Ethnographic research, or the study of people in their culture, is the core part of human-centered design. Unlike market research or focus grouping, which use relatively targeted questions to gather opinions about a particular issue, this research (also referred to as human-centered or design research) seeks to learn deeply about our subjects and why they behave the way they do. We observe their physical environment and conduct in-depth interviews to learn about their habits and relationships, as a way to understand how they make decisions and uncover insights, opportunities and unmet needs.

This ethnographic research and the nationally representative survey we used for the first report are distinct methodological approaches that explore different elements of why people pay for news.

A nationally representative survey illustrates what portion of the population and various subgroups pay for news, and highlights many of the reasons people pay for news. The survey is designed to find broad trends and themes in the population.

In contrast, ethnographic interviews are conducted with people who are not representative of the entire population, but rather demonstrate extreme levels/degrees of a certain characteristic or behavior about which we seek to learn. The interviews help us better understand the key motivations behind these behaviors that occur across the broader population to varying degrees. The two methods are complementary, and the findings from each approach can be applied to understand better the results of the other approach.  

We used the survey research from the first report to identify the news consumer perspectives from which we wanted to learn and guide our recruitment process. The interviewee group was diverse in race and age; we also made sure they had different political leanings and came from a mix of rural, suburban and urban environments.

The interviews lasted about one hour. All were conducted in person, either at the user’s home or office to facilitate better collection of ethnographic information. Interviewees each received $100 for their participation.

Share with your network

You also might be interested in:

  • Successfully and efficiently marketing your work can be hard, especially for local news teams with limited resources, but marketing yourself to your audience is an essential skill for news organizations to drive revenue and promote sustainability.

  • As news teams begin thinking about their election coverage plans, it may feel like adding more tasks to an already full plate, with a fraction of the staff and resources they once had. But that doesn’t have to mean figuring out how to do more with less — maybe it’s doing less with less.

  • We reached out to Danielle Coffey, the CEO of American Press Institute’s parent corporation, the News/Media Alliance, to learn more about the legal fight for news organizations’ rights with AI.