Impact study: Features boost readership, satisfaction, image
Feature-style stories outperform traditional news stories in readership, satisfaction and image.
That’s according to “The Impact Study of Newspaper Readership” (PDF).
It was sponsored by the Newspaper Association of America and the American Society of Newspaper Editors. For this study, researchers:
- Analyzed a representative sample of 100 newspapers from across the country
- Asked 37,000 readers 450 questions about their reactions to their newspaper
- Conducted a content analysis of 47,500 stories from the newspapers
The result: In “one of the most thought-provoking discoveries” of the study, researchers found that feature-style stories outperformed traditional news stories in readership, satisfaction and image.
What’s a feature-style story?
The Impact researchers make a strong distinction between feature stories and feature-style stories. If your chief technology officer has a huge collection of Disney figurines, and you decide to take a photo of him surrounded by plastic princesses for an intranet profile, that’s a feature story. Not a feature-style story.
But when you cover hard business, environmental, political, economic, scientific and other serious topics in the feature-style story structure, that’s a feature-style story. Feature-style writing, according to the researchers, is:
- More narrative, with a beginning, middle and end
- Often illustrates points through characters or anecdotes
- Likely to use more colorful language and a more playful writing style
“A concern editors commonly express is that feature-style writing means ‘softening’ or ‘dumbing down’ the news,” said the researchers. “‘Feature-style’ is not a euphemism or proxy for ‘soft news.’ Writers can use feature-style writing to cover hard news stories without compromising the stories’ informational value or focus. We’re not describing a story type but a writing style.”
Feature-style stories, according to Impact:
1. Increase readership
Feature-style stories seem easier to read than the traditional inverted-pyramid news structure. (In this study, easy to read includes is relaxing to read and makes it easy to find what I’m looking for.) Making a message easy to read is one of the best ways to increase readership, the study found. That is, according to the study, the higher the score on easy to read, the more likely people are to:
- Read an information source more often
- Read it more completely
- Spend more time reading it
“Considering that only 5% of all politics stories are written in feature-style,” researchers wrote, “even one additional feature-style politics story per week would make a difference.”
What kind of difference could you make by adding features to your communications?
2. Increase satisfaction
The feature-style story structure boosts satisfaction in stories on topics including politics, sports, science and health. Newspapers with more feature-style political stories, for example, have readers who express higher satisfaction with their political coverage. Yet only 5% of all political stories are written in the feature style, according to the study.
Are you missing opportunities to boost your readers’ satisfaction with your messages?
3. Improve brand perception
Organizations that run more feature-style stories are seen as more:
- In the know
- Thought provoking
- In touch with the values of readers
“There is strong evidence that an increase in the [number] of feature-style stories has wide-ranging benefits,” write the researchers. “It’s the [organizations] that incorporate feature-style writing in a broad range of topics that see the most benefit in brand perception.” That’s a pretty big impact.
Source: “The Power to Grow Readership: Research from the Impact Study of Newspaper Readership,” the Newspaper Association of America and the American Society of Newspaper Editors, April 2001