and attitudes towards local news.

We conducted 60-minute, in-home participant interviews in Chicago, Indianapolis and San Francisco. We spoke to:

  • 7 Non-Users
  • 4 Secondary Users
  • 7 Primary Users

Online Diary Study

Objective: Understand current local news behaviors and moments of interaction.

We conducted a week-long online diary study through dscout, where we asked participants to document and refect on their experiences consuming local news. We heard from a sample of:

  • ~25 Secondary Users
  • ~25 Primary Users

Local News Audiences

To identify key behaviors and attitudes for local news audiences, we needed to analyze how people interact with local news sources. Based on our field research, we were able to create several archetypes and frameworks to consolidate our findings.

Media Mentalities

We uncovered an attitudinal framework that helps define four main attitudes showcased by our participants. These key attitudes are called Media Mentalities.

The x-axis defines what motivates people to interact with local news.
The y-axis defines what role does local news have in their lives.

Learners

Learners are motivated to be knowledgeable and educated about topics that they are interested in and issues that surround their communities.

Engaging with local news allows them to feel like a better citizen by keeping them educated about things that might affect them or others who depend on them.

They are very proactive about how they engage with and consume news. While seeking information, learners carve out time at the end of the day or during their free time to deep dive into longer form articles, even if this means reading them after they were published.

Connectors

Connectors are motivated to stay in touch with what is happening in their communities and having a general sense of what is going on around them.

Engaging with local news allows them to engage in conversation with others, building a feeling of connection and belonging to their community.

They are very proactive about how they engage with and consume news. They are always seeking information, and as such, carve out time at the end of the day or during their free time to deep dive into longer form articles, even if this means reading them after they were published.

Achievers

Achievers are motivated to constantly be up-to-date about the most recent information so they can plan accordingly.

Engaging with local news allows them to be successful at their job or social life. They want to know what is currently happening that can affect their day or work.

They are very proactive about how they engage with and consume news. They are always seeking information, and as such, carve out time at the end of the day or during their free time to deep dive into longer form articles, even if this means reading them after they were published.

Sharers

Sharers are motivated to be in-the-know and gain insider information about social events and happenings that they can talk to others about.

Engaging with local news allows them to hold an influencer status within their social group, always aware of anything that might affect and influence his/her social activities.

They are very proactive about how they engage with and consume news. They are always seeking information, and as such, carve out time at the end of the day or during their free time to deep dive into longer form articles, even if this means reading them after they were published.

Modes of Interaction

Each of the four mentalities interact with local news in different ways; these differences are most clearly seen by when, how and why they seek out content. By identifying how people interact with sources and consume information, local news organizations can develop new products to satisfy each of their needs.

Prompted

This is when people are triggered to consume news through notifications, email or passively browsing social media.

Purposeful

This is when people purposfully carve out parts of their day to interact with the news and typically start with a Google search, opening bookmarked tabs or other established routines.

Specific

This is when people are actively searching for key local news topics that interest them and may directly impact them. They may be following up on something they heard during the day.

General

This is when people are looking for general updates about things going on around them. They are looking to see what's new or something that might spark their interest.

Modes of Consumption

How people interact with news sources is only half of the story. We were also interested in how people consumed stories, once they had access. These patterns of consumption are distinct across the four mentalities and highlight opportunity spaces and pain points for news organizations to address.

Shorter

This is when people consume shorter bursts of information so that they feel up-to-date, typically in the form of headline style content.

Longer

This is when people are willing to invest time in exploring a story in depth, browsing through multiple articles to look for detailed information.

Real-Time

This is when people want to have the most relevant information with current updates of what's going on that might affect their day.

Delayed

This is when people access information after it has already been published, hoping to catch up on things they've missed. Often, they let articles and stories pile up and interact with all of them in one go.

Audience Challenges

Local news audiences were able to express key pain points and challenges they experience while interacting with local news. Uncovering these are key to be able to understand what local news organizations might do to address the challenges audiences face.

  • People feel overwhelmed by local news, resulting in a lack of engagement.
  • People feel like local news lacks convenience, causing them to trade off speed and quality.
  • People feel like there are a plethora of sources and players in local news, making it difficult to navigate.
  • People have limited resources to invest in local news and often can't justify the cost.
  • People feel that they have a deteriorating relationship with local news organizations.

Insights and Opportunities

Through the course of listening to local news consumers and their stories, we were able to uncover specific areas that local news organizations can focus their attention on to improve reader experiences and loyalty. The section below represents challenges we identified and the corresponding opportunities to change existing narratives.

feeling overwhelmed having control

Audiences desire the ability to filter, customize and take action on the content they receive. There is a desire to have more control over what they read and where it is from, opting in and out based on their context and emotions in the moment. This falls in line with trends in analogous industries, where audiences have more power and control of access over their experiences.

lack of convenience seamless experience

News audiences’ need to be in-the-know has been strongly reinforced by services that instantly provide information, pushing updates across all platforms. However, not all people are going out of their way to get their news. They want to be informed but without putting in effort to seek it out - to have articles and stories seamlessly fit into their online routines and come from sources they already trust.

difficulty navigating assurance & certainty

News audiences’ need to be in-the-know has been strongly reinforced by services that instantly provide information, pushing updates across all platforms. However, not all people are going out of their way to get their news. They want to be informed but without putting in effort to seek it out - to have articles and stories seamlessly fit into their online routines and come from sources they already trust.

limited resources fulfilling motivations

Audiences pay for a variety of different subscriptions and services and find it difficult to justify paying for the news they consume. Some are happy with the status quo: they read for free. To justify spending the effort, money or time to access and engage with the news, audiences need to perceive that they are receiving value based on their motivations.

deteriorating relationships trusted partnerships

The relationship between local news organizations and audiences has been highly influenced by technology developments and trends, causing strain as expectations of veracity, honest representation, and reliability struggle to be met. This relationship can only improve if local news organizations find ways to transition away from a transactional relationship with their audiences and create ways to build shared ownership and trust.

About the research

This design field research was led by Insitum, a strategic innovation consulting firm, with direction from Joe Germuska, director of Northwestern University Knight Lab. We are also grateful for substantial contributions by our design research interns, Harriet White and Samarth Soni.

About the project

Human-Centered Design for Local News Products

The Northwestern University Knight Lab, renowned for its development of digital storytelling tools and platforms, is interviewing news consumers and assessing data on their online behavior to inspire creation of products, tools and approaches that are designed to improve reader engagement, bolster financial sustainability and better inform citizens.