Google, tricky ads, frustrated reporters: The AEJMC research

All this week in Montreal, faculty and students from around the world are presenting studies and research on an immense variety of mass communications topics.  About 2,000 people are attending the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication conference this year, with hundreds of presentations and work sessions taking place.

You can read summaries of many of the studies on the conference web site. Here are some that have caught our attention this week:

Social/online media and political knowledge. Researchers gave political news quizzes to people who get their news mainly from online and social media.  Fox News web site readers scored highest on the quiz — but the scholars point out that the quiz focused on Republican candidates in the upcoming primary election. In other results:  Facebook users scored lower than people who don’t use Facebook; and those who spent the most time reading online media scored the

“And Then I Just Google It.”    Students in this study were asked to find answers to specific questions about news stories using the Internet. Researchers found that students do not go to a particular news web site — they simply use Google. Penn State professor Dunja Antunovic said that when asked on which site they found the answers, students tended to respond  “Google” rather than or other news sites.  The study also found that television news was still the top choice for breaking news among young adults.

Effects of news tweets. Researchers set up fake twitter accounts for non-existent journalists and tested “what happens when journalists get on Twitter,” said Brian Houston, a University of Missouri professor. Among the findings was that readers of local news prefer journalists to be opinionated and subjective, but preferred objectivity from journalists writing on national matters.twitter1

What do people want from journalists on Twitter?   This Elon University study found that people want the journalists they follow on Twitter to talk about “the secret sauce” — inside information that didn’t make it into the published story. Readers also want recommended reading from their favorite journalists — and not just the journalists’ own stories. And when they pose a question to a journalist on Twitter, they want a response.

Twitter accuracy in breaking news.  Researchers studied the accuracy and content of tweets from news organizations of varying sizes during the Newtown shooting.  They found that tweets from the small weekly newspaper were 100 percent accurate, compared to 94 percent from national media. The scholars also found that regional and national media tweets focused on the shooting itself while the smaller local media tweets primarily contained utility information such as road closures.

chartbeatHow journalists use audience metrics.  Among the findings in this study: The more journalists felt threatened by competition, the more likely they were to use metrics (page views, visitors and other audience statistics) to make editorial decisions.

Who uses hyperlinks?  Larger news organizations inserted more hyperlinks into their content, but most of them are for the news organizations own content. For example, 99 percent of hyperlinks in Wall Street Journal online content connected to Journal content. Researchers say that linking to other news web sites could strengthen credibility.

“You’ll never believe what they found.”  Do “clickbait” headlines work?   Respondents in this survey said they did not trust overwrought headlines as much as they trust traditional headlines — but they still read and shared the “clickbait” stories at a high rate.

roadblockPublic information officers and roadblocks. Journalists who cover government at all levels were surveyed about the level of interference from PIOs. From their responses, researchers created a “reporter frustration scale,” said Carolyn Carlson, a Kennesaw State University professor, and found that “a strong majority of journalists perceive they are not able to get important information to the public because of PIO controls.”  The journalists also said that the problem has increased over the past several years.

Is that an ad or a story?   Only 10 percent of readers surveyed in this study remembered seeing particular stories labeled as advertisements — no matter how large the label or where it was placed.  The researchers studied the design of native ads/sponsored content on 10 sites — including BuzzFeed, Forbes, the Washington Post and Slate — and then created a fake news site called the New Haven Tribune which contained sponsored content modeled after those sites.  The study concluded that “publishers and regulators should do more to ensure that readers are not being confused” by ads that too closely resemble news stories.