Engaging news outsiders: A case study from Schibsted’s IN/LAB

According to Reuters’ 2022 Digital News Report 38% of people actively avoid the news. What opportunities do new technologies offer to address news avoiders, and how are publishers looking at reaching these unrepresented news audiences? Nic Newman and Agnes Stenbom addressed this complex topic at last week’s Twipe Digital Growth Summit.

Engagement remains the big challenge

The increase in news avoidance has correlated with a decline in traditional media usage and a levelling off of digital media adoption. Negative news has often been cited as a key reason for this, with many publishers trying to counterbalance this with specific positive news initiatives like Euronews’ 5 Good News Stories weekly edition or The Times’A Colourful look at the News” Newsletter.

Younger people have also reported that news is becoming harder to understand. Nic Newman presented 3 key reasons why this may be the case:

  1. The language and jargon publishers use may be too complicated
  2. Access to news stories is not close enough to the main channels of consumption (social media)
  3. Our story formats are not adapted for news consumption on social media which is more fragmented, meaning readers often come in at the middle of a story and won’t get the full picture

To address this engagement challenge, publishers and news product leaders need to be more human according to Nic. When redesigning news products, should publishers have a focus on how audiences receive and consume the news as much as on the content they present?

Rethinking how we address “news avoiders”

Even if Norway has one of the world’s highest levels of news adoption, for the country’s leading publisher Schibsted, ensuring that news gets to all audiences is a key goal.

At the Summit, we learned from Agnes Stenbom, Head of Lab at Schibsted’s IN/LAB that in the company they no longer use the term “news avoiders” and instead focus on “news outsiders”. This is a powerful shift as it depicts a fragmented audience rather than polarised one. Schibsted and Tinius Trust launched IN/LAB to look at how technology can have a positive impact on reaching news outsiders.

In today’s landscape, consumers take in different images of reality, some based on facts and others from alternative sources. But publishers have a duty to deliver news to all people. No matter what their reality, they can’t be left on the outside.

Agnes highlighted that the media industry themselves are partly at fault for this. The way media provides audiences with news is biased by the consumption patterns of our past audiences, resulting in certain groups not being addressed.

We know that the media hasn’t served different groups in society to an equal extent.

Agnes Stenbom

3 pillars approach to engaging news outsiders

The efforts of Agnes and her teams at IN/LAB have already seen them speak to groups including Anti-vaxxers, who believed that the news themselves were the virus, flat earthers and many more.

IN/LAB try to understand the reality of users that they’re not reaching. This helps them understand group’s perspectives on news journalism, their pain points with current processes, and their specific news needs.

To do this, IN/LAB focus on 3 main methods:

  • Community research
  • Editorial efforts
  • Technical experiements

Community research has proved to be a powerful tool. Rather than adding a survey at the end of an app and only reach users and subscribers, IN/LAB partner with places like youth recreational centres and civic societal organisations to find ways into communities which are detached from their news.

Following this, editorial efforts are made, usually from Schibsted’s big brands to address the findings on an immediate level, and then they run the technical experiments with the groups to see how they can use technology to offer solutions.

IN/LAB’s approach in action

An example currently in action is a project with young people from segregated multicultural outer city areas in Sweden. After speaking with these groups about their news preferences, findings were contrary to expectations and existing efforts.

As a result, IN/LAB involved some of these young people in the design thinking process. There is a fundamental belief that they must have them in the centre for real change.

So what?

In spite of a continued focus on driving engagement over the past years, the engagement challenge still has only been partially cracked.

With new generations, new channels and new technologies coming, it is important to continue to understand the vastness of our audiences and focus on building products that are human and tailored to the audiences’ needs. This is a complex problem where technology can help.

Technologies that really matter today in terms of addressing the engagement challenge are how we use data more effectively, how we start to use technologies like artificial intelligence actually to engage people and create more relevant content.

Nic Newman, Senior Research Associate at Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism


Team Twipe

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