News values or forward referencing? Explaining click through rates from news value expression

Research output: Contribution to ConferenceAbstractAcademic


News values are often studied as the reflection of journalists’ activities (Harcup & O’Neill, 2017). Whether or not news values attract news users to select and read news items is difficult to assess using journalist-centered definitions. Instead, discursively defined news values make it possible to assess news user effects (Bednarek & Caple, 2014). News users' selection of news has become more and more important since news is presented online (Lagerwerf, Timmerman, & Bosschaert, 2016). Counting clicks on hyperlinked headlines (resulting in a ‘click through rate’) makes it possible to assess readers’ preferences directly (Kuiken, Schuth, Spitters, & Marx, 2017). For instance, it appeared that headlines containing forward referencing generate more click through rate. Forward referencing comprises a set of formulations such as deictic phrases (This woman escaped a disaster), or interrogative words (How the accident took place), expressing an unidentified referent or event that can only be found by reading the news item after the click (Blom & Hansen, 2015). The phenomenon of click bait (headlines luring news users into uninteresting or even fake news for commercial or propagandistic reasons) may be recognized by overly use of forward referencing. So, abundant use of forward referencing would not be appropriate for quality news. The effect of news values expressed in headlines on click through rates has not been investigated before, so our research question is: Can news values in headlines generate more click through rate? To answer this question we used data provided by the Dutch quality newspaper website They tested alternative formulations of headlines simultaneously on their website (A/B tests), which resulted in a dataset of 7790 headlines and their click through rates. By conducting detailed content analysis on a sample of 4000 headlines we compared click through rate effects between forward referencing and discursive expression of news values.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 14 Dec 2018
EventWhat’s (the) News? Values, Viruses and Vectors of Newsworthiness

: Third biennial conference of the Brussels Institute for Journalism Studies (BIJU)
- Brussels, Brussels, Belgium
Duration: 13 Dec 201714 Dec 2018


ConferenceWhat’s (the) News? Values, Viruses and Vectors of Newsworthiness



  • click through rate, headlines, language intensity, news values, clickbait, negativity


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