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The surprising moves on news pages

This report shatters the following preconceived notion: news articles are only ever moved downwards on front pages because they are displaced by more recent news. Using our software, we have been able to show that over a third of articles are actually moved to the top, breaking this perceived truth.

This phenomenon has a scientific basis in the so-called news value theory. This not only sounds bulky, but the theory in itself actually is, therefore this report looks less at these nerdy theories and more at the practical application of this phenomenon.

For this report, the changes on websites of six German publishers and the changes in positioning of each individual article were analyzed. According to the news value theory, articles lose relevance over time and therefore have to make room for more relevant news. On the one hand, 'make room' applies literally, since there is only a limited amount of space available on websites for display. But 'make room' also stands as a metaphor for the receptivity of readers, who can only spend limited capacities on the website and will therefore only direct their attention to the most important news.

The news considered particularly important by editors are published at the top of the home page. At the top of this prominent place, the lead story, accordingly shows the most relevant news, i.e. those with the highest news value. The other news items sort themselves according to their news value below that article. It is therefore expected that the content on the front pages of the observed websites always moves downwards, as news value usually decreases over time. Relevant news is often new news. If an article moves up against the tide, it means that its news value has increased. The reasons for this can be manifold. For example, there might have been a relevant change in the news, such as a significant increase in the number of victims of disasters.

On the other hand, the audience, i.e. the readers, also plays a significant role. News is made for people. News that is interesting to many people is considered to have a higher news value. If a news item is unexpectedly successful with the audience, the news value can also increase. Thus, there may be additional movement of articles from the bottom to the top of a news page.

The analysis of the publishers shows an average of around 29,500 changes on the news pages in the six months. This corresponds to an average of 182 changes daily. The differences between the individual publishers are significant. At BR24, there were only 79 changes daily in the period under review. At, on the other hand, there were 258 daily changes. There were between 59 and 448 new articles per day on the home pages.

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Not all articles made it to the top ten places. Especially at Zeit online with over 400 new articles per day this is a logical consequence. The high number of new articles there is due in particular to automatically published dpa agency reports.

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On average, 35% of the newly published articles make it into the Top 10. The share is particularly high at Tagesschau and t-online with over 50%. The data comes from last year and was collected from German publishers over a period of six months. The six publishers analyzed were chosen deliberately. They include as a public service publisher with national significance and BR24, a successful regional news service of the public service broadcaster. is there as a representative of the boulevard. In addition, there are, and, which were selected because of their social-liberal and conservative reputation, respectively.

When looking at the ascending and descending articles, the significantly higher number of descending articles immediately stands out. This corresponds exactly to the assumption of the news value theory that articles lose news value over time.

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The 1/3 mark is critical here. This is because more than 33 % of the articles are moved up when there are changes on the page. The Tagesschau, Der Spiegel and Zeit Online stand out here, with even more than 37% of articles being assigned a higher news value than when the article was published.

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Overall, this data is remarkable. Because it shows that editors often correct their assessment of news value and readers have a great influence on the positioning of content on news sites. We therefore see in the data a confirmation of our thesis that the relevance of news can be better determined through the holistic observation of competitors.

About this article

Written by Stefan Paulus

Published at: 5/3/2022, 1:00:00 PM

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