Is the Medium the Message? Predicting Popularity of Top U.S. News Sites with Medium-Specific Features Angela M. Lee Annenberg School for CommunicationUniversity of Pennsylvania email@example.comTwitter: angelamlee 12th International Symposium on Online Journalism Austin, TX April 2, 2011
angelamlee “Milkshake Mistakes” - Shirky • McDonald’s wanted to improve sales of its shakes • Most researchers: “Should the shakes be thicker? Sweeter? Colder?” • Gerald Berstell: Focused on the customers • Early morning • Always alone • Rarely bought anything besides shakes • Never consumed the shakes in the store • Who are they? • “Milkshake mistakes?”: Focus only on the shakes itself; assume breakfast means bacon & eggs to all, etc. • Implications: 1. Who the consumers are affect how products are produced & marketed. 2. It’s not only about the thing itself, but also how and why consumers use it.
Online news consumption: Known Note: Simulated data • “Despite the growth in web usage, the top news sites remain stable and are mostly sites tied to legacy media outlets” (2011 State of the News Media Report). • Importance of branding, source credibility, and trustworthiness online (e.g., Abdulla et al., 2005; Meyer, 2009; Lin, Salwen, Garrison & Driscoll, 2005).
Online news consumption: Unknown Source: Nielsen But what accounts for this exponential differences, given all top 10 sites offer news by comparably trustworthy sources? Process gratifications, measured by 5 online news-specific features
Online news: “A whole new experience?” • In the past, differences in news media predominantly equate differences in mediated experiences regardless of genre • Print newspapers: Textual and pictorial • Radio news: Audio • Television news: Moving pictures with audio • How does the Internet change things? • Same platform for all (e.g. newspapers, TV news stations, etc.) to fight for audience attention • Competition for news providers online is no longer only that of content, but also consumption experiences (Seelig, 2008) • New ways to consume news (i.e., much more choices) • New ways to measure and study news consumption (Tewksbury, 2003)
“Mediumizing” online news and the Internet • How is “online news” a news medium? What sets it apart from other news media? What do we mean by the Internet as “new media?” • To answer both questions require a priori understanding of medium-specific attributes • Uses & Gratifications: Focuses on media uses by centering on the relationship between media attributes and the functions they serve to users • Content gratifications (i.e., for entertainment or diversion purposes) • Social gratifications (i.e., For conversational uses) • Process gratifications (i.e., The actual mediated experience)
Updated U&G: 5 online news-specific process gratifications • Interactivity • Interaction and interplay between “producers & consumers” (Chan-Olmsted & Ha, 2003) • Audience-oriented: Choices of content available to the users to interact with (Ha & James, 1998; Seelig, 2008) • Source-oriented: Reciprocal communication between users and media (Ha & James, 1998; Seelig, 2008) • “Golden standard” or “key advantage” of the Internet (Quinn, 2005; Ha & James, 1998) • Immediacy • Timely updates on breaking news (Deuze, 2003) • Real-time distribution of news (Quinn, 2005) • Immediate correction of misinformation (Seelig, 2008)
5 process gratifications - continued • Multimedia • Amalgamation of texts, pictures, audio and video (Quinn, 2005) • Delivery of content in more engaging and creative ways (Killebew, 2005; Sundar, 2000), which offers richer process gratifications (Spyridou & Veglis, 2008; Huang,, 2007). 4. Information availability • Use of hyperlinks to additional information (Ha & James, 1998) • Online news is about 4 times more likely to incorporate information from other news outlets than print newspapers (Maier, 2010) • Offering of a plethora of information from rich and diverse sources (Ferguson & Perse, 2000)
5 process gratifications - continued • Usability • Factors that contribute to navigability, user productivity and performance (Wilberg, 2003; Nielsen, 1994; Schneiderman, 2004) • Ease through which average users navigate a news site in order to locate additional information • With more channel and content choices than ever before, Internet users can forgo less user-friendly sites without worrying about not getting comparable news information from elsewhere.
Hypotheses • The more a news site incorporate the 5 medium-specific features, the more likely it will attract audiences. • Among the top 10 news sites in 2009, all else being equal… • H1: The top three sites will utilize the five online news interface-specific features differently from that of the bottom three sites • H2: Use of the five online news interface-specific features will positively predict popularity of these top news sites • RQ1: Which of the five online news interface-specific features is the best predictor of popularity? • RQ2: How does each top news site use the five online news interface-specific features?
Method • Sample: Yahoo News (#1), MSNBC News (#2), AOL News (#3), ABC News (#8), Washington Post (#9), USA Today (#10) • Data: Recorded at 11am everyday for the entire month of June, 2010 using Automator (Mac) and Safari web browser • IV: Interactivity, immediacy, multimedia, information availability, usability • See codebook for detailed list of all items included in each feature (all items standardized and summed) • DV: Nielsen’s measure of unique audience visits • Statistical analysis: 1. Independent Sample T-Test (H1), 2. Maximum likelihood regression using structural equation modeling
Results • Supportive of H1, the top three “top 10” news sites consistently used more immediacy feature, t(166)=9.39**, multimedia feature, t(166)= 2.31*, information availability feature, and usability feature, t(166)=3.59**. • Supportive of H2, use of the five online news interface-specific features significantly predicts popularity among the top sites (R2 = 0.97). • RQ3: “Information availability” is the strongest predictor (b=1.22*); followed by usability (b=-.77**), immediacy (b=.46**), multimedia (b=.29**), and interactivity (b=.07*) • Post-hoc: ABC’s abnormally large number of “popularity stories” (i.e., most viewed, most commented, most emailed) contributes to the negative slope in the usability variable Note: *p<0.5; **p<0.005
RQ2: How do these top sites utilize the five online news-specific features?
Take-home lessons: • More popular “top sites” are consistently more online news interface-specific feature-heavy • The five online news interface-specific features significantly predict differences in popularity among the “top ten” news sites • “Information availability” is the strongest predictor of popularity among the “top ten” news sites: • Special section with more extensive news coverage on select topics • Special reports on select issues • Number of total stories • Number of alternative sources • Hyperlinks to news stories from other sources • Hyperlinks to relevant information from other sites
Future studies Repeat this study including mid-range “top 10” news stories Consider weighting individual items in each variable Track how evolution in usage of the 5 features predict popularity over time Interview actual news consumers for more holistic understanding of a potentially wider range of online news-specific process gratifications not accounted for in this study
Conclusion Changes in Internet-use diffusion and online news media landscape lead to ever-evolving online news consumption patterns, and result in new opportunities for studying such behaviors (Lin, Salwen, Garrison & Driscoll, 2005; Garrison, 2005) These changes call for empirical research to examine not only causes but also effects of emerging consumption patterns First we need to decipher how the Internet appeals to consumers as a news medium so we can maximize its medium-specific strengths to better match 21st century demands and desires Online news consumption studies should focus not only on content but also medium.
“Is the medium the message?” The medium is not the whole message in online news consumption, the whole picture includes credibility, news quality, news brands, etc., but the medium tells an important and compelling story that deserves, and ought to be heard.
Thank you for your time and attention Angela M. Leeamlee229@gmail.com