Why do people read online news? (Research summary)

Ioana Epure summarises “Harnessing the potential of online news: Suggestions from a study on the relationship between online news advantages and its post-adoption consequences”, a study by An Nguyen (University of Stirling)

In the last decade journalism has entered a stage in which news organisations are less reluctant to invest in online operations, but An Nguyen’s study starts from the premise that they do so driven not by the desire to innovate and fully exploit the potential of online news, but because of the fear that the internet will replace traditional media in the news market.

As a consequence, they haven’t actually tried to understand what users want from online news and how what they want will affect their behaviour after receiving it.

Surprisingly, the results of Nguyen’s study show that traditional press still has a battle to carry, provided that practitioners understand why people have turned to online news and try to offer them something similar.

The effects of the attributes of online news on its adoption and use: a review

Past studies in this field have shown that there are 9 socio-technical advantages that have determined the adoption and use of online news:

  • no costs
  • multitasking
  • more news choices
  • in-depth and background information
  • 24/7 updates
  • customization
  • ability to discuss the news with peers
  • the existence of different viewpoints
  • the opportunity to “talk back to the media”

However, although these studies have successfully explored the link between the attributes of online news and the internet users’ decision to adopt them, they failed to analyze the practical consequences of this decision. This is of crucial importance when it comes to the future development of online news.

Therefore, the 2 big questions that have remained unanswered by previous research and to which An Nguyen’s study aims to find an answer are:

1. To what extent the socio-technical advantages of online news linked to the way internet users adopt, use, evaluate and affiliate themselves to online news?

What derives directly from this question is the issue of whether online news can gradually replace traditional media, or whether all news sources will complement each other.

2. If there is a reduction in the time spent on traditional news media since online news adoption, how does this relate to the socio-technical advantages online news?

Methods

The article uses data from a national survey of Australian users of news conducted in 2004, that involved internet non-users, internet users that were not using online news, and online news users.

Findings

Out of the 9 attributes, immediacy seemed to be the main reason for online news adoption. 70% of online news users had visited news sites a few times a day, while 47% of them would go to the internet first if they found out something interesting had happened.

This means that the most important aspect that online news practitioners should focus on is providing continual 24 hour news services.

However, it seems that people expect, along with continuous updates, quality content as well – 90% of online news users had clicked on links for in depth and background information.

This stresses the importance of taking advantage of the linking and unlimited space available on the internet, as well as its interactive quality, to uncover a larger number of perspectives, from as many audiences as possible.

The study also shows that customization (the ability to receive tailor-made news) does not contribute to how much people use online news, but it does influence the level of their attachment to it, after adoption.

The ability to combine news with other online purposes, on the other hand (email news alerts, the embedding of news into non news sections of portal sites) seemed to be extremely important for online news users. The same goes the “no cost” factor. The study indicates that people are not willing to pay for news and they won’t be in the future either, as the effect of multitasking would be reduced if the news was not free.

Surprisingly, the interactive component, the ability to talk back to the media, was not as important as practitioners usually consider. The reason behind this might lie in the fact that user journalist interaction was still largely ignored at the time the study was conducted.

The study also shows that the displacement effect is still very limited – only about 10% of the users have reduced their use of traditional media.

From this point of view, the most-threatened medium is represented by magazines, displaced especially by people who use online news because they are free and customizable.

Newspapers come second, being replaced by the users that appreciated attributes such as immediacy, while television was replaced due to its superficiality, its lack of in depth information.

Concluding notes: some questions for journalism scholars

The most important conclusion of this study is the fact that people want both permanent updates and comprehensive news, an expensive combination, considering that most of them are unwilling to pay for online content. Therefore, any investment in successfully combining the two must be made at the publisher’s expense.

A solution to this issue might lie in advertising. The study concludes, though, with the following questions: what if online advertising does not work well enough for online news providers? And if not, where will the resources necessary for further investments in online news come from?

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13 thoughts on “Why do people read online news? (Research summary)

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  4. Bill Bennett

    I realise this might sound cynical, but I’m certain one reason read online news is because it looks like work.

    If you’re sitting at your desk with a printed newspaper open, it may look as if you are not working – even if it is your job to keep abreast of events. On the other hand, viewing news stories on a screen has the appearance of being work.

    Reply
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  9. boxer

    More and more people spend more and more time on the computer/internet, so it is just natural that they read online news.

    Reply
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