From games to news : Creating an engagement model for digital local news

Abstract: The transition of local news from the analog, printed format to a digital format, fit for our increasingly digitized media technology society, has not been as straight-forward as was imagined at the dawning of the World Wide Web. Newspapers, in particular local newspapers, were quite fast in trying to adapt to the new technology platform and put their content on the web. User experiences of reading news have certainly evolved since 1995, with the introduction, for example, of the smartphone and proprietary news apps. However, there has been no deep or consistent commitment to understanding more specifically how the digital format can provide a means of interactivity for users and support a range of content and means to engage it. The digital news format does enable interaction between readers and news staff, and, not least, between users in real-time. However, many features for engagement are currently under-explored. Other media, for example computer games, have developed new ways to engage their audience of players both in terms of how the media is distributed and also how the content is personally adaptive, for example, to the unique skill level of players, or by offering them freedom of action to explore content, and/or by enabling increasing communication among player groups.The main knowledge contribution of this research is a novel model for reader engagement in digital local news. The model is constructed by transferring features for user needs satisfaction and engagement in digital games to the realm of digital local news. Self Determination Theory, which establishes ways of describing user engagement in general, and when applied to computer games specifically, forms the basis of the research. Additionally detailed knowledge about user types counters a traditional ‘one to many’ broadcast logic and supports greater understanding of heterogeneity within reader groups. The model also defines the digital maturity of the different features across a spectrum, from substitution via modification to disruption (Su-Mo-Di). For example, some digital features replicate those from the analog printed version II of the newspaper (substitution), while some are impossible to implement in a paper format (disruption).The aim of the research is to outline a unique model of engagement and illustrate how to apply the varied and detailed features when applied to digital local news. This usage of game engagement transferred to digital news contexts also allows alternative ways to interpret the term gamification. Classically gamification has been defined as using game design elements in non-game contexts, where typical game features like points, leaderboards, and badges have been introduced into a significant variation of media and forms, often to increase effectiveness or output from processes. This research contests that view and suggests that gamification can be used to engage mechanisms from games on a higher or more abstract level than actual game mechanics.The method for transferring this form of game engagement to digital local news engagement is built on a process where the more detailed strategies for making computer games engaging are abstracted and re-applied to the field of digital local news. These strategies form the basis for the unique engagement model illustrated within the thesis. These engagement aspects drawn from the model are further elaborated and used to examine specific examples and two prototypes focused on digital local news. The conclusions demonstrate that a focus on engagement through many varied applications can offer a rich method to increase and to analyze user experiences and to design novel features specific to enhancing digital local news.

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