Home Medill Research

Major survey of news consumption highlights challenges for entire industry

A sweeping, in-depth survey of the news consumption habits of Chicago-area residents by researchers at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University captures the tectonic shift to smartphone usage from television and print newspapers, and finds that half of consumers believe no one should pay for journalism.

The survey of 1,004 people, one of the largest examinations ever of news consumption habits in the Chicago area, identifies numerous notable findings. Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed, or 62%, said they use their smartphones to get local news all the time or often, compared to 52% who watch news on television all the time or often. Thirteen percent of respondents said they read traditional newspapers and magazines often or all the time, while only a limited number of residents (19%) pay or donate money for access to local journalism.

In one of the survey’s most significant findings, Medill’s researchers identified a lack of public awareness of the financially perilous state of local news. A majority of those surveyed (54%) believe local news outlets are doing “somewhat well” financially. Another 17% said they are doing “very well,” meaning that in total, 71% of respondents don’t know the news business is in crisis. Research by the Medill Local News Initiative has chronicled in detail the alarming pace at which news organizations under financial duress are shrinking or disappearing, creating “news
deserts” in communities across the country.

The disconnect between performance and awareness has profound implications for the future of journalism because many local newsrooms need to persuade more consumers to become paying customers for digital news to make up for weak online advertising revenue. But audiences not only don’t believe the news business is suffering, they are skeptical about who, if anyone, should pay for news. About half (51%) of Chicago-area residents said no one should pay for news. Another 27% of respondents said those who can pay should pay.

Much smaller numbers said those who read the most should pay, or everyone should pay. “The most solid pillar of local news is reader revenue, digital subscriptions, or memberships,” said Tim Franklin, Senior Associate Dean at Medill and one of the authors of the survey. “If half of people think that no one should have to pay for news, that shows the news business model has some headwinds.”

The survey, published as a 64-page report, “The Medill Survey: How the Chicago Area Gets its News,” was conducted by faculty of the Medill School with funding by the MacArthur Foundation. The authors are Medill Professor Stephanie Edgerly, Associate Dean of Research; Assistant Professor Yu Xu; along with Franklin, who is also John M. Mutz Chair in Local News and Director of the Medill Local News Initiative. NORC at the University of Chicago, on Medill’s behalf, surveyed adults throughout the 14-county metro area, including parts of southern Wisconsin and northwest Indiana, via a mixture of phone and web methods. The margin of error was +/- 4.66%.

While the survey focused on the Chicago region, the results may bea microcosm of the fast-changing landscape for local news across the country. The study’s goal was to examine the current state of the public’s interest in and reliance on local news, as well as readership, viewership and listenership habits. The survey also explored other views on journalism, including motivations for consuming news and attitudes related to the trustworthiness of reporters to perform their roles well.

Some of the survey’s key findings include:

The public generally remains engaged in following news events. About half (53%) of adults consume local news once or multiple times a day.

There are strong generational differences in reader interest, with almost two-thirds (62%) of adults ages 60+ consuming local news once or multiple times daily, compared to just 39% of people ages 18-29.

The generational difference is also profound for television viewership: While 66% of adults 60+ watch local TV news daily, that number drops to only 22% for 18-29 year-olds.

Chicago-area consumers are fairly positive about what they consume. About half (53%) trust local news media to get things right, a higher portion than found nationally (44%), according to a different study of local news.

While most respondents (85%) have never met a local journalist, 43% said they were interested in attending a meet-and-greet with local reporters.

A principal goal of the study is to give news organizations, journalists, philanthropists, scholars and other interested parties a better understanding of consumers’ behaviors. “Armed with these insights, key stakeholders can explore new pathways to better meet the public’s news needs and explore new business models to support the local journalism our communities need,” Edgerly said.

While the Medill report confirms the impact of technological change on local news consumption habits, it also suggests that some basic assumptions by journalists and civic leaders about how the public values local news may no longer be true. Industry leaders have made passionate arguments in defense of financially struggling newspapers, warning that democratic traditions are at stake because journalists are watchdogs of public interest whose work binds citizens to
communities. But that perspective isn’t widely recognized.

The survey found that the main reason people said they consume local news and information is to meet the needs of everyday life. Specifically, 60% of respondents consume news because it “helps me save and manage money,” while 52% consume news because it “helps me stay healthy.” Far down the list are “helps me feel connected to my community” (15%) as well as “helps me take action to address issues I care about” (12%) and “helps me stay informed to be a better citizen” (10%).

“The big push by philanthropy and policymakers right now to provide money for local news is in a democracy framework: More robust local news helps improve the democratic institutions of a community and the country,” Franklin said. “This survey suggests that message isn’t taking hold with the public yet and there’s more work to do to make the public aware of what’s at stake with the loss of local news. While we as journalists attach altruistic reasons for our work and why people come to local news, many of them are tuning in or reading in a transactional way.”

The report includes a conclusion urging stakeholders with an interest in a free and vigorous press to play a role in elevating local news at a moment when it is under siege. The report also features a brief history of Chicago journalism to offer further perspective on the important findings of the survey.

“How the Chicago Area Gets Its News” is a product of the Medill Local News Initiative, a research and development project aimed at bolstering the sustainability of local news.

Home Medill Research

The future of news consumption can be glimpsed in the habits of younger news consumers today

Next Gen News Understanding the audiences of 2030

The news habits of young consumers differ from previous generations, and understanding these differences will be critical for news outlets to accommodate, according to research conducted by the Knight Lab Medill in partnership with FT Strategies and supported by the Google News Initiative.

Through multi-hour interviews with news consumers ages 18 to 25 from the United States, Nigeria and India, the research uncovered the evolving expectations and needs that news producers can address.

“Helping news organizations understand the needs of young news consumers today but also getting a glimpse of future habits is critical for all news organizations,” said Medill Dean Charles Whitaker. “We’re proud to play a role in this exploration of news habits, and are committed to supporting news organizations globally.”

“Using a human-centered design approach to understanding the needs and desires of young news consumers is the best way to anticipate changing demand for news from all users,” said Jeremy Gilbert, Medill Professor and Knight Chair in Digital Media Strategy.

The research is meant to help news organizations take action on identified emerging behaviors like how news consumers simul-tasking, fluidly transition between often unrelated tasks, and a focus on filtering their news through trusted individuals, like family, friends and work colleagues. The project also identified five modes of news consumption and an Ideal News Experience framework, identifying important factors to help news creators close the gap. And the project includes a toolkit meant to help newsrooms understand and ideate news products and strategies using the research.

“More deeply understanding how the next generation is consuming news gives crucial insights into how we might address news consumers’ needs in the future. Embracing change, working together and meeting the moment we’re in will be absolutely crucial to our shared work of helping to build more informed communities everywhere,” said Kristina Anderson, Managing Director of Global News Programs at Google.

“Young people have a complex and evolving relationship with the news. They understand the value that news can play in their lives, but are often disinterested or frustrated with how it’s being delivered to them,” said Joanna Levesque, Managing Director of FT Strategies. “We hope that news producers can use the findings from our research to start building closer relationships with the next generation of news consumers today.”

Home Medill Research

New Medill survey shows higher-than-expected news engagement among young people

An oft-cited factor in the continued struggles of traditional news outlets has been the sense that young people are disengaged from the news. But the News Socialization Study, a new survey commissioned by Medill reveals that teenagers may be keeping up with current events more than previously thought.

“The survey found more engagement with news among teens than we were expecting,” says Stephanie Edgerly, professor and Associate Dean for Research at Medill. Edgerly oversaw the survey, which was conducted by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago. “We found that 29% of teens said they encounter news daily. That’s encouraging.”

Paula Poindexter, professor at the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Texas at Austin, shares Edgerly’s positive reading of the survey results, though she says she would like to see those numbers grow.

“The daily engagement numbers in the survey were higher than I would have expected,” says Poindexter, author of “Millennials, News and Social Media: Is News Engagement a Thing of the Past?” “That’s a good thing, but there’s certainly an opportunity for teens to become even more engaged.”

Older teens (16 to 17 years old) showed slightly higher engagement levels than younger teens (13 to 15 years old). This finding may seem logical given that the college application process and eligibility to vote may trigger increased interest in national events.

More surprising may be the relatively robust consumption of local and network TV news among teens. The survey found that 46% of teens saw local TV news daily or weekly, while 42% encountered national network TV news daily or weekly. The numbers were lower for cable, sports and entertainment news as well as for news-related satire/comedy shows.

“It’s important to keep in mind that when we refer to TV news, we aren’t necessarily referring to watching a big box in your living room,” Edgerly says. “Teens may also encounter TV news on their phones and laptops. But there seems to be an accessibility to TV news that appeals to them.”

Poindexter adds a note of caution: “Regarding the survey’s TV news numbers, what’s not clear is whether teens deliberately turned on TV news or they encountered it because their parents were watching it,” she says. “We should keep that in mind.”

The survey also shows the continued influence of social media on teen news consumption. Roughly a quarter of all surveyed teens said they engaged with news on YouTube (37%), TikTok (35%) or Instagram (33%) on a daily or weekly basis, though the sources of that news remain in question.

“We have a much clearer idea of the sources of news teens are seeing on local and national TV outlets,” Edgerly says. “We have a less clear idea of the sources behind what they see on YouTube and TikTok. Those are more of a black box at this point.”

No surprise, the survey shows that teen engagement with newspapers is low. Only 5% of teens said they encountered news through local or national newspapers on a daily basis. The numbers were somewhat higher for weekly news encounters in local newspapers (18%) and national newspapers (13%). Given that the survey does not specify “print” when referring to newspapers, these low numbers may reflect minimal newspaper engagement even when considering digital formats.

“I think this poses some very important questions for newspaper organizations,” Edgerly says. “What is their strategy for trying to engage this younger group? They should be thinking about that now. Waiting until teens are in their 20s or 30s will be too late.”

The survey also explores the inclusion of news in school curricula.

When asked what kind of classroom news-related activities they engaged in at least once in the past year, 75% of the surveyed teens said they discussed news stories in class, and 62% followed news as part of a class assignment. Another 59% said they discussed how to tell whether information can be trusted.

“These findings are really, really important, especially at this moment in time,” Poindexter says. “It’s encouraging that schools are still bringing news into the classroom and even assessing its quality.”

At the same time, only 44% of teens said they “created a news story about an issue or event as part of a class assignment,” and only 31% said they learned about the job of a reporter in class. So Edgerly detects a discrepancy between news discussion and hands-on activities in schools.

Although Edgerly says she is pleased with how the new survey provides a window into teen news engagement, she acknowledges the need for further research.

“This survey provides a snapshot of how U.S. teens are engaging with news, and we don’t often get data this level of detail from a large national sample of U.S. teens,” she says. “It’s great in helping clarify trends.

“But there is still more to understand, particularly in terms of what is happening online and in social media spaces. We have much more to learn about what it means to have YouTube or Instagram be a teen’s door into news. Those spaces invite many more questions than answers at this point.”

The survey was funded by a grant from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation as part of its support for Medill’s Local News Initiative and its Metro Media Lab project.

The National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago surveyed 1,507 U.S. teens ages 13 to 17 from March 10 to April 26, 2023.

The survey used a mixture of probability and nonprobability sampling. Quotas used for the nonprobability sample: race/ethnicity, age, parent education, binary gender.

The survey was a mixture of phone and web survey methods.

Overall data is weighted to be representative in terms of age, gender, region, race/ethnicity, parent education, using TrueNorth Calibration methodology.

Survey margin of error was +/- 6.43%.

For this survey “news” was defined as stories about current events and public issues that come from media organizations. Examples include newspapers, television, podcasts, news programs and news websites. Sources may also include social media posts on platforms such as YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram.

For research graphs in this story, visit:

Article image by Annie Spratt used under Unsplash license (Unsplash)

Home Medill Research More News

Media Strategy Executive Will Lead Medill Local News Accelerator

Mackenzie Warren, a top news executive at the nation’s largest local news publishing company, has been named director of the new Local News Accelerator at Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications.

Warren has been a senior member of Gannett’s news executive team for more than a decade. In his two most recent posts, he focused on news strategy and career-development for journalists. He will bring those leadership experiences to Medill’s downtown Chicago campus, where he will be based beginning later this winter.

From there, he will lead Medill’s unique Local News Accelerator, a project designed to help strengthen the sustainability of local news in Chicago by working directly with area news outlets on business strategies, audience development, consumer research, and leadership coaching.

“Mackenzie is ideally suited to lead this exciting new venture to improve local news in Chicago,” Medill Dean Charles Whitaker said. “As a long-time executive at Gannett, Mackenzie has spent years working with local news leaders across the country on strategies for audience engagement and digital storytelling. He understands the opportunities and challenges in local news as well as anyone, and he’ll bring that expertise to the Accelerator and our news partners. He’ll also be returning to Medill, where he earned his bachelor’s degree, and Illinois, where he launched his career as an online editor in Rockford.”

Tim Franklin, the senior associate dean and John M. Mutz Chair in Local News, said Warren’s hiring is another indication of Medill’s commitment to helping transform a local news industry that is grappling with new models in the digital age.

“Mackenzie is someone who will have an immediate impact on the Accelerator project and Medill,” said Franklin, who also directs the Medill Local News Initiative. “Mackenzie has a deep well of understanding about the local news business, and he has a vast network of contacts around the country. He’ll bring all of those assets to help improve what is already one of the more innovative local news ecosystems in America right here in Chicago.”

The Medill Local News Accelerator, one of the only projects of its kind housed inside a journalism school, is being funded with a $2.4 million grant over the next three years from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

“Chicagoland is a vibrant, dynamic system of communities that deserves a vibrant, dynamic system of local news coverage,” Warren said. “We see dozens of encouraging examples coming into existence. The Medill Local News Accelerator is positioned to help these early movers, and others yet to be invented, find their places as both essential community services and successful, sustainable businesses.

“Our opportunity is to help develop and support the new business models through which local news organizations will grow and thrive,” Warren continued. “For several reasons, there’s no better city in America for this initiative. First, Chicagoland comprises distinct neighborhood and suburbs that each have their own geographies, characters, histories. Second, as a cultural center, there’s a critical mass of people who are passionately connected to any interest you can imagine. Together, this tapestry suggests that a wide range of potential news products could earn loyal, paying customers. Third, the combined forces and vision of the McCormick Foundation and Northwestern University, both dedicated to fueling the local news ecosystem in Chicago, is an asset no other city in America enjoys.”

The Accelerator is one of several major local news-related projects now underway at Medill, which launched the Local News Initiative five years ago.

Medill is now overseeing an index of local news readers being used by more than 100 outlets across the U.S., a Metro Media Lab project that is conducting audience research and experiments for Chicago news organizations, a Midwest Hub for Solutions Journalism, and a program for high school teachers and students called Teach for Chicago Journalism. Medill also is now the home for the State of Local News Project, a major research database tracking local news closures and startups in the U.S.

“A stronger local news ecosystem translates to a clear outcome: We and our neighbors will live healthier, more informed, safer, happier, more fulfilling lives,” Warren said. “The track record of the Medill Local News Initiative, together with Chicago-based partners we’ve worked with already, shows we have great momentum and our odds of success are high.”

Home Medill Research

Struggling Communities Hardest Hit by Decline in Local Journalism

Medill Project Researches the State of Local News in 2022

The United States continues to lose newspapers at a rate of two a week, further dividing the nation into wealthier, faster growing communities with access to local news, and struggling areas without, according to a report on the state of local news from Medill.

Between the pre-pandemic months of late 2019 and the end of May 2022, more than 360 newspapers closed, the report by Medill’s Local News Initiative found. Since 2005, the country has lost more than one-fourth of its newspapers and is on track to lose a third by 2025.

Most of the communities that have lost newspapers do not get a print or digital replacement, leaving 70 million residents – or a fifth of the country’s population – either living in an area with no local news organizations, or one at risk, with only one local news outlet and very limited access to critical news and information that can inform their everyday decisions and sustain grassroots democracy. About 7 percent of the nation’s counties, or 211, now have no local newspaper.

“This is a crisis for our democracy and our society, said Penelope Muse Abernathy, visiting professor at Medill and the principal author of the report. “Invariably, the economically struggling, traditionally underserved communities that need local journalism the most are the very places where it is most difficult to sustain print or digital news organizations.”

Recent research shows that, in communities without a strong print or digital news organization, voter participation declines and corruption increases, Abernathy said, contributing to the spread of misinformation, political polarization and reduced trust in media.

The Medill report on “The State of Local News in 2022” focused on researching and analyzing the health of local newspapers and local digital outlets. While newspapers declined over the past two years, an increase in corporate and philanthropic funding contributed to the establishment of 64 new digital sites focused on covering either state or local news. Most digital sites are located in digitally connected urban areas with diverse sources of funding.

“It is critical to understand what is working and where there are still gaps in the flow of reliable, comprehensive and timely news and information,” said Tim Franklin, senior associate dean, John M. Mutz Chair in Local News and director of the Medill Local News Initiative. “That way we can build solutions to sustain local journalism in communities that have, so far, been overlooked by entrepreneurs and potential funders.”

Surviving newspapers, especially dailies, have cut staff and circulation significantly under financial pressure, reducing their ability to fill the gap when communities lose their local papers. More and more dailies are also dropping seven-day-a-week delivery, as they pursue digital subscribers. Forty of the largest 100 daily newspapers now deliver a print edition six or fewer times a week; 11 deliver two times a week or less.

The largest news chains — Gannett, Lee Enterprises and Alden Global Capital — control many of the country’s surviving newspapers and continue to close or divest underperformers. The most active buyers in recent years have been privately held regional digital chains, such as Paxton Media Group and CherryRoad Media, which bought its first paper in 2020 and now owns 63 papers in 10 midwestern states.

The report found that some for-profit news organizations are prospering, especially those in affluent or growing communities, and nonprofit and hybrid business models are being pioneered in cities from coast to coast.

“There are signs of hope,” said Franklin. “New nonprofit digital local news startups have launched or been announced in places like Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland and Houston. Some legacy news outlets are deftly transforming from print to digital. There are unheralded local news leaders who are adapting and experimenting with new models. And local news is increasingly being delivered through newsletters and other digital platforms. But the need to innovate is urgent.”

Among the tools Northwestern uses to assist local news organizations is the Medill Local News Initiative, a research and development project and website devoted to bolstering new business models. The Medill Subscriber Engagement Index helps newsrooms track their digital subscribers, boost retention and attract new readers. The Medill Metro Media Lab works with Chicago news organizations on consumer research, audience strategy and financial management.

“Medill’s local news audience research and strategy work is providing tangible, actionable insights for local news organizations at a critical time for the industry. And we expect to expand our commitment to this effort in the coming months,” said Franklin.

The News Desert report will be published on the Local News Initiative site, beginning June 29 and continuing into early August. This is the fifth update of the report since Abernathy first published it in 2016.

Photo: A color coded map of the United States by county showing which locations have no newspapers, one newspaper or two-plus newspapers.

Home Medill Research Uncategorized

Stephanie Edgerly Wins 2020 Outstanding JMCQ Award

Medill Associate Professor and Director of Research Stephanie Edgerly and Emily K. Vraga won the 2020 Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly (JMCQ) award for their article, “Deciding What’s News: News-ness as an Audience Concept for the Hybrid Media Environment.”

The typical way news has been defined is from a journalist’s point of view. This study proposes a new way of addressing the definition of “news” from the point of view of readers. The article places the audience’s sensemaking processes at the center to better understand how consumers define what media content counts as news and offers an essential framework for addressing the fluidity of news consumption. This framework opens new pathways for understanding the future of journalism studies internationally.

This annual award recognizes an article that makes significant contributions to theory and methodology in journalism and mass communication. The winner is selected by Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication members, the JMCQ editorial review board, and the editorial team of the journal. The authors of the winning article receive a certificate as well as $1,000 cash award during the AEJMC annual convention.

Read the articles here:

Medill Research Uncategorized

Medill’s Local News Initiative leaders discuss findings, future plans

Photo by Andrew Skwish
Story by Thea Showalter (BSJ22)

Amidst a national crisis for local news organizations, Medill is seeking ways to save and strengthen the local news industry through the Local News Initiative (LNI), a groundbreaking project that aims to diagnose the challenges facing smaller news organizations and develop solutions.

For the past year and a half, Medill has collaborated with three newspapers, receiving hard-to-get data to analyze in exchange for providing the papers with crucial research on how to navigate the changing terrain of news media.

“LNI is developing new insights into reader behavior that is helping local news organizations grow their numbers of digital subscribers,” said Tim Franklin, senior associate dean of Medill and leader of the Local News Initiative. “This work is critically important now as local news organizations pivot from an advertising-supported business model to one focused on reader revenue.”

Newspapers have historically made the vast majority of their revenue from advertising, according to Associate ProfessorTom Collinger, Executive Director of the Medill IMC Spiegel Digital & Database Research Center. But as the habits of readers change, news organizations are increasingly depending on revenue from subscribers, not advertisers, leading to a pressing need to understand subscriber behavior.

In the fall of 2018, researchers from Medill’s Spiegel Research Center received 13 terabytes of subscriber data from its three partner papers— the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Indianapolis Star (Indy Star). The data would help the researchers probe questions about local news readership that had never before been answered.

“I’m especially proud that the analytical work that we have been doing is work that in many other industries would be easily available now online,” Collinger said.

But understanding local news subscriber behavior was far from easy. Researchers at The Spiegel Research Center had to merge two vast sets of data— subscriber data and clickstream data— to map how individual subscribers behaved when reading online.

In February of 2019, LNI came out with initial findings: in order to keep readers as digital subscribers, news organizations must encourage them to develop a regular reading habit and provide unique local content to make their subscription valuable.

Over the summer and fall of 2019, Franklin, along with Spiegel Research Center Director and Professor Ed Malthouse, presented LNI findings at the annual conferences for the Newspaper Association Managers, News Leaders Association, and Online News Association.

“We’ve gotten a whole lot of publicity on this,” said Malthouse. “It’s been very satisfying to see the work take off like this.”

For the Chicago Tribune, partnering with the LNI has provided an “outsider’s perspective” on audience data that, alongside the Tribune’s internal data analysis, has helped to “paint a broad picture of what content areas are the most valuable” to readers, said Christine Taylor, managing editor of audience at the Tribune.

The findings have shown the Tribune that its readers are “overwhelmingly” smartphone readers, prompting the Tribune to focus on its app in 2020, and explore tools to boost mobile engagement.

“It forces us to think about how we prepare and produce our content to meet those readers,” said Taylor. “It just makes us think differently about our deadlines— it makes us think differently about how we construct our stories. It’s really forcing the newsroom to just think very differently about how it approaches content.”

A year after the LNI began working with the subscription data, the LNI won a Google Innovation Award in October 2019 in order to build what is called a “subscriber engagement index,” a digital tool that will show local newspapers how their actions are impacting their subscribers in real time.

A newspaper that shares its data with the index will be able to see how its subscribers behave compared to other papers using various metrics, and how those behaviors contribute to retention and subscription rates.

“That’s where we’re going. We’re building this out as we speak,” said Collinger. “And it’s a significant piece of data work….The industry has never seen anything like this.”

In the next few months, LNI will also examine the “finances of customer retention,” said Malthouse. Finding strategies to encourage a reader to subscribe to a newspaper is only the first step.

“If you have a new customer, you have to nurture that relationship,” said Malthouse. “Teaching the news organizations how to take this new customer and nurture that relationship, and turn that person into a regular reader who values your content is the name of the game. So that, I think, is going to be a big part of where we go.”

Collinger added that Medill is uniquely qualified to lead the way on local news research, because the Local News Initiative is a product of all the programs that make Medill different.

“Medill uniquely has a world class journalism program and a world class integrated marketing communication program, and the integration of the best of those two things made this possible,” said Collinger. “It is not what makes Medill the same, but what makes us different in complementary ways that has allowed this to be such a wonderful expression of where we believe media is going.”

Home Medill Research Uncategorized

Medill student internship research project findings in the Chicago Tribune

Employers, don’t cancel those internships — make them remote

By Melissa Santoyo (BSJ23)

When COVID-19 first hit the U.S., I was extremely fortunate that the pandemic only ruined the spring quarter of my freshman year and my summer study-abroad plans. But as a low-income, first-generation college student, I scrambled to find something to fill the few months of vacation. Because whereas my wealthier peers could probably afford to spend a summer unemployed, I am constantly racing against the clock, asking myself, “How long do I have until graduation and what can I do to make sure I’ll be hired after that?”

I am the daughter of Cuban immigrants, and I inherited their tenacity. My hunger to succeed is the product of growing up in a country that seems to constantly work against people like me. So, I scoured the internet for summer internships to keep busy, to hone marketable skills, to move forward.

After 30 emails to editors at various publications, I scored an unpaid internship — and an outside scholarship.

I know that, as a student at a private institution, I am incredibly privileged to be able to take up such a summer task. But still, I urge employers to keep internship opportunities available for students, even if they must be remote. Otherwise, as in my case, many of us wouldn’t have access to professional connections.

As a student collaborator on the well-regarded internship program at Northwestern University, I see firsthand the value of on-the-job experience. But earlier this year, when our journalism residency director Karen Springen and I started a small journalism research project called The Intern Factor, we quickly realized hands-on experience outside of the classroom is even more important than we thought. Of the 1,156 alumni of the Medill School of Journalism who responded to a short online survey, 683 gave the top rating (“very valuable”) to their internships’ ability to help them find meaningful full-time employment.

That makes it even more upsetting that many internships have been rescinded, albeit for a good reason (a global pandemic). A poll by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that 22% of employers were revoking their offers to interns this summer, and a Yello survey found that more than a third of students said their offer was canceled.

“I can’t fathom what those students are going through now,” says Gustavo Paredes, who works in client services at a technology company and interned for a Buenos Aires newspaper in 2019 through a Northwestern University program covered by his financial aid. “My experience played a pivotal role in where I am.”

Without a college internship at what is now called Florida Today, “I wouldn’t have landed that first job,” says Northwestern alum Scot O’Hara, who currently works in financial-industry communications. “It made all the difference in the world.”

We understand why companies are canceling their summer internships. After all, hiring managers are often unsure of their own jobs and of their ability to give students a good “remote” experience.

Still, the rescinders quickly earned some bad social media PR while the keepers (including PepsiCo and Apple) earned high praise and gratitude. Paredes’ employer decided to still hire a dozen summer 2020 interns, who are working remotely. “People like myself said, ‘These internships play a pivotal role for these young adults,’” he says.

Internships are a two-way street. Young people get training, experience, connections and, in the case of journalists, published “clips.” But their older bosses arguably get even more from the deal. Their students bring fresh ideas and tech savvy, teaching their on-the-job mentors how to, say, build a line graph on a Google spreadsheet. Interns offer important insight into Gen Z tools such as TikTok and Snapchat. They also help fill in when regular employees are on vacation or family leave. And, perhaps most important, they bring the energy of youth. “I find the enthusiasm that the interns bring is even a bigger payoff,” says O’Hara. “It just revitalizes the whole department.”

Sure, coronavirus-caused remote internships aren’t ideal. It’s nicer for students to sit in person next to experienced reporters and editors, overhearing how they conduct interviews, bumping into them in the elevator and grabbing coffee with them. But the cancelers forgot that most young people are extraordinarily flexible and willing to Slack and Zoom.

My own remote internship has so far been an incredible learning experience. Not only is my work being published, but I’m learning about the intricacies of journalism outside of the Medill classroom. From hunting down PR contacts to working a 9-to-5 schedule, there are things J-school can’t teach.

“If the college curriculum gave me the basics and the tool kit, the internships gave me the opportunity to really build,” said Gina Mangieri, a TV reporter in Hawaii who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Medill and completed six internships. “If you can’t actually go do it and practice it, you’re not going to learn everything you need to learn in the classroom.”

During internships, students typically discover their interests, their strengths and their passions. They learn to pitch their own ideas and to be proactive. They also learn about how corporations do (or don’t) follow their mission statements. They learn to feel more confident in their abilities. And during this short period of professional experience, they figure out what they like, and don’t like, doing.

Students often realize they love — or hate — a city like New York. They see that they like researching better than writing — or vice versa. They learn to multitask, get up early, keep to a tight schedule and talk to people. Dream jobs change. They get a clear idea of what they’d like to do after graduation. They see what matters to bosses: attention to detail, dedication, hard work.

Despite bright spots like Report for America (similar to Teach for America), there need to be more places where young people can make connections and also figure out who they are and who they want to be.

After all, soon the Class of COVID-19 and its immediate successors will be the bosses.

Melissa Santoyo is a rising sophomore at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications.


Home Medill Research

Survey Reveals That Americans Overwhelmingly Support Freedom of the Press, but Many do not Trust the U.S. News Media

Trust in news media remains tepid with just above half of Americans saying the media is trustworthy, rising only two percentage points from December 2019, according to a new survey by Medill and The Harris Poll.

Americans overwhelming agree that freedom of speech is one of the values that makes the country great and freedom of the press is essential for American democracy; even so, four in 10 say the news media is the “enemy of the people.” Majorities of Americans say the news media are too negative in their reporting and that they report “fake news.” That said, significantly fewer Americans in May compared with December agree that the media reports fake news, suggesting that trust in media is improving in the COVID-19 era. In fact, nearly two-thirds say they trust information about COVID-19 provided by the news media, much more than the 55 percent who trust the information about COVID-19 provided in White House briefings.

Charles Whitaker, dean of Northwestern’s Medill School, said, “This research is a timely snapshot with fresh data on one of journalism’s most critical challenges, that of trust by the audience and larger public. The findings underscore public reliance on professional journalism while wary of social media.”

“The report especially opens the aperture on trust, which in U.S. news media is often narrowly cast in one’s politics and world view. This has been no ordinary year in the face of COVID, racial equality and economic/ cultural fallout with Americans receptive to science, public health and local media,” says John Gerzema, Medill alumnus and CEO of The Harris Poll.

The survey was conducted December 9-11, 2019, and repeated May 27-29, 2020, on behalf of Medill by The Harris Poll. Both polls were conducted online among roughly 2,000 nationally representative adults.

The research was organized and overseen by Everette E. Dennis and Klaus Schoenbach, well-known media researchers, authors and educators. Dennis is professor of journalism at the Medill School and formerly dean and CEO at Northwestern’s campus in Doha, Qatar (NU-Q). Schoenbach, a former senior associate dean at NU-Q, is a distinguished adjunct professor there and honorary professor at Zeppelin University in Germany.

Results for the study’s first wave were completed before the COVID-19 pandemic began, so Dennis and Schoenbach decided to do a second wave to see whether the national lockdown caused an uptick in media use or had influenced change in public perceptions of the news media.  Importantly, the study was conducted two days after the death of George Floyd at the outset of national demonstrations.

As Dennis put it, “Public attitudes toward the news media are as polarized as the country itself, mostly along partisan lines and threatening to the idea of an informed citizenry.  We wanted to see whether reliance on media during the pandemic would alter that perception.  In some significant ways, it did so with regard to some media outlets and news sources.”

Key Findings from the report include:

  • Americans give the news media a tepid endorsement, viewed simultaneously as a friend and foe. There is a wide political divide in perceptions of the media, and the gap has expanded over time.
    • 55% of Americans trust the news media, up 2 percentage points from December, ranking the media behind such organizations as the medical community, banks, car manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies.
    • Democrats are nearly twice as likely as Republicans to agree that the news media is trustworthy (77% Democrats vs. 36% Republicans).
    • On the other hand, 41% of Americans describe the news media as the enemy of the people, down 2 points from December.
    • Nearly six in 10 Americans believe the media report fake news, but this is down significantly from December (65% December vs. 58% May).
  • Almost all Americans say they support freedom of speech and freedom of the press. At the same time, many would like to suppress media that don’t support their own views.
    • 61% agree reporters should be shielded from prosecution by the Trump administration (63% in December).
    • But 40% agree the president should have the authority to close down news outlets engaged in bad behavior (39% in December), and 29% in both waves say President Trump should close down certain media like CNN, The Washington Post and The New York Times.
  • There is a strong distrust of news on social media, yet many still get their news from social media.
    • 82% are concerned about what is real or fake on the internet (85% in December), and only 33% both waves say they trust news on social media.
    • Yet 42% get news on social media each week, jumping to 54% among Millennials and 62% among Gen Z.
  • Most Americans trust information about COVID-19 provided by public health experts. Trust in news media and briefings by the White House and President Trump are split down party lines.
    • For information about COVID-19, 83% trust public health experts, 63% trust news media and 55% trust White House briefings.
    • By party affiliation, 85% of Republicans vs. 19% of Democrats trust President Trump, while 85% of Democrats vs. 44% of Republicans trust news media for information about COVID-19.
  • Americans have more respect in journalists as a profession than they do in media as an institution.
    • Two-thirds of Americans say they respect journalists, unchanged from December. That puts journalists behind doctors, medical scientists, military personnel, teachers, police officers and the clergy, but ahead of entertainer/actors and members of Congress.
    • Democrats are much more likely to respect journalists (85%) than Independents (59%) and Republicans (51%).
  • Respect for the military and police officers has decreased from December to May, with a significant decline for police, which likely is a reaction to the recent killings of African Americans including George Floyd.
    • 42% of Americans respect police officers very much, down 9 percentage points from 51% in December.
    • While this decrease in respect is observed among Black and White respondents and across political affiliations, respect for police has fallen more among Black Americans, dropping 16 points to 60%.

A complete 60-page report including detailed findings from the Trust in U.S. News Media survey can be found here.

Home Medill Research

Two Major Industry Players Join Medill’s New Subscriber Index

By Mark Jacob

Two major news industry organizations, McClatchy and Mather Economics, have signed on to the new Medill Subscriber Engagement Index, a tool designed to give local news outlets more actionable intelligence on their readers than ever before.

McClatchy, one of the nation’s largest local news chains, is providing data from its 30 local outlets, including such well-known outlets as the Miami Herald, Charlotte Observer, Kansas City Star and Sacramento Bee, according to Shannan Bowen, McClatchy’s Director of Product Engagement.

Mather Economics, which manages subscriber information for many of the world’s top news outlets, “is in the process of getting many of its 500-plus North American newspaper clients to participate in the index,” said Mather President Matt Lindsay.

The subscriber engagement index, developed by Northwestern University’s Medill Spiegel Research Center, will allow participants to better understand which aspects of their online content are boosting the acquisition and retention of subscribers and which are leading to dropped subscriptions. This is vital intelligence at a time when local outlets are shifting from reliance on advertising dollars to a greater emphasis on reader revenue.

The index, expected to be ready in early 2021, will allow newsrooms to measure their performance against other news outlets participating in the index, highlighting best practices. And it will offer a groundbreaking feature: a ‘What-If” tool that will use current data to forecast how specific strategic actions would affect a news organization’s financial bottom line.

“Our goal was to make the Medill Index a go-to place where local news organizations could measure and benchmark their performance in growing reader revenue,” said Tim Franklin, who is Senior Associate Dean and John M. Mutz Chair in Local News at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. “Our partnerships with Mather Economics and McClatchy will help make the Medill Index a unique, robust, indispensable tool for many local news outlets who will now have unparalleled insights into the behaviors of their paying readers. Eventually, we hope to have hundreds of local news organizations be part of the Index.

The index is part of Northwestern’s Medill Local News Initiative, a project headed by Franklin that promotes financial sustainability for local journalism in challenging times. Development of the index is being funded by a grant from the Google Innovation Challenge program.

Jonathan Copulsky, Spiegel’s Executive Director, said the research center was thrilled to partner with McClatchy and Mather.

“McClatchy is a leading publisher of local news in this country,” Copulsky said. “Mather is well regarded in the industry. They’ve got relationships with a number of publishers. They’ve got a commercial engine for data gathering and data ingestion, organization and reporting.”

Shannan Bowen, Director of Product Engagement at McClatchy.

McClatchy’s Bowen is especially upbeat about the ability to do benchmarking with other media companies and share best practices.

“We’re drawn to this tool because it’s going to help us learn from other news companies participating in the index,” Bowen said. “… And we’re also excited about trying a tool that anyone in our company can use, from journalists or marketing teams or product teams. All of our different groups are aligned with our mission to grow digital subscriptions and reduce churn.”

“Our editors [are] asking about when they might be able to get their hands on it,” she said. “They’re really excited. I’m excited about what I’ve seen about the user interface. It seems really easy to use.”

Mather’s Lindsay said his firm’s clients include Gannett and MediaNews Group, two of the nation’s largest local news publishers.  While talks with clients about data sharing are ongoing, Mather is bringing more than just data, Lindsay said. Mather also is offering analytical expertise that could make Medill’s What-If tool even more effective.

Matt Lindsay, President of Mather Economics.

“We provide a lot of predictive analytics and A-B testing of recommended tactics, so we can say here’s what we believe will happen if you market this type of subscription offer or you have this type of retention campaign,” Lindsay said. “And then we validate our forecasts with A-B testing. With Medill and its really smart people, we can form hypotheses about reader reactions to content and test those hypotheses with A-B testing. We can help our clients implement those tests and then observe the results. It would be great if we could facilitate sharing in terms of, ‘Here’s some great innovation that we’ve discovered in this part of the industry.’ And we could anonymize those test results and insights and share them with the rest of the industry.”

Copulsky said Spiegel is open to collaborating with other partners as well. His email address is

Article image: Data Mining Vectors by Vecteezy