News consumption habits
How young professionals use mobile technology to consume news media
This project took place over a period of two weeks as part of the Interaction Science module that I completed as part of the Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) Master’s program at University College London.
UCL Interaction Centre that delivers the HCI program is a world leading Centre of Excellence in Human-Computer Interaction.
Large scale surveys on news consumption (Ofcom, Reuters) show that mobile technologies grow in importance as sources of news. The studies say little, however, about why people increasingly use mobile devices to consume news and in which contexts people engage in listening to, watching or reading the news.
The brief was not specific regarding a concrete situation and target audience. After the initial literature review, I identified a gap in research and focused on young professionals and their daily news consumption habits.
This was an individual project – I prepared and conducted the research and wrote up the report.
Young professionals living in London.
Four participants (3 females, 1 male) took part in the study. These were between the age of 25 and 31, all working in London, having achieved bachelor’s or master’s degrees, using either an Android-based smartphone or an iPhone.
Process, Methods & Tools
This was a short-term small-scale qualitative study. The aim was to uncover habits of young professionals when it comes to consuming news media.
Process & research methods used
I designed an online survey to learn what mobile news-related apps and sites in general, the participants used.
Experience sampling (ES)
I didn’t want to use a traditional diary study as it’s prone to memory biases. Experience sampling is, on the other hand, much more immediate – it allows a researcher to connect with a participant and ask questions in a particular moment. Messages or questionnaires can be delivered to participants’ mobile devices either regularly in set intervals (schedule-based ES), or when a particular event happens (event-based ES).
I assessed several experience sampling tools and decided to use the PACO App which supports event-based notification triggering on Android phones (on iOS-based devices, it still depends on participants’ memory).
The study was fairly time constrained, so I selected two subsequent weekdays and a weekend to run the ES.
Autoethnography is a research method in which the researcher conducts the experiment on himself/herself first in order to gain empathy with the studied user group. It is also a useful way of piloting a study to uncover potential limitations and to gauge how much time and effort participation requires.
I carried out a 7-day autoethnography to assess how demanding the ES would be for the participants. I added several new options that I discovered through this method to the ES questionnaire.
I interviewed the participant on the following day after finishing the Experience Sampling part of the study.
The interviews were held either in person or via Skype and took between 20 and 30 minutes. All interviews were audio recorded for further analysis and were made of three parts:
- The introduction included general questions about the news participants sought. The main purpose of this part was to put participants at ease and to introduce the news related topics.
- The context in which the participant reads the news formed the main part of the interview and was designed to probe in depth on participants’ news-reading habits and situations in which they would read the news.
- Using the PACO app. The participants were asked about their experience with the PACO app.
Tools I used
- Google Forms (Survey)
- PACO App (Experience Sampling)
- Mobile audio recorder (Interviews)
- NVivo 11 (Interview transcripts & Analysis)
- Pen and paper
Thematic analysis + Grounded theory methodologies of open coding and memoing
I used the Thematic analysis and NVivo 11 program to analyse transcribed interviews.
Several themes emerged from the analysis – some previously described in the literature, some new – related specifically to young professionals.
Participants also uploaded a number of photos showing the context in which they engaged in reading news.
Themes confirming previous findings
- Boredom, waiting, taking a break from work
- Morning habit
Themes specific to young professionals
- Reading the news as a multi-device activity
- Routines – structured weekdays, leisure weekends
- Time efficiency important
- Presence of other people affects news consumption
The themes are described in much more detail in the study report below.
Setting up the PACO app was challenging at first – since I needed to add as many news apps as the participants would use, which in some cases was up to seven. The notifications proved somewhat unreliable when testing and updating study settings. In the end, however, I managed to figure everything out and I consider the event-based experience sampling a very useful technique as it’s relevant to any mobile app in the wild testing.