While the majority of our research looked at how moral foundations intersect with perceptions of core journalistic concepts and content, we also wanted to test how people’s values influence how they perceive the marketing messages that encourage them to pay or donate for news.
The study found a strong correlation between people’s moral instincts and what kind of messaging about media they found persuasive. Among other things, the findings suggest news organizations that hitch their subscription pitches only to standard messages, such as the importance of facts and democracy, or do not think critically about them may be missing opportunities to appeal to and get support from varied audiences.
How moral values intersect with reader revenue appeals
To test this idea, the second phase of the study included different messages asking respondents to support a local news organization to see if certain messages about journalism were more appealing to people, depending on which moral foundational instincts they found most compelling.
The messages were inspired by a range of marketing angles in the real world. For the purposes of this inquiry, we designed pitches that appealed to different moral values and some that addressed different journalistic values.
Those messages included:
We keep our leaders accountable. Support us today.
We’ve served our community since 1906. Support us today.
We look out for our most vulnerable. Support us today.
Financial support from those who can afford it makes our news and information available to those who can’t. Support us today.
Our community needs a watchdog. Support us today.
People must know the facts for communities to thrive. Support us today.
Stay informed. Support us today.
While only about 1 in 5 respondents say they would be extremely or very likely to pay to support their local news organization based on the different messages, there are important variations in how appealing these messages are to those who most and least emphasize each moral and journalism value.
Those who most emphasize the value of care were more likely to say they would contribute financially to their local news organization if they received the message highlighting the media’s role in looking out for the most vulnerable, the media as a watchdog for their community, or emphasizing the need to stay informed.
The message that mentions how the local news media outlet looks out for the most vulnerable resonated with those who place the most importance on fairness (17%) compared to those in the quartile that places the least importance on fairness (7%).
The message highlighting the local news media’s history in the community appealed to those who most emphasized authority. Fifteen percent of those in the highest quartile of authority said they were more likely to contribute financially to their local news outlet if they got the message “We’ve served our community since 1906. Support us today.” Only 6% of those in the lowest quartile said that message would convince them to contribute financially.
We found patterns like this when evaluating not just moral values’ ties to marketing messages but also journalism values’ ties to the appeals.
Several journalism values also are associated with a higher likelihood of contribution to their local news organization depending on their message for support. Individuals who place the highest emphasis on offering a voice to the less powerful are more likely to contribute to their local media if they get the message in defense of those who are the most vulnerable and asking for financial support for those who cannot afford it.
The message about financial support from those who can afford it to make news available to those who cannot also resonated with those who most emphasized the importance of transparency, the value assessing the importance of having information open to the public. Those in the highest quartile for transparency were almost twice as likely to donate to their local news outlet if they got this message as those who least emphasized transparency (26% versus 14%).
The findings suggest that news organizations should further explore whom their marketing messages appeal to and whom they do not. As discussed earlier, many of the journalism values more strongly resonate with people already supportive of journalism, often liberal-leaning Americans. Yet people who most value authority, which is often a more conservative value and often held by people more distrustful of the press, may respond favorably to different messaging. As publishers continue to explore reader revenue as an important part of their sustainability, understanding these and other nuances across the communities they serve may help their pursuits.