How relevance shapes the public’s news decisions

by | Mar 27, 2019 | Blog, News literacy, What We're Reading

A new study from The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism finds relevancy is the key factor in how people choose news stories to read.

What do news readers really want to read about? How relevance works for news audiences
The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism
By Kim Christian Schrøder
February 2019

How do people decide which news stories to engage with? Kim Christian Schrøder with the Digital News Project wanted to find out how and why people make their news media decisions.

He and his researchers found relevance is the main driver of news consumption. Factors that drive and define news relevance were proximity, sociability, brand, previous knowledge and the news story’s topic. Relevance is mainly related to shareability: People judge news stories based on whether they can share them with family and friends.

This study combined factor analysis and in-depth interviews with study participants. Researchers categorized participants into four different types of news consumers:

  1. People with a political and civic interest in news
  2. People with a social-humanitarian interest in news
  3. People with a cultural interest in news
  4. People who seek in-depth political stories. 

Each group’s favored stories reflected what was relevant to their lives. Journalists should not rely only on data like most-read metrics, Schrøder writes. “The key finding is that audience news preferences are (also) driven by civic interests. People can themselves articulate the role that news plays in their lives.”


Study Details

  • Research firm Kantar Public conducted the fieldwork in Oxford, UK from May to June in 2018.
  • Twenty-four participants were divided by life stages (18-29, 30-54, and 55 and older) as well as educational level, social stratification, occupation and gender. All were interviewed either in the participants’ homes or in locations they chose.
  • Participants expressed their news story preferences across 28 news categories and 36 real-world stories from a variety of different news outlets outlets, from BuzzFeed to The Times.