Perceived Instrumentality and Value Importance of Newspaper Information

Flemming Hansen, Aalborg University, A.I.M. MARKEDSANALYSE a-s
[ to cite ]:
Flemming Hansen (1975) ,"Perceived Instrumentality and Value Importance of Newspaper Information", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 02, eds. Mary Jane Schlinger, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 307-320.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2, 1975      Pages 307-320


Flemming Hansen, Aalborg University, A.I.M. MARKEDSANALYSE a-s

In consumer behavior much theory is formulated around value importance/ perceived instrumentality variables. In the present paper such variables are studied in an untraditional context. In the paper changes in the functions performed by newspapers are analyzed. It is shown how the type of information carried, the role of entertainment and the ability to act as a social reference point for the reader has changed. Also it is discussed how the relative importance of these three major functions can be studied, and how the kind of audiences the papers attract depend upon how they mix these functions.

In addition to the "content factors" "treatment" factors are analyzed. The importance of understandability, readability, and optimal complexity is discussed, and it is shown how it varies depending upon the nature of the audience.

Based upon the above analysis, a model of the interactions between a publication and its audience is built. It describes how the audience's use of and satisfaction with the media varies with variations in "content" and "treatment". In support of the model it is shown how stable media "content" and "treatment" factors exist across different types of newspapers. Based upon factor analytical studies of consumers ratings of media a general factor structure is suggested.

Additionally a strong relationship is demonstrated between interest in different types of "content" and "treatment" factors and the papers which are being chosen, and it is discussed how different segments can be defined in terms of interest in and preferences for different combination of "content" and "treatment".


The author has previously been concerned with the Rosenberg type of model in different areas of consumer behavior. [Flemming Hansen, "Consumer Choice Behavior - A Cognitive Theory", The Free Press, New York, 1972.] Here this type of approach is applied in the area of information acquisition.

It has been proposed that newspapers serve three purposes for the reader. They may carry information which has:

1. Specific instrumentality, i.e. they carry information which the reader needs for specific purposes. This kind of information is attended to when specific information is needed. Examples of such information could be weather forecasts, stock market prices, television programmes, etc.

2. General instrumentality, i.e. information which in future situations may prove useful to the reader in more general ways. This kind of information is attended to, since the reader expects that it may be useful to him some time in the future. It can be information about political or other matters which may be of importance for the individual in future decision making or in future social relations,-or it can be information about how important people look upon various issues. In the latter case the information is valuable, since the reader can use it as a reference point or as a guide line for his own opinions and behavior.

3. Immediate instrumentality. i.e. information which is esteemed because of its immediate satisfaction of needs on part of the receiver. The reader turns to it "for the fun of it" without conscious or unconscious thought about its future relevance. Entertaining material belongs in this category.

It could be argued that any single item in a newspaper (article, story, etc.) performs all of the above three functions. However, as suggested by the examples, some items primarily serve one of the functions whereas other material primarily serves others.

Particularly the distinction is important between, on the one hand, the first two categories where the information has future relevance, and the last where the information is appreciated by the receiver because of its "entertaining effect".

Below these two functions will be discussed in some detail.


Newspapers transmit information in society. Over the years the kind of information, which in the last two centuries has been carried by newspapers, has been transmitted in many different ways. The efficiency with which this information is distributed may be measured in different ways. One possibility is to look at the speed with which it is carried from its source of origin to those readers who demand it. Personal conversation, letter writing, speaking in front of large audiences, and the use of messengers, all are means of communication which were used in early days. With the invention of Gutenberg new ways of transmitting information came into use, and eventually in the 17th century the newspaper, as we know it, emerged.

Later improvements in communication techniques such as the telegraph, the use of steamboats and trains, etc. increased the speed with which information could be delivered from its source of origin to the newspaper and the speed with which the newspaper could be distributed from the place of printing to the receivers. Still, however, a century ago days could pass from the time of an event in, say, Paris, and the time at which information about the event was read in a Milano newspaper, which was distributed in, say, Verona.

The telephone and the telegraph improved the efficiency of this communication pattern, and so did changes in printing technique, but not until the emergence of radio and later television did anything exist which was a serious threat to the monopoly of the print media in the distribution of information.



In figure I. this development is illustrated. Different techniques have appeared at different times and for some period of time they have been the most efficient means of transmitting information. Then new techniques have come into use and changed the situation.

The overall picture illustrated in figure I. is typical for many development processes: An increasing growth rate explained by the emergence of new techniques and continuous improvements of these techniques. A similar pattern can be found in the development in the speed with which humans can travel, productivity of printing techniques, etc.

The fundamental suggestion made in figure I. is that in areas where speed of communication is vital, print media are loosing out to other media. Consequently print media must look for other needs which they can serve and they must look for types of information where factors other than absolute speed are important for the receivers. The first is done when the media more and more serve entertaining functions. This will be discussed subsequently. The latter is done when media either make the news themself (as it is done by many popular dailies) or when they look for more specialized news which lends itself poorly for the large media: TV and radio.

Parallel with the development in the efficiency of communication, the amount of information to be transmitted has increased tremendously and many groups with different informational needs have emerged. Therefore, even though some media are superior with regard to general communication efficiency, it may still be possible to identify segments of readers with particular interests and to combine information which is relevant to such segments in such a way that newspapers or magazines doing this can be extremely efficient vehicles of communication for the receivers in question.

The extent to which particular media are able to identify homogeneous reader segments and to offer selections of information relevant to these segments is critical to the survival of these media. In the professional press and to some extent in the magazine press such a specialization has occurred. How such a segmentation strategy will have to look for dailies in the future is not obvious.

The dimensions along which this kind of segmentation should be carried out may be very different from those traditionally used in the study of newspaper readership. Rather than political views, geographical location, income, education, occupation, and similar variables, some yet unknown dimensions such as informational behavior styles may have to be used. Below some of the research problems will be discussed which a newspaper encounters in the search for such variables.


Realizing the growing competition when it comes to the transmission of instrumental information, magazines, and newspapers have become increasingly interested in entertainment and amusement material. Comics, popular stories, news with a heavy orientation towards entertainment, etc. have become more and more common. Also here, however, other means of communication have become serious competitors. The cinema, the radio, television, and in the future cable television and taped television will be important competitors.

Also here the most obvious opportunity for print media such as newspapers and magazines is to identify segments with such interests and background that they can be served more efficiently by the print media than by competing alternatives.


People vary in their ability to understand and absorb information. The extent to which the information is easily accepted depends upon factors such as its overall complexity. In turn this depends upon the use of pictures, the readability of the copy, the sentence length, the type used, the nature of the material, etc. It is likely that any given reader [D.E. Berlyne, "Conflict, Arousal and Curiosity", New York, 1960.] has an optimal level in any particular area. That is, within a given informational area an individual has an optimal level of complexity which he can accept. If the information becomes more complex he will tend to reject it and if it is less complex he also will refuse it.

Different such relationships exist for different individuals and even for the same individual different relationships exist in different context areas. In a particular area with which the individual is very familiar more complex material can be absorbed than in an area with which the individual is unfamiliar.


Let us summarize some of the points which so far have been made: Efficiency has to do with the speed with which relevant information, is transmitted to motivated receivers in a form which is easily received (read, understood, and accepted). However, people vary widely in their informational needs and in their ability to receive information. One way of improving the efficiency with which a certain medium is communicating is to find out what is the ideal segment towards which the medium should be aimed and to identify what are the informational and other relevant characteristics of this segment.

How some of the factors which are likely to be important in a search for such segments interact is illustrated in figure 2. Here they are summarized in a model illustrating how they determine tee efficiency of the communication.



In the upper part of the figure the informational factors are illustrated. In the lower part the amusement/entertainment factors are printed.

On the left hand side it is suggested how variations in amount of information may be seen as a summary measure of the content aspects.

On the right hand side a complexity scale is illustrated. This is meant to suggest how various presentation factors may be seen as different aspects of perceived complexity or rather as different aspects determining perceived complexity.

In the following pages, research will be discussed which has been aimed at identifying different informational ("content") and complexity or ("treatment") factors.


The research to be discussed has been carried out in Denmark and it deals with different Danish newspapers. For obvious reasons the identify of the papers being evaluated cannot be revealed. Also the factors and the averages being reported have been modified to make the data unidentifiable.

In search for the major informational factors newspaper readers see in daily newspapers, a list of informational categories was developed. In this way a total of 28 different news areas such as international news, theater news, etc. were identified. For each category an "interest in the area" scale was formulated. This test battery was presented to approximately 400 newspaper readers who were asked to rate their daily newspaper. Based upon these ratings a factor analysis was carried out. An R-type analyses was carried out for each of four major newspapers. In these from 62 to 76 per cent. of the total variance has an explained. Since only little differences were found between the readers of the different papers a joint analyses was carried out. In this 68 per cent. of the total variance was accounted for.

Seven major content factors emerged from the 28 informational items which had been included in the study. These factors are illustrated in table 1.




Also for the form of presentation aspects a test battery was developed. With the use of this battery different newspapers were evaluated. A total of 84 items were included on the battery which was used to have 800 newspaper readers evaluate different newspapers. Subsequently these data were submitted to factor analysis. In this case, however, a quite large number of factors emerged all of which were not easily interpreted. [With a total of 72 per cent. of the variance explained, 19 factors emerged. The unclear nature of some of these may possibly be ascribable to the test battery including several other than form of presentation statements. Here only a selection of the factors are discussed.] In table II, only 9 selected form of presentation factors are presented.

As suggested earlier these "form of presentation factors" are likely to be of a nature where "too much and too little" are bad things. For example, "to take a stand" may be positive to some readers but negative to other readers, and if it is so, it is extremely important to find out how the newspaper should look on this particular dimension.




At this point in time it was felt that before segments were identified based upon the factors which were found, it was natural to test the extent to which the factors could explain differences-in readership and in preferences for different papers. To do this several analysis were carried out. For example in table III. it is shown how people who primarily read national morning newspapers vary in interests from people who primarily reads national noon papers, who again vary from people who primarily read local newspapers. Seemingly people have different interests along the dimensions identified and the papers they choose vary with the combination of interests which they have.



For the treatment factors a different kind of analysis was carried out. Here a number of questions from the original battery were selected in such a fashion that each of the major factors were represented. This was done by choosing a question from each factor with high loading on that factor. Subsequently these questions were used as independent variables in a stepwise regression analysis for each paper where a preference measure for the paper was used as the dependent variable. In this way the factors were identified which were of particular importance for the different papers. In general, high, multiple correlations were found. Also the factors explaining the variation in the dependent variable were different from newspaper to newspaper. For example for one of the newspapers the following regression equation was established.



It will be seen that this particular paper gets readers who value a sensational approach, who do not care much about the language used, who want an amusing newspaper and who want a paper which takes a stand. That the paper is a popular noon paper can be read directly from the table.


At this point it was felt that meaningful content and treatment variables were identified. The next problem was to identify homogeneous segments which were useful target groups for the papers for which the research was carried out. Here two approaches have been discussed. In the first, departure was taken in the existing market situation. That is, it was analyzed how people were changing between the major papers involved in the study.

Subsequently it was analyzed to which extent the treatment factors and the content factors which were identified could be used to explain these changes. For each of the major flows of readers it was analyzed how people moving from one to another newspaper differed in evaluation of treatment factors. For example for readers switching between two papers the results shown in table V. emerged.



Here it can be seen how those readers who move from paper A. to the competing paper differ from those who switch from paper B. back to A. They do so in the extent to which they want a newspaper which takes a clear position on the issues it is covered, in the extent they want the paper to be sensational, and in the extent to which they want their paper to be presenting pro et cons. If A. wants to gain readers from B. these are the dimensions on which the approach should build. Moreover, by carrying out analysis of this nature for the different competitive relationships it was possible to estimate what would be the effect of changing the existing newspaper in one direction or another.

The second segmentation approach would depart far away from the existing newspapers. Rather the question would be asked: "To what an extent is it possible to identify groups of readers with homogeneous interests in content and treatment"?

The technique to be used would be backwards segmentation departing in evaluation of interest in different content and treatment aspects. The results of this part of the project are not available, but it is hoped that it would identify groups of newspaper readers with a homogeneous set of interests which better could be served by a modified or a new product than whatever papers they are presently reading.

The extent to which this approach would provide successful results will depend upon the measurement devices used and the extent to which the available papers have been successful in adopting ideally to the existing market. Whether the latter is the case or not it would be possible to.see from the study since it will be possible to analyze for each of the segments whether the readers in that segment tend to read only one or two newspapers or whether they have divided their newspaper reading among a variety of different papers. If the latter is the case a product adopted to the needs and interests of the people in that particular segment may have a chance.