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Readers are concerned personalised news keeps them in content silos

By Rahul Sethi

As appearing on the INMA blog on August 4, 2019.

Marketers and tech giants may want to believe that news audiences prefer a personalized experience, sourcing passive audience data to back the claim. However, a significant 48% of Canadian adults worry that more personalized news may mean that they miss out on certain stories or perspectives. Given that more and more news is being consumed digitally, and that the mantra of massive digital media companies is “complete personalization”, audiences rightfully have cause for concern.

It’s true that we all have specific topics of interest. I myself am interested in news and information on media, psychology, marketing, and enjoy cute cat and dog videos every now and then. However, these are not the only topics I am interested in, and I appreciate when my attention is drawn to a topic or informed perspective that I may not actively seek out.

There has always been a level of personalization to news, but more so around geography; for example, toward citizens of a country, city, township. In this way, news made residents aware of what was going on in the micro or macro communities in which the resided. News proliferates knowledge among the masses on things they are not readily informed about, or even realize is going on in their world. A news environment where content is completely personalized demeans the intelligence of audiences. And, in my opinion, enables the sensationalizing of news and journalism (click-bait anyone?), taking it away from fulfilling its core purpose: “to provide citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, their communities, their societies, and their governments” (American Press Institute).

Personalized news also raises concerns around privacy. 7 out of 10 Canadians are generally concerned about data protection and privacy in the internet. And 4 out of 10 Canadians worry that more personalized news may mean that their privacy is at risk. Personalization requires transparency. However, many are not aware that they have opted in for such personalization and the excessive monitoring that comes with it. And perhaps for many, what they are giving up for what they get in return isn’t worth it. Beyond news, it appears personalization online is not always appreciated by consumers in many areas, for example, even marketing.

Coming back to news, only 19% of Canadians express interest in having news stories automatically selected for them based on news they accessed in the past. This may not be a significant enough segment to build a large strategy around. Also, only 27% of those that believe it is their duty to pay for online news (to support independent and unbiased journalism), like to have news automatically selected for them based on past activity.

Whereas, a more significant 57% of those that believe it is their duty to pay for online news share the concern that personalized news may mean they miss out on certain stories or perspectives.

So, is personalization pointless? No, absolutely not. Personalization has a purpose, and it has a place. Sometimes we do just want to see articles based on our interests. But, not at the sacrifice of gaining new perspectives, learning new things, and being exposed to accurate news and information we should know as citizens of where we live.

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