Sunday, September 20, 2009

Findings on online news

My colleague Anna Daniel has recently presented our findings on Young People and Online News, developed through the Smart Services CRC with Fairfax Digital as the principal business of interest. This was presented at the Transforming Audiences 2 conference, held at the University of Westminster in London from 3-4 September.

The paper can be accessed from my QUT ePrints site, by clicking on Conference Papers and downloading the top listed paper. It was based upon an online survey of 540 people - primarily in South-East Queensland - and follow-up focus groups with 50 respondents. We divided these up into 18-24 and 25+ demographics.

In developing the work, we have identified three competitive strategies of news media organisations (following Michael Porter, among others):
  1. Brand leadership - investing in quality and unique resources to build a nationally or internationally leading news brand. Examples in Australia include The Age, SMH, The Australian and the ABC;
  2. Cost leadership - generating content at the lowest possible cost that is tailored to the expectations of a targeted readership. Examples include the free MX newspapers and the ninemsn web site;
  3. Differentiation - this is about extending content into new news brands, made very possible in the online environment. An interesting recent example is The Economist developing a new magazine and online resource called More Intelligent Life, repurposing its non-economic content.
In the course of our research, we identified three typologies of news user. They were:
  1. Loyal users: they gravitate to established news brands, and have strong views about the authority of professional journalists. They are not especially innovative users of online sources, and they don't typically comment on hews sites (although they read the comemnts of others). This would account for about 30% of our sample.
  2. Conveneience users: this group take news where they find it, and like news "snacks". Many get ninemsn from their Hotmail accounts. They are not necessarily disengaged from news, but are not "classic" news consumers e.g. they like their celebrity gossip as much or more than finding out about ETS policy. They accounted for about 60% of our sample;
  3. Customizers: this group accounted for about 10% of our sample, and fit the profile of what my colleague Axel Bruns refers to as produsers. They source niche content globally, rely upon blogs and multiple RSS feeds (or increasingly Twitter), and are as likely to be producers and consumers of news. They are often highly critical of the mainstream media (or what they term the MSM).
Key take home messages. Two to focus on at this stage:
  1. The challenge for established news brands is how to reach beyond the loyal users. Google seeks to occupy the Convenience space, and the "frenemy" issue for these news providers in their dealings with Google is becoming more acute. Growing through the customizers can attract a valuable readership, but is expensive and time-consuming to pursue;
  2. It was not clear from our study that there is a user reaction to perceived "dumbing down" of online news sites. This may be shaped by our focus on younger users and S-E Qld, but we had very little commentary that these online sites were once better than they now are.

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