Student Research

UNC Student Research

In addition to contributing interviews and research to this website, student research at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication have produced almost two dozen theses and dissertations on the dramatic changes occurring in the media industry – on topics ranging from the economics of advertising to the use of social media by reporters and editors.


The Economics of News


The New Economics of Advertising: The Principle of Relative Constancy Reconsidered
(2011) by Andrew M. Gaerig
This paper re-examines the Principle of Relative Constancy, which asserts that the amount of dollars spent on advertising in the US directly correlates to the rise and fall of GDP (Gross Domestic Product). Gaerig finds this is no longer the case since the Internet has opened up new channels and a whole new type of marketing built around immediacy and interactivity. He suggests that non-traditional advertising, which includes below-the-line marketing (such as coupons, product sampling or social media), is a rich arena in which the news industry can seek greater gains.

Creative Destruction and Continuous Renewal at the Associated Press
(2011) by Jed Williams
As the industry shifts with the onset of digital innovation, even major news powerhouses such the Associated Press, face threats to their sustainability. Williams studied the AP for nearly two years, highlight current challenges, and strategies to reformulate for the digital age. He documents the usage of AP content by two North Carolina dailies 1985 – 2008, and examines state news-gathering arrangements that have developed as alternatives to the AP wires. He also explores how the AP redefined and developed its core business, identified threats from peripheral competitors and reinvented its business model. The paper was the basis for a case study, To Buy or Not To Buy: The Charlotte Observer (case consortium at Columbia).

Assessing Audiences’ Willingness to Pay and Price Response for News Online
(2013) by Michalel C. Donatello.
This survey of hundreds of readers of national and metro newspapers conducted in 2011 attempts to understand what types of news readers will pay for online and how much they will pay. Readers stated a preference for national and international news, but said they would be willing to pay only a fraction (one-tenth) of what they paid for a subscription to a print edition of a newspaper. This survey was done before the widespread adoption of paywalls by newspapers. The results may be different today.

Valuing Newspaper Website Content: What People are Willing to Pay for and Why
(2012) by Mary Eliza Hussman.
Hussman analyzed survey results from several hundred readers of a mid-sized Southern daily newspaper to discover what subscribers are willing to pay for when it comes to local news. She found that subject matter, as well as the income level of the area and current market and pricing elasticity, play a role. Hussman’s findings show that readers are only willing to pay for unique content (such as local news) that cannot be obtained anywhere else.


Startups and Nonprofit Sites


The Outlook for Independent College Media
(2014) by Chrissy Beck.
Beck examines the business issues confronting independent college newspapers, such as the Duke Chronicle, of which she is general manager. She solicited feedback from her peers on those papers through an online survey, a panel of “experts” who responded to questions she posed online and in-person, and to comments on a blog that she posted every other week during fall 2013. She contrasts the issues facing independent college papers with those facing community newspapers, and offers a case study on how the Chronicle employed a strategic process to reinvent itself for a new generation of readers.

Wildsides Business Model
(2012) by Jeff Mittelstadt
Mittelstadt proposes a business model for a nonprofit digital startup website designed to build awareness and engage its audience in conversation about the issues of preserving wildlife habitats while respecting human endeavors. Aimed at finding solutions to the problems of co-habitation, Wildsides’ business model relies on social marketing, grants and foundational opportunities, as well as promotional advertising. Although the Web site is still in its early stages, this business plan provides a helpful template to specialized news organizations in using social media, building a revenue plan, and establishing a specific niche for one’s product.

Responses to Social and Mobile Media

New Media in the Newsroom: A Survey of Local Journalists and their Managers on the Use of Social Media as Reporting Tool
(2012) by Eric White
White surveyed news reporters and media managers from print and television outlets in eight media markets in the Southeastern US, and collected information from 144 journalists and 32 news editors to determine whether the changing media habits of readers and viewers have affected newsroom usage of Facebook and Twitter. White’s analysis revealed that television journalists used new media more often and in more ways than their print counterparts. While most news organizations were developing a presence with social media, few news organizations had strategies for taking advantage of social media to engage their current audiences or reach new customers.

Is Mobile First for Community Newspapers in North Carolina?
(2014) Nick Shchetko.
Shchetko surveyed community newspaper editors and publishers in the state to ascertain their strategies for use of mobile technology, which is gaining widespread adoption by news consumers. He found that most are considering mobile as a purely defensive strategy, instead of embracing it as a chance to grow readership and revenue. His study of 166 community newspaper websites found that approximately two-thirds do not offer mobile products at all. And more than half of those that do provide only the simplest mobile platform available, which limits functionality for consumers and revenue potential.

Accurate as of the time stamp: newspaper journalism ethics in a time of economic and technological change.
(2010) Michele Kathleen Jones.
Jones employed an online survey and interviews with editors and reporters at more than a hundred newspapers, ranging in size from the nation’s largest to the smallest, to understand how they were responding to ethical journalistic and business issues raised by the Internet. She found that journalists at smaller newspapers considered their connection to the community when making decisions, while those at larger newspapers more often considered their newspapers’ professional reputation of independence from the communities they cover. Newspaper journalists at all newspapers reported that they coping with dwindling resources that intensify their workloads and an increased emphasis on breaking news on a 24-hour cycle. Even though an overwhelming majority of those responding to her survey reported that their newspapers had experienced recent layoffs, the journalists maintained their support of the separation of business and editorial departments.


Reader’s Changing Media Consumption Habits


No News at Breakfast—I’ll Take it To Go: College Students’ Habits and What They Indicate About the Future of News
(2010) by Kevin R. Kiley
Kiley interviewed 23 college students between the ages of 18 – 24 to understand how the “Millennial Generation” consumed news, and how they used and found gratification from certain media outlets. His research indicates that unlike earlier generations, today’s young people do not have a routine ritual system for obtaining their news. Many prefer to graze on news throughout the day. Aggregator news sites and social networks provide the prompts that keep the students aware of timely subject matter. Students favored international and national news as everyday topics. For local news and information about their communities, students preferred using social media such as Twitter and Facebook. They also expressed interest in weird or funny news, which they gleaned from scanning headlines throughout the day.

Coming Back for More: The Importance of Reader Loyalty for
(2009) by Lucia Anne Parker.
Parker created a simple online survey for to understand the demographic and usage patterns of the more than 350,000 unique monthly visitors to FayObserver. Using Fred Reichheld’s concept of The Loyalty Effect, she categorized the respondents as promoters, fence-sitters, and detractors. Her analysis aimed to gain a better understanding of how to price advertising and offer more value to readers.

Hangings to Hurricanes: What Readers Want From Their Community Newspaper’s Web site
(2010) by Samuel William Wardle.
Using brief online surveys (less than 14 questions) and following up with one-on-one interviews, Wardle researched the readership of the Washington Daily News and The Whiteville News Reporter to find out what readers wanted from their print and digital editions. Readers of both papers tended to use the web site more as a compliment to -- rather than a substitute for – the print edition. More than half of readers who checked the digital site daily read a print edition of the paper regularly. Loyal readers of the print editions said that they bought the paper for the coupons, but indicated that more content in the online edition, such as births and obituaries, human interest and light-hearted columns, might entice them to try to visit the website more frequently.