Subscriptions See Boost When Audiences Are Involved With Engaged Journalism (New Study)

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It’s not just lip service to say that successful publishers listen to their audiences. That input can obviously lead to a better overall product, but, as recent research has also found, it can help boost subscriptions as well.

That’s the latest from two researchers investigating “engaged journalism as a strategy for affecting news organizations’ revenue streams and improving news audience evaluations.” The researchers, Natalie Jomini Stroud and Emily Van Duyn, oversaw a six-month initiative by 20 local news sites, half of whom continued business as usual and the other half who brought audiences into the story-idea and reporting processes. 

As Nieman Lab ‘s Sophie Culpepper reports, that entailed asking audiences for questions they wanted journalists to answer, having audiences vote for a preferred question, reporting on that question (and inviting question-submitters into this process), and publishing the report. “Newsrooms had to publish two to three stories per month, conduct voting rounds monthly, and contact the question submitter at least once before reporting and at least once before publishing.”

Ultimately, the participating newsrooms published 263 total stories, with a third focusing on civic matters (such as local history and recreation). Meanwhile, the researchers simultaneously tracked subscription and viewing variables. And while the audience engagement efforts did not have a causal effect on subscription renewals, pageviews, or return visits, the researchers saw “an increase of 1.75 new subscriptions each day for intervention news sites compared with the control sites, all else equal.”


(Source: Nieman Lab)

“This finding,” Nieman Labs says, “suggested to the researchers that ‘by providing a service that answers questions posed by audience members, audiences are more likely to reciprocate through subscriptions.’”

The researchers also pointed to the engaged audiences giving a higher rating to news efficacy and finding the site more responsive, as well as “more favorable perceptions of the newspaper and a stronger sense of the news sites’ role in the infrastructure of their community.”

“I think that the research demonstrates that engagement efforts can have both business and community benefits,” Stroud said to Nieman Lab. “Although it isn’t a panacea, it can be helpful.”


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