What people really need from news

Different people need different things from news, and the User Needs Model 2.0 has been developed to determine just that: eight different reasons why people consume news. These needs go beyond just getting the facts, and stem from basic human desires: understanding the world around them, being able to join in on the conversation, share information with others and determine whether something is bad or good, wrong or right.

For an increasingly large number of people, especially the younger generations, it's not enough to simply know what has happened. They want to understand the news, and find out how it affects them or if there are possible solutions to problems. In short, they need stories that are fact-driven, context-driven, emotion-driven and action-driven. We're big fans of this model and created an updated version which was launched in March 2023: The User Needs Model 2.0.

What are the user needs exactly, and how can you recognise them? Dmitry Shishkin was one of the first advocates of the user needs model when it was developed at the BBC, and he explains everything right here. We created blogs to help you understand and implement every user need.

Download our whitepaper User Needs Model 2.0

We did a webinar about the User Needs Model 2.0. Watch the recording!

Update me

To explain the user needs, we'll start with the most basic one: 'Update me'. This is a typical news article that states the facts, answering the questions: 'what has happened?' and 'what are the details?'

They are your classic “‘who, when, where, what” types of articles. The most typical formats for 'Update me' pieces are

  • news story
  • summary
  • writeup
  • live blog
  • news video

Example:

Taking any election example, an ‘Update me’ story will be an article telling you who won, who lost, giving you quotes, percentages, other outcomes, some background.

How to write an 'Update me' article

Educate me

This may be the most important user need, because it helps readers to learn more about a certain topic or event, fuel their curiosity or understand the basics of a complicated subject. That makes these types of stories very valuable for the reader.

When newsrooms overestimate their audience's knowledge on a subject, they can make their stories too complicated and incomprehensible, making it impossible for readers to really connect with it. They might be intimidated by a story or subject, ignoring it altogether even though it may be important for them.

Some key characteristics of this type of story are that they explain the basics, sometimes even containing a glossary, explanation of terms or chronology. The most typical formats are:

  • Q&A article
  • Listicle
  • ‘How to’ video
  • Explanatory animation

When executed well, these pieces may become 'evergreens' on your site: people will come back and consult the background information for months and even years to come.

Example:

In case of an election, this could be a useful piece explaining to people how the election process works, what different building blocks are, what certain words and terms mean.

How to write an 'Educate me' article

Give me perspective

With certain news events, it can be difficult for the average person to really determine what it actually means and how it can influence them. That's why stories answering the 'Give me perspective' need are filled with opinions and quotes from analysts and experts, as they unpack a complex argument. These articles also serve to give different perspectives on a particular subject, views pro and con, to help the reader form their own opinion on the topic and allow them to participate in the discussion.

Useful formats for this need are

  • profile piece
  • analysis
  • opinion piece
  • backgrounder piece
  • interviews

Example:

In case of an election, for example, it could be an evaluation by an expert, or an analytical piece about what it means to voters or to a country’s relations with the outside world.

How to write a 'Give me perspective' article

Divert me

'Divert me' pieces are meant to take your mind off the often negative flow of news, literally diverting your thoughts with something funny, exciting or entertaining. People need to be given something to distract themselves with: they can't consume ‘hard news’ all the time or they'll lose interest altogether. It can be a lighter take on a harder topic (remember that famous photo piece about all those colourful jackets Angela Merkel wore to all EU summits?).

It's okay for news to be fun, interesting or curious - don't feel obligated to bring serious stories all the time!

The most typical formats for this user need are:

  • video
  • picture gallery
  • surprising short piece story

Example:

For an election, this could be something surprising from the candidate's personal life, or an overview of funny or remarkable things that happened during campaigns and debates.

How to write a 'Divert me' article

The new model distils the wisdom, experience and learnings from both our own research and development and those approaches used by other publishers and presents it into a rock-solid schema. The new model is both more comprehensive and more actionable than those before it, and its visualisation is strikingly clear. One of the original user needs has been reframed; two new users have been added.

Inspire me

'Inspire me' pieces are designed to leave you with a good feeling. These are often stories about people who achieve something significant against all odds: interesting people doing inspiring or surprising things. But it may also be so-called ‘solution journalism’, which offers possible solutions or a positive twist to certain events. Millennials and Gen Z especially are big fans of this. They don't want to be told that the world is a wrong or bad place, but are interested in possible ways to change it - and people who managed to be successful in it.

These pieces are often longform. Most typically, it's a ‘first-person’ feature or a historical story, with lots of personal photographs and details.

Example:

In case of an election, it could be something empowering for the reader, or the personal story of an election monitor or a campaigner.

How to write an 'Inspire me' article

Help me

This user need is action-driven and stems from the trend of service journalism. From the motivation of your readers it means that your visitors are searching for information that helps them act on a personal level. Sometimes it is enough to show the impact of developing events, as long as they encourage your audience to do something. Take readers by the hand, mark the steps, and find a clear solution to their problems. To formulate it simply: help your audience in their day-to-day lives.

Start by asking these questions:

  • How might we help visitors connect with others?
  • How can we help visitors be better equipped to affect change?
  • What information gap can we fill with usable, practical tips and suggestions?
  • What steps are needed for the solution of a clear personal problem?

The most typical formats for a ‘help me’ piece are:

  • Checklist
  • Timeline
  • Question and answer (Q&A)
  • Step 1-2-3-4-5
  • Interview an expert
  • Curator

Example:

Taking any election example, a ’Help me' story will be of service showing where you can vote and what you need to bring along. (or what about voting applications?)

How to write a 'Help me' article

Connect me

This user need is action driven, but it does lean a little bit towards the emotion of your audience. Your audience wants to feel connected and at the same time feel the urge to act on that feeling. The stories created with this approach will connect people around ideas or experiences. In many cases these stories build empathy or affinity with the subject or topic.

Start by asking these questions:

  • What can people do about this problem?
  • How are people connected to the topic?
  • What kind of ideas help to create a movement?

The most typical format for a ‘help me’ piece is a:

  • Columns
  • Opinion
  • Report
  • Sign up form
  • Announcement

Example:

Taking any election example, a ’Connect me' story would find volunteers for the polling stations. Or any other way to get people in motion to be part of democracy.

How to write a 'Connect me' article

Keep me engaged

This user need focuses on the importance of staying up to date with the current events and participating in the conversation and discussions surrounding them. It places an emphasis on the desire for not just being a passive consumer of information, but an active participant in the community. ‘Keep me engaged’ takes into consideration a broader scope of trends, not just those limited to social media. The focus should be on making it easier for the users to participate in the conversation.

In the original user needs for news model, created in 2016, the user need was called ‘Keep me on trend’. It was anchored in the world of social media. When we launched the 2.0 version, we tried to take a broader perspective. The philosophy remains clear: consumers of these stories are usually interested in participating in the conversation and want to catch up on what's already been said and written.

  • be a part of or contribute to the conversation about this topic
  • understand why a certain hashtag is trending on social media

You may need to do some social news gathering or investigation to create these kinds of stories. The nice thing about them is that they tend to be shared more often and generate engagement, which then creates a loop.

The most typical format is a reaction, or quotes. You can simply show: this is what everyone’s talking about right now. You can get social media posts ‘embedded’ inside the content, a collection of tweets or FB and IG posts.

Example:

Taking any election example, a ’Keep me engaged' story would be about a debate that is trending because someone is saying something ugly. You want to involve people into the topic that everyone's talking about.

How to write a 'Keep me engaged' story

Whitepaper:
It's here! User Needs 2.0

Our whitepaper is the culmination of our research on the user needs, the measurements we did with our clients, and the results of experiments and growth hacks. We can't wait to share everything we've learned with you, use it to your advantage!

download whitepaper