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Public Value of Local News: A First Look at Measuring Public and Social Value in Local News Outlets.

Publication Type:

Conference Paper


4th European Communication Conference, ECREA 2012, Istanbul, Turkey (2012)


We know that public media systems and the content they distribute create value for audiences, and that they create social value. While commercial markets for media products can provide estimates for some of these sources of value, they largely fail to fully consider and evaluate “free media” and noncommercial sources of value, particularly the social value arising from public media news and information services. The failure to measure, much less capture, these alternative sources of value has contributed to the problems facing public media.
Perhaps the biggest problem in determining and measuring the value of public media and its content is their complexity as goods and services. Public media and content are consumed as bundles – of content and distribution form, of multiple component pieces of content, of product and affiliated value-added aspects. These bundles may be involved in multiple markets, each contributing potential value to individuals as well as making contributions to social and public welfare over time. All this has contributed to the failure to develop adequate measured of the full range of values, much less look at the comparative contributions of individual factor and attributes within the bundled local news product.
Long used as a tool in market research, conjoint analysis provides a way to differentiate the relative values placed on different aspects and features of products and services. However, early implementation of the analytical tools became cumbersome when dealing with more than a couple of levels of a couple of factors, as it required separate evaluation of all possible combinations of levels and factors. More recent analytical techniques can significantly reduce the operational complexity of conjoint analyses, allowing the examination of relative value across a wider range of factors, and more levels or options within each factor. With the new methods, a means of soliciting indicators of the perceived value of a wider range of the private and social value of a range of public media types, contents, and services exists.
The proposed paper will discuss early results from an U.S. convenience sample of young adults that will utilize conjoint analysis to measure the comparative personal, and perceived social, value of local news and information outlets. The analysis should be able to isolate the relative contribution of local news outlet, type of news/information, source expertise/credibility, and availability of additional related content (including audience interactions and contributions). We’ve had interest from possible collaborators around the world in terms of administering the survey to local samples, and hopefully, by the time of the conference, we will also be able to show some cross-cultural comparisons.
Developing better estimates of the relative value and importance of various aspects of local news operations has important implications for public media – providing a better basis for arguing for public financing and support (reflecting the perceived public and social value of public media), and providing public media with improved information on what their audiences do and do not value in their content and services.