Mobile News: The 2015 Election via News Apps

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Political News Wednesday, December 16, 2015 View Count = 1864

Mobile News: The 2015 Election via News Apps

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“Mobile News: The 2015 Election via News Apps” is written by Mary Francoli from Carleton University. 

Within just 96 hours of October's federal election, Mary Francoli and 65 other leading thinkers and political scientists in Canada each wrote a short, snappy analysis of the election. Never before have Canadian experts collaborated to produce such a complete—and fast—response to an election. Together with UBC Press, Samara is proud to bring you all 57 articles as part of the "Election 2015" blog series, the definitive look at all angles of the 42nd general election.  

Watch this space to get all the analyses. For a complete list of academics involved, click here

We know that the news media plays an important role in helping citizens to make an informed decision at the ballot box. However, we know little about the impact of mobile media on election coverage, or the impact of the architecture of various news applications—or apps—on the ability of users to stay informed during the election campaign. Understanding this is important given that the way that Canadians consume election coverage is changing as mobile media increases in popularity. The majority of Canadians access the Internet via a mobile device. Today, 68% of Canadians use smartphones and that number is projected to rise. Tablets are also becoming commonplace and are now used by over half of Canadians with Internet access. News consumption is one of the top five activities of tablet users in Canada. Media consumption habits have changed so significantly that Montreal-based daily La Presse announced plans to stop its print edition with the exception of Saturday, noting that its tablet subscriptions are doubled its print subscriptions. 

This analysis offers some early insight into the question: How was the 2015 federal election presented in mobile media? It looks at the freely available news apps of four major daily papers in Canada: The Toronto Star’s Star Touch, The Globe and Mail’s Globe and Mail, The National Post’s National Post Mobile, and La Presse’s La Presse +. Content of each of the four apps was monitored daily during the two week period preceding the election, from October 5 to October 18. Election-related content was tracked and coded in relation to the percentage of overall news content, and efforts were made to identify the percentage of unique content—content that had not ­appeared on other days or on multiple occasions on the same day—on a daily basis. Attention was also paid to the architecture of the apps to see how election coverage was built in, or not, as the case may be.

The findings point to a fairly wide discrepancy in the design, or architecture, of the apps. Of the four, The Globe and Mail was the only app to have a built in button, or explicit category, for Election 2015 in its regular menu. The architecture of La Presse+ is such that its menu changes daily, but the election was not a category in the two weeks prior to the election. However, it does have a news feed, En Direct, which had a regular menu featuring the election on a daily basis. There was no clear location for election-­specific coverage for either the Star Touch app or for The National Post Mobile app. This is not to say the content was not there, but it was more sporadically built into other general categories.

An analysis of the content found on the apps in the two weeks preceding the election points to some correlation between architecture and content. The Globe and Mail’s app was the only app to build a category for the election directly into its menu. As can be seen in the table below, it also had a dramatically higher total percentage of election related content then the other apps. However, it also had the highest amount of content that was either repeated frequently across days or across multiple categories in the app.
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When looking at percentage of unique content, The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star apps are fairly similar. The Star Touch app, however, presented the least amount of repeated content.

While similar studies would help to verify the findings, this preliminary analysis does signal the importance of app architecture. Design has the potential to influence what users learn about the election. Those that relied primarily on The Globe and Mail’s app during the 2015 federal election had content presented to them in a very direct and repetitive manner compared to those who may have turned to the other apps. Users of any of the apps had varying degrees of election coverage delivered to them in a format that they could read virtually anytime anywhere. However, as the findings indicate, those with a desire to be most informed should not rely on one source, in this case, one app, alone.

Mary Francoli is an Associate Professor in the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University. Dr. Francoli’s research looks at the relationship between digital media and issues related to politics and governance. While this is a large and diverse field, most of her research has focused on the way that digital media has impacted three broad areas: citizen engagement and mobilization, governance, and access to information and data. She is a leading researcher in the field of open government and open data. Her recent publications include (with A. Clarke),What’s in a name? Questioning the homogeneity of ‘open government’ programs across seven countries,” Journal of e-Democracy and Open Government 6, no.1 (2014).

You can also find this article in the e-book Canadian Election Analysis 2015: Communication, Strategy, and Democracy, which is available for download on UBC Press's website

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