Understanding Sticky News: Analyzing the Effect of Content Appeal and Social Engagement for Sharing Political News Online

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This dissertation investigates the concept of news stickiness and why certain news stories are shared more than others in an online environment. Building on theories of framing, uses and gratifications, and social psychology, the study is guided by the perspective that sharing behavior is considered a joint product of informational and personal factors. Previous research in the investigation of sharing motivations were usually one-sided, focusing on one particular attribute that contributes to the behavior; however, this dissertation argues the two key factors that drive news sharing each play a role in moving the audiences from content “internalizing” to content “externalizing.” Additionally, the dissertation also considers that the act of news sharing is carried out by humans and therefore, driven by the innate human needs that extend beyond content captivation. To bridge the gap in existing research, this dissertation adopts a mixed methods approach consisting of the following: 1) Framing analysis of the “most shared articles of the day” on the New York Times website, examining shared content characteristics; and 2) online experiment testing whether the content features concluded from the framing analysis would make news stories more likely to be shared, with a post-experiment questionnaire evaluating the audience’s psychological motivations for sharing. Findings revealed that news personalization, particularly the use of emotional testimony, localized identification, and partisan provocation, constitutes the key content appeal shared by all articles sampled. Moreover, social engagement appeal is made up of five elements that help explain sharing behavior: reciprocal value, individual interest, information utility, persuasion potential, and the bandwagon effect. This dissertation is a step forward toward better understanding of how to make news sticky, in a sense that the news will not only be read but will also be shared extensively. It provided recommendations for news organizations seeking to analyze web traffic data and produce content that deeply resonates with their audiences. This study further contributed to the theoretical frameworks in audience engagement by associating human psychology with news sharing and ultimately confronted concerns such as an attraction to ‘fake news’ or a lack of interest in critical news on key issues.