Exploring Reader Interest in International News.(newspaper Readers)

By Hargrove, Thomas; Stempel, Guido H.,, III | Newspaper Research Journal, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview
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Exploring Reader Interest in International News.(newspaper Readers)

Hargrove, Thomas, Stempel, Guido H.,, III, Newspaper Research Journal

Many studies have explored reader interest in international news, with mixed results. Some indicate the public would like more international news, while others indicate a lack of reader interest in international news. Weaver and Mauro found that news about foreign governments ranked sixth among 17 categories for men and 10th among 17 categories for women in reader interest. (1) Shaw and Riffe, in a study of two small towns in Tennessee, found that news about national or foreign events ranked first in interest in one town and ninth in the other out of 21 categories. (2) Nanney in a study of three small towns along the Ohio River--two in Ohio and one in West Virginia--found that international ranked seventh in one town and eighth in the other two out of 25 categories. (3) Stephens found that 8 percent of readers wanted more international news, but at the same time 12 percent wanted more local news. (4) Burgoon, Burgoon and Wilkinson, in a summary of four Gannett markets, found that world events ranked first in readership among 37 categories. (5)

What these studies do not do is to define exactly what international news is. When we ask a respondent about international news, is he or she thinking of the war in the Middle East, a train wreck in China, an election in Italy or a recession in Japan? This study assumes that the interest in these four items is not the same. We set out to find out something about what kinds of stories readers would be interested in.

Sparks and Winter did look at reader interest in 12 specific types of international stories. They found that readers thought there was too much violence and wanted more news about culture and customs and ordinary people. (6)

Perhaps readers define international news in terms of what they see and hear in the media. It has been suggested that international news is really newsabout Americans with foreign datelines. Rifle's study of linkage to U.S. interests of international news in The New York Times tends to support that. He found that between 1980 and 1990 39 percent of the international stories in the Times had some connection to the U.S. (7) Or perhaps readers accept the complaint often heard in journalistic circles that international coverage is largely coverage of earthquakes and coups. (8)

Another perspective comes from a study by Tai of the top 10 stories of the year in eight countries from 1988 to 1998. His analysis of the Associated Press stories found that more than 40 percent had to do with the actions of government. Accidents and disasters tied with violence and terrorism for second place with 11.8 percent, and stories on the economy came next with 9.1 percent. (9) For the same period, accidents and disasters scored even higher in the coverage by United Press International.


We made a national telephone survey of 1,007 randomly selected adults June 17 to June 28, 2001. Using an automated dialing system that redials numbers that don't answer, we had a completion rate of 66.4 percent. Twenty headlines were read to the respondent. The respondent was asked if he or she would be very interested, somewhat interested or not interested in the story represented by that headline.

Each headline had three characteristics--geographic region, positive or negative direction and a topic category. Also, there were four about United States persons or actions in foreign countries, as suggested by Rifle's findings, and three about foreigners in the United States. The intent was to create headlines about events that really do happen or could happen and are of medium interest.

The headlines are shown in Table 1. They are grouped in the table by geographic region. The regions and the corresponding numbers are Canada and Mexico, 1-4; Western Europe, 8-10; Southeast Asia, 11-13; Middle East, 14-17, and Africa, 18-20.

In addition stories 5-7 are about foreigners in the United States, and stories 9, 13, 14 and 19 involve U.

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