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University of Minnesota
Sample size: 800
Field period: 05/28/2020-03/15/2021
The proposed study builds on existing work in examining how adults make judgments of the news-ness of a piece of content, by which we mean the degree to which audiences evaluate a piece of content as news, to test this process among teenagers. Teenagers are important to study given that they hold quite different expectations for news, which may influence their perceptions of news-ness when faced with content. This study explored three features of a message: the context in which the message is found (e.g., Twitter headline versus online website), the relevance of the headline to the group (e.g., whether the issue broadly affects that age group or a different age), and the issue domain (e.g., health versus financial) using a 2 x 2 x 2 experimental design. Participants were randomly assigned to see a single image of a headline from the Associated Press (AP) across all conditions, formatted to appear as if it is from their website versus shared on Twitter. Within each context, participants randomly saw one headline regarding a “new study” regarding the increase (or decrease in the case of retirement savings) from 2017 regarding (1) depression diagnoses, (2) Alzheimer’s disease diagnoses, (3) student debt, or (4) retirement savings. These headlines reinforce issue relevance by explicitly mentioning either “young adults” (for depression and student debt) or “older adults” (for Alzheimer’s disease and retirement savings). After the manipulation, participants rated the news-ness of the headline, their perceptions of its relevance, and its credibility.
H1: A story headline that features an a group similar to individual’s age group will be seen as higher in news-ness than a story headline that features other age groups.
H2: A story headline that features an individual’s age group will be perceived as more relevant than a story headline that features other age groups.
H3: Perceived relevance will mediate the effects of featured age on news-ness.
H4: A post seen on the AP’s website will be rated as higher in news-ness than a post on the AP’s Twitter feed.
RQ1: Are the direct and indirect effects of featured age alignment on news-ness and relevance consistent for health and financial topics?
This study uses a 2 (context: Twitter vs. website) x 2 (issue relevance to teens: high versus low) x 2 (issue domain: finance vs. health) experimental design. All participants will be randomly assigned to see a single image of a headline from the Associated Press (AP) across all conditions, formatted to appear as if it is from their website versus shared on Twitter. Within each context, participants will randomly see one headline regarding a “new study” regarding the increase (or decrease in the case of retirement savings) from 2017 regarding (1) depression diagnoses, (2) Alzheimer’s disease diagnoses, (3) student debt, or (4) retirement savings. These headlines reinforce issue relevance by explicitly mentioning either “young adults” (for depression and student debt) or “older adults” (for Alzheimer’s disease and retirement savings).
How would you characterize the post you just viewed? (1=Definitely not news, 4=sort of news, 7=definitely news; 1-7 point scale)
How much do you disagree or agree with the following statements? (1-7 strongly disagree-strongly agree)
A. This post is a good example of news
B. This post is what I expect news to be
C. This post is not very news-like
Overall, how would you evaluate the post you just saw? The post was: (1-7)
A. Credible / Not credible
B. Trustworthy / Not trustworthy
How relevant was the post to you (7-point scale): Not at all relevant - Extremely relevant
To what extent did the post mean (7 point scale): A lot to you - Nothing to you
How important is the post? (7 point scale): Not at all important - Extremely important
How likely are you to (7 point scale):
A) seek out information about TOPIC
b) Share a news story regarding TOPIC
What was the topic of the post you just read?
1. Depression diagnoses
2. Alzheimer’s disease diagnoses
3. Student debt and default
4. Retirement savings
Where did you see the post? The AP’s…
1. Twitter feed
2. News website
3. Facebook feed
4. Somewhere else
We observe a main effect of featured age, with stories focused on younger adults (i.e., in closer alignment with our teen sample) being seen as higher in news-ness than stories focused on older adults, F (1, 808) =5.79, p<.001, p2=.007. Likewise, the effects of featured age in the story headline are not conditioned by topic, F (1, 808) =0.00, p=.97, p2=.000. Instead, there is a main effect of topic independent of featured age, with stories focusing on health topics rated as higher in news-ness than stories focused on financial topics, F (1, 808) =13.83, p<.001, p2=.017.
We also observe a main effect of featured age on perceived relevance, with stories that focused on issues facing younger adults (and were in closer alignment with our teen sample) seen as higher in perceived relevance than stories focused on older adults, F (1, 807) =57.19, p<.001, p2=.066. We find that these effects of featured age are not conditioned by the story topic, F (1, 807) =.31, p=.62, p2=.000. Instead, we see that overall, stories that focus on health topics were seen as more relevant than those focused on financial topics, F (1,807) =16.45, p<.001, p2=.020.
Specifically, the perceived relevance of the headline was positively and significantly correlated with perceptions of news-ness, b=.30, S.E.=.02, p<.001, such that people who saw the story as more relevant also rated it as higher in news-ness.We also find support for a mediated relationship. There is a significant negative effect among teens of moving from an issue featuring younger adults (i.e., in closer alignment with our teen sample) to one featuring older adults on perceived relevance, and a significant positive relationship between perceived relevance and news-ness. As a result, there is a significant indirect pathway reducing the news-ness of the article by lowering its perceived news-ness for both financial issues. Moreover, the direct pathway between featured age and news-ness is reduced to non-significance, suggesting that perceived relevance fully mediates this relationship. The index of moderated mediation, which tests whether these indirect effects differ across topics, confirms that this process occurs equally for both issues, b=-.04, S.E.=.07, LLCI=-.17, ULCI=.10.