Chapter 14

Journalism Advocates subscribe to support a free press

Journalism Advocates are motivated by wanting to support journalism, and for many, their immediate trigger to subscribe was either a concern about verbal attacks on the press or a response to messaging about quality journalism.

Many Journalism Advocates rated their paper as reliable, noted the paper’s accuracy, and cited concerns about accuracy of other sources. These subscribers’ concerns about quality outranked incentives related to promotions or discounts. Nearly all of them say they value supporting the news organization and like that it acts as a check on political leaders.

Journalism Advocates say the biggest reasons they use the newspaper are to get reliable and factual information, it helps them stay informed and be better citizens, it deals with all sides fairly, and it is willing to admit its mistakes.

This group is younger and more digital-focused than others, but still more often than not prefers print. Perhaps for that reason, they share some primary characteristics of the Topic Hunters‚ notably that they are twice as likely as other subscribers to cite a number of interesting articles and news about a particular topic as reasons they subscribed. And 1 in 5 Journalism Advocates say they were triggered to subscribe by hitting a paywall meter limit.

Journalism Advocates are likely to identify as a Democrat and are highly educated. They are more likely than other groups to live in urban areas and more likely to subscribe to large metro papers. Journalism Advocates are more likely than others to follow local politics and national politics.

When asked why they subscribed, Journalism Advocates provide responses such as “to support truth in journalism” or “it is a trustworthy source of news and needs to be supported for it to continue.”

Journalism Advocates include 24 percent of total respondents.

“I think it’s important that we support our news organizations, both local and national, in order to maintain strong and unbiased news sources,” says a Journalism Advocate.

Publisher strategies for Journalism Advocates

This group may initially be seen as a backlash to verbal attacks against the media, unique to this moment. However, they are not exclusively that—the Journalism Advocates are more likely to follow the newspaper’s coverage of local politics and government than national politics and government.

This group skews digital in their preferences and consumption, and because they also value unlimited access to content, this subscriber path also aligns with the Digital Paywall Converters.

Publishers can take advantage of verbal attacks on the press. At those moments, these Journalism Advocates are going to be most receptive to messaging and subscription prompts. Engaging these readers with news alerts and email newsletters that can be read and shared also can lead to subscriptions. 

Some examples of these appeals can be seen in the nonprofit news landscape. Mother Jones, for instance, has used long-form essays about the process of journalism and the state of the news industry in its appeals for reader support. The Texas Tribune is an example of a local nonprofit news organization that has made shorter appeals speaking to similar themes of journalism’s importance and the resources it demands.

Bklyner, a hyperlocal for-profit news site in New York, is an extreme example of this approach: Faced with closure, they made an open and honest appeal that they needed reader revenue to stay open and continue their journalism. It worked.

Up close: Who are Journalism Advocates?

Journalism Advocates tend to be Democrats, younger, and more educated than other subscribers.

In our sample, 72 percent identified themselves as Democrats. They are more likely than other subscribers to have a college degree (76 percent vs. 64 percent) and are slightly younger (40 percent under age 60 vs. 30 percent). However, they resemble other subscribers in their racial and ethnic makeup, as well as their income distribution.

Journalism Advocates are particularly likely compared to other subscribers to have seen friends or family share content from the source (41 percent vs. 26 percent), share content from it themselves (38 percent vs. 26 percent), and to follow the organization on social media (27 percent vs. 18 percent) or its journalists on social media (22 percent vs. 13 percent).

Trust and quality are major concerns for Journalism Advocates, and they are attracted to subscribing for accurate information and to support journalism. This group is especially likely compared to other subscribers to cite both trust/quality and wanting to support journalism. They are less likely than other subscribers to mention a promotion or discount on the subscription or a particular topical focus.

Journalism Advocates Other subscribers
Local news 30% 30%
Trust or quality 24% 5%
Support journalism 15% 2%
Promotion or discount 9% 14%
Topical focus 8% 13%

Data Source: Question: Describe in your own words why you decided to subscribe to [SOURCE]?

Media Insight Project

Journalism Advocates most often cite four main background factors in their decision to subscribe—concerns about the accuracy of reporting in free news sources, wanting access to local news, wanting to support local journalism, and noticing a number of useful or interesting articles in the paper. They were more likely than other subscribers to cite each of these factors as important.

Journalism Advocates Other subscribers
I was concerned about the accuracy of the reporting available from free news sources 80% 16%
I wanted access to news about my local community 78% 55%
I wanted to support local journalism 71% 19%
I noticed a number of especially useful or interesting articles 70% 29%
I was looking for a news source that covers a particular topic/issue 41% 24%

Data Source: Question: There are a lot of reasons why a person may decide to subscribe to a news source. Here is a list of factors that might have crossed your mind as you considered subscribing to [SOURCE]. How important was each of these factors as you considered subscribing to [SOURCE]?

Media Insight Project

When it comes to what triggered them to subscribe, Journalism Advocates most often mention a discount or promotion, but they do so less often than other subscribers (40 percent vs. 46 percent). But Journalism Advocates are much more likely than other subscribers to mention they were triggered by attacks on the news media (25 percent vs. 2 percent) and seeing messaging about supporting local journalism (23 percent vs. 1 percent).

As far as topics of interest, Journalism Advocates most closely follow local politics (57 percent) and national politics (48 percent), and they are more likely to follow these two topics than other subscribers. They are less likely than other subscribers to say they follow high school, college, or professional supports, crime, or weather.

Journalism Advocates value many aspects of their paper and say several factors are important to their decision to use the paper. In particular, they say that it helps them get reliable and accurate information, it acts as a check on political leaders and those in power, it deals fairly with all sides, and that it helps them be an informed citizen. For each of these factors, Journalism Advocates are significantly more likely than other subscribers to cite them as important.

Journalism Advocates Other subscribers
Helps me get reliable and accurate factual information 98% 72%
It acts as a check on political leaders and other people in power 91% 53%
It deals fairly with all sides 91% 61%
It is willing to admit its mistakes 90% 63%
Helps me stay informed to be a better citizen 90% 54%
Is very good at covering an issue or topic I care a lot about 82% 42%
Helps me talk to friends, family, and colleagues about what’s going on in the news 64% 34%

Data Source: Question: People use news for many reasons. When it comes to the biggest reasons you use [SOURCE], how important to you is it that it…?

Media Insight Project

Many Journalism Advocates say the biggest benefit they get from subscribing to their paper is that they feel good about supporting the news organization, and they say so at much higher rates than other subscribers. Half of Journalism Advocates also cite access to print as well as digital content. They are also particularly likely compared to other subscribers to cite the benefits of an unlimited number of digital articles.

Journalism Advocates Other subscribers
I feel good about supporting the news organization 72% 32%
I get access to print in addition to digital news 51% 45%
I like getting an unlimited number of digital stories 30% 19%

Data Source: Question: Now that you subscribe to [SOURCE], which of the following do you consider the biggest benefit of your subscription? Please select up to three (3).

Media Insight Project