Published on International Journal of Informatics, Technology & Computers
Publication Date: December, 2019
Angela Nkiru Nwammuo & Gideon Uchechukwu Nwafor
Department of Mass Communication, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University
Igbariam, Anambra State, Nigeria
The convergence of old and new media has resulted to a paradigm shift in newspaper readership patterns among different sections of media content consumers in Nigeria. Almost all the mainstream newspapers in Nigeria now have online presence with a considerable number of readers on Facebook and other social media platforms. However, the technological architecture does not allow users to have full access to online newspaper contents on Facebook leaving them with just the news headlines and a section of the news content with a web link to click in order to have access to the full news contents. This however, has posed a challenge to many users as most of them react and comment to these news according to the content of the headlines, liking and sharing the news even when the news contents may be saying a different thing from the headline or even when the headline is misleading. This study, therefore, evaluated how exposure to online newspaper headlines defines the online newspaper readership patterns of Facebook users in Enugu metropolis. Anchored on the Uses and Gratifications Theory, the study adopted Survey research method with a sample size of 400. The study found that users in Enugu metropolis who read online newspapers on Facebook often do not read the full contents of the news story thereby basing their opinion on the headline and the section of the news that displays in their Facebook page and this has made some of them to hold wrong opinion about an issue sometimes as the headline may have misled them. The study therefore, recommended that users should endeavor to read the full story in the online newspaper website before commenting, liking or sharing the news by clicking on the web link provided by the online newspapers in their Facebook page. This is to help them form the right opinion since headlines are sometimes deceptive.
Keywords: Online Newspaper, Headlines, Opinion, Readership Patterns, Facebook Users.
Innovations in Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have ushered in more robust diversification in newspaper publishing into online versions, thereby providing them the prospect for increased connectivity and interactivity with readers (Okonofua, 2012). The way people consume newspaper articles is changing everyday as more newspaper articles are consumed on the internet rather than from physical newspapers. Holmqvist et al. (2003) note that before now, most people used to buy a newspaper, read it from cover to cover while scanning headlines and reading articles that they thought were interesting. However, increasingly more people are reading individual articles online because they were shared on social media or some other internet platform most often (Baresch et al. 2011; Hermida et al. 2012).
Other researchers have also aver that an increasing number of media audience are redefining their methods of news consumption as most of them now replace the mainstream newspapers and magazines with their virtual online versions or/and weblogs (Mitchelstein and Boczkowski, 2009; Allan, 2006; Tewksbury, 2005). This was aided by the two key features of online newspaper as characterized by Karlsson and Stromback, (2010) which are interactivity and immediacy.According to these scholars,interactivity in online newspapering refers to the fact that people most times, are akin to consume only the news they are interested in and react to them as it suits them, while immediacy states that people are always in expectancy to be informed about the latest news with practically and absolutely no delay. These characteristics changed the way news is being produced, distributed and consumed (Paterson and Domingo, 2008).
Nkemdilim (2015) avers that by the virtue of their categorization under Information and Communication Technologies, online newspapers are considered newer mass media content delivery systems that are contributing to the availability and provision of newspaper contents to online readers while competing with traditional hard copy versions of newspapers at the same time. Online newspapers have revolutionized the way readers consume newspaper contents in such a manner that they have stimulated unhindered access and response to information which have brought about great transformations in the information society. This is as a result of online newspapers utilization of the possibilities of ICTs which include speed, widespread reach, convenience, interactivity; quantity and quality thereby allowing readers to seek out explicit contents that best gratifies their need (Nkemdilim, 2015).
With this change, the function of the headline of a news article changed as well. Previously, the primary function of a headline was to give the reader scanning the newspaper, a clear understanding of what the article was about (Van Dijk 1988). But since, according to Kuiken et al. (2017), many headlines are not read within the context of a newspaper anymore, the function of the headline has shifted. It was in this light that Chen, Conroy, and Rubin (2015) recommends that the headline, being one of the primary ways to attract the readers’ attention, should above all make the reader curious as to what the article is about, so that it lures the reader into opening the article.
One key aspect related to news dissemination and its attractiveness is the headline that describes it. The purpose of a headline is to draw attention to the story quickly and brieﬂy. Hypothetically, there is a significant relationship between headlines and the number of people that read the news (Reis, et. al, 2016). With the increasing competition of the online world, it is not surprising to see headlines become more aggressive, exaggerated, and somewhat misleading. More important, headlines are not only the ﬁrst impression of news articles, recent researches suggest that they can even drive the way users perceive the rest of the content associated to them by affecting the way people will remember it even without reading the full story (Ecker et al., 2014).
Despite the absolute importance of headlines on news production and consumption, little is known about how they sway, shape and mold opinion in the digital age especially among those who read only the headlines. A better understanding of the opinions and feelings expressed in headlines, the popularity of news articles as a function of headlines aspects and the kind of comments and interpretations news items trigger is key for the design of new systems and, ultimately to society. All this calls for a better knowledge of readership patterns of social media users who are daily consumers of online newspaper contents. The paper focused mainly of establishing how headlines influence the sentiments expressed in news article even without reading the full story.
1.1 Statement of the Problem
The emergence of the online newspapers and the speed with which some readers slip through the online content has made it possible for some of the readers to read only the news headlines without reading the entire story. Some of the readers, no doubt, go through the entire hug by reading both the headline and the other contents. Both those who read only the headlines and others who read the entire story still form opinion based on their exposure to either the headline or the entire content. In modern competitive business environment, some media professionals, in order to attract readership, cast headlines that may not be a true reflection of the content of the story. Despite this, some online readers still form opinion based on what they read from the headline, an opinion that may be biased. This work, therefore, looked at the exposure to online news-headlines vis-à-vis the content and how this exposure aids in opinion formation.
1.2 Objectives of the Study
The following objectives were formed to help the researcher achieve the purpose of the study:
1. To ascertain the respondents’ frequency of exposure to online newspaper on Facebook.
2. To ascertain the segment of online newspaper the respondents are exposed to on Facebook.
3. To find out if the segment of online newspaper the respondents are exposed to on Facebook influence their opinion about the news.
4. To determine how the respondents reactto news on Facebook based on the online newspaper segments they are exposed to.
1.3 Research Questions
The following research questions were formulated to help the researcher achieve the research objectives:
1. What is the respondents’ frequency of exposure to online newspaper on Facebook?
2. Which segment of online newspaper are the respondents exposed to on Facebook?
3. Does the segment of online newspapers the respondents are expose to on Facebook influence their opinion about the news?
4. How do the respondents react to news on Facebook based on the online newspaper segments they are exposed to?
2. Theoretical Framework
The theory used for this study was the Uses and Gratifications Theory. Founded by Katz, Blumler, &Gurevitch (1974), Uses and gratifications (U&G) approach is generally recognized to be a sub-tradition of media effects research, which helps to determine audiences’ motivations for doing what they do with mass media (Katz, 1959; Klapper, 1963; Ruggiero, 2000; Stafford, Stafford, &Schkade, 2004) Based on the notion that media cannot affect the individual audience unless he/she has some use for media, U&G approach suggests that audiences are considered as active rather than passive in selecting media and seeks to examine audiences’ psychological and social motives that drive audiences to use different media to derive gratifications (Jamal & Melkote, 2008; Rubin, 1994). In other words, U&G approach is widely adopted to investigate the purpose of different media use and the psychological and social needs as well as the motives that affect the using media. U&G approach is the theoretical focus that will be used in explaining why and how audiences consume specific online media contents.
The earliest researchers only focused on the media gratifications sought, that the motives of people use media ,not including outcomes, or gratifications obtained until 1970s (Rayburn, 1996). Researchers indicated that audiences actively consume media in order to achieve some specific sort of gratifications (Herzog, 1944; Mendelsohn, 1964; Schramm, Lyle &Parker, 1961). In 1970s, researchers extended the question not only what people do with the media, but also why and for what exactly audiences use the media. Blumber& Katz (1974) believed that individuals intentionally choose a certain media which best fit their own personal needs and the reasons for selecting a specific media would vary between individuals. Therefore the theory became more defined in terms of individual viewing motivations and gratifications into further research related to media uses and gratifications.
The uses and gratifications paradigm has proven helpful in identifying a variety of motives regarding media use and viewing patterns that reflect the utility, selectivity and intentionality of audience activity (Levy &Windahl, 1985). Rayburn &Palmgreen (1985) combined use and gratifications theory with expectancy value theory to generate an expectancy value model of gratifications sought (GS) and gratifications obtained (GO). GS is used to explain the audience’s motivation based on the expectation, for media use behavior. While GO refers to the “perceived personal outcomes” of these behaviors (Rubin, Sypher&Palmgreen, 1994, p. 173). Research has been proven the strong relationships between the GS and GO. When GO is higher than GS which means the media users’ needs are well satisfied, but comparisons have shown that audiences ‘needs are not always satisfied when they are motivated to consume media to meet certain needs (Palmgreen, Wenner& Rayburn, 1980; Rayburn&Palmgreen, 1984). If the users feel unsatisfied by medium, they may be likely to seek out alternatives (Rosengren&Windahl, 1972). Studying the gap between the two variables (GO&GS) is helpful to understanding the audience’s needs and the success of gratifying them through online newspaper headline.
3. Literature Review
3.1 Overview of Online Newspapers
The copulation between the Internet and newspaper readership is said to have takenplace on July 1, 1980 as recorded by Bittner (2003). Bittner observes that the first newspaper to offer electronic contents to readers through the computer was the Ohio Columbus Dispatch which adopted the services provided by Compuserve, a computer software company based in Ohio, United States of America. A home user needed a computer, and a modem to couple the telephone to the computer, to connect to the data base and access online versions of the Columbus Dispatch newspaper. Online newspapers, today, are common features in the various social media platforms especially Facebook and Twitter as their pages display fragrantly the news feed of social media users (Nkemdilim, 2015). Many daily newspapers in Nigeria now offer electronic versions through the Internet in addition to their traditional hard copy newspapers, while some newspapers offer only online versions (Uwakwe, 2010; Mbachu, 2003). Nkemdilim (2015) recorded that no fewer than 50 Nigerian newspapers were available online.
The emergence of online newspapers is no doubt a product of technological innovations. This is why Hanson (2005: 147) opines that “evolving technology has brought changes to newspaper business”. Mbachu (2003) initially, online newspapers simply offered electronic versions of their hard copy contents but today, mainstream newspapers are now involved in the breaking news process Ganiyu (2011) avers that Nigerian newspapers publish their online versions by “cut and paste” meaning that they cut stories from hard copy versions and paste them on their websites and social media pages such that the contents of both their online and hard copy versions read the same. But there is exception whereby breaking news is reported by newspapers without it appearing on the hardcopy until the next day. This has, no doubt, kept newspapers in the forefront of information dissemination in digital era.
Nkemdilim (2015) concludes that online newspapers can be much more than cut and paste from hard copy versions of newspapers because of its instantinteractive nature that the Internet permits. This feature it made possible by the interactive portal contained in online newspaper websites and social media pages that permit readers to post their comments on every report with minimum delay. The interactivity lies on subsequent posts reactions to both the news story and the earlier posts from other readers which is not accommodated In the traditional hard copy newspaper versions except under ‘letters-to-the-editor’ which normally take time to be published.
3.2 Newspaper Headlines and Opinion Formation
Headlines have traditionally been characterized as short, ‘telegram’-like and maximally informative summaries of the article with which they appear (Van Dijk, 1988; Cotter, 2010). They appear to follow a particular condensed grammar commonly referred to as ‘headlinese’ (Mardh, 1980; De Lange, 2008), and are often carefully constructed to attract the attention of a reader (Bell, 1984; Ecker et al., 2014). The headline of a newspaper article has primarily been given two distinct functions.
The first is to summarize the article it belongs to (Van Dijk 1988). It can do so by either being an abstract of the full article, or by highlighting the main point of that article (Bell 1991; Nir 1993). Dor (2003) calls headlines relevance optimizers, based on the relevance theory of Sperber and Wilson (1986). Dor (2003, p. 696) notes that headlines “are designed to optimize the relevance of their stories for their readers.” He argues that headlines require a balance between being short and clear, and being an information-rich summary of the article. An optimum between those two goals has to be found. The second function of a headline is a more pragmatic one (Iarovici and Amel 1989). It is the function to attract the attention of the readers and to provoke them to read the article (Bell 1991; Nir 1993). Ifantidou (2009, p. 717) showed that readers actually preferred headlines that are creative, even if that makes a headline longer, more confusing or less informative; he states that “readers seem to value headlines for what they are, i.e. underinformative, creative, yet autonomous texts.”
On the Internet, there is much more competition between news sources for the readers’ attention (Chen, Conroy, and Rubin 2015). As more and more readers of news articles come from social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter (Mitchell and Page 2015), the need for a good headline that delivers the most clicks grows. This often leads to a vague headline that induces curiosity, which is then used to lure readers into clicking on the headline.
In a recently experiment by Ecker et al.(2014) in which factual or opinion news were presented to participants, but with different headlines, it was found that misleading headlines affect readers’ memory, inferential reasoning, and behavioral intentions. The authors argue that these effects arise not only because headlines constrain further information processing, biasing readers towards a speciﬁc interpretation, but also because readers struggle to update their memory in order to correct initial misconceptions. These efforts highlight the importance of news headlines which goes beyond attracting users to read news and it even changes individuals’ perceptions or attitudes towards the content.
Headline writing is influenced by the availability of more data as well. Both Dick (2011) and Tandoc (2014) have shown that, in attempting to attract more readers to their stories, editors and journalists have been changing the way they write headlines for their articles, by using words, phrases, and stylistic techniques that are known to perform well and attract more clicks.
For this study, the survey research method was adopted to investigate how online newspaper headlines sway opinion and its implications to online newspaper readership patterns of Facebook users. Survey was chosen because of its appropriateness in studying the attitudes and opinion of a large population of people hence its relevance to the study. Enugu Metropolisis the capital city of Enugu State located in South-Eastern Nigeria. The name Enugu is derived from the two Igbo words ÉnúỤ́gwụ́ meaning “hill top” denoting the city’s hilly geography. The city was named after EnugwuNgwo, under which coal was found. The capital and the seat of Government is Enugu metropolis. Boundaries are formed by Ebonyi State, Anambra State Imo and Abia States as well as Kogi State to the North. English-language newspapers published and sold in Enugu include the Daily Star, Evening Star, The Renaissance and New Renaissance.One of the earliest newspapers published in Enugu was the Eastern Sentinel published by NnamdiAzikiwe’sZik Group in 1955, but failed in 1960. So many other national newspapers have their various branch offices in the metropolitan city. These newspapers also have online presence on Facebook and other social media platforms and are widely read by Facebook users in city.
According to the 2006 Nigerian census, the Enugu metropolitan area has an estimated population of 722,664.However, since this population is not current, the researcher adopted the United Nations Development Programme Projected Population Index (PPI) of 2.28% to get the current population figure of the city which is 988,741. This was adopted as the population for this study.
A sample of 382people who read online newspapers on Facebook was selected for the study. This sample was arrived at using a table of sample size determination developed by Krejcie and Morgan (1970). The table establishes sample sizes against their corresponding population. The sample size in this study is established at 95 percent confidence level and 5 percent sampling error.The sample of 382 was drawn through purposive sampling technique. Nwodu (2006) notes that purposive sampling technique is often called judgmental sampling because respondents are selected on condition that they meet certain criteria. This means that the researcher was at liberty to meet the purpose of the research. According to Michael, Oparaku and Oparaku (2012), judgment sampling makes use of typical cases among the population to be studied, which the researcher believes will provide the result needed.Thus, purposive samples tend to represent a section of the population that meets specific objectives prescribed by the researcher. The researcher includes in the sample only elements that can be reached (Ohaja, 2003). The reason for the use of purposive sampling techniques is the appropriate strategy the researcher can use in other to get the samples of users who read online newspapers on Facebook.
5. Data Presentation
Table 1: Return rate of Questionnaire
Table one shows that the return rate of questionnaire is 93% (n = 355) while the mortality rate is 7% (n = 27). The return rate is higher than the mortality rate. The mortality rate of 27% does not affect the study because it is insignificant compared to the return rate of 93%. Thus, the copies were considered good enough to represent the population. The presentation and analysis of data obtained from the questionnaire were therefore based on the 355 copies that were returned and found usable.
Research Question One:
What is the respondents’ frequency of exposure to online newspapers on Facebook?
Table 2: Respondents’ exposure to online newspapers on Facebook
Table 2 provides information on the respondents’ frequency of exposure to online newspapers on Facebook. Majority of the respondents 90% (n=320) identified they are exposed online newspapers daily on Facebook.The import of the data on Table 2 is that out of the 355 respondents that use Facebook in Enugu metropolis, majority are exposed to online newspapers on daily basis resulting to high exposure.
Research Question Two
Which segment of online newspaper are the respondents exposed to on Facebook?
Table 3: Segment of online newspaper the respondents are exposed to on Facebook
Table 3 shows respondents’ responses to research question three. Data reveals that majority of the respondents (69%, n=245) are exposed to the Headline segment of online newspapers on Facebook. The implication of data on Table 3 is that majority of Facebook users in Enugu metropolis read only online newspaper headlines on Facebook without reading the full contents of the story.
Research Question Three
Does the segment of online newspapers the respondents are expose to on Facebook influence their opinion about the news?
Table 4: Whether the segment of online newspapers the respondents are expose to influences their opinion about the news
Table 4 shows respondents’ responses to research question three. Data reveals that majority of the respondents (90%, n=320) form their opinion about news based on the segment of online newspapers they are exposed to on Facebook. The implication of data on Table 4 is that majority of the respondents form their opinion about news based on the segment of online newspapers they are exposed to on Facebook resulting to misconception, misunderstanding, misjudgment of the news and swayed opinion.
Research Question Four
How do the respondents react to news on Facebook based on the online newspaper segments they are exposed to?
Table 5: How respondents react to news on Facebook based on the segment of online newspaper they are exposed
Table 5 shows respondents’ responses to research question 4. Data reveals that majority of the respondents (69%, n=245) form their opinion and react to news on Facebook based on how the segment of the online newspaper segment they are exposed to suit them. The implication of data on Table 5 is that since the majority of Facebook users read only online newspaper headlines without reading the full contents of the story, they subjectively form their opinion and reacts to the news based on the headline that are often subjective.
6. Discussion of Findings
Findings from research question one revealed thatthere is high exposure to online newspapers by Facebook users in Enugu metropolis as majority of then indicated that they read online newspapers daily on Facebook. This finding consolidates the assertion of Holmqvist et al. (2003) who observe that the way people consume newspaper articles is changing as more newspaper articles are consumed on the internet rather than from physical newspapers. Also, Baresch et al. (2011) and Hermida et al. (2012) agree that increasingly more people are reading individual articles online, outside of their original publication and this sometimes, was shared on social media or some other internet platforms.
Finding from research question two revealed that majority of Facebook users in Enugu metropolis read only online newspaper headlines on Facebook without reading the full contents of the story. This finding supports the position of both Dick (2011) and Tandoc (2014) who have shown that, in attempting to attract more readers to their stories, editors and journalists have been changing the way they write headlines for their articles, by using words, phrases, and stylistic techniques that are known to perform well and attract more clicks.Kuiken et al. (2017) have discovered that the rewritten headlines differ vastly from their original counterparts which are laden frames like use of personal and possessive pronouns, negative words, and questions.
Finding from research question three revealed thatmajority of the Facebook users in Enugu metropolis react and form their opinion about news based on the segment of online newspapers they are exposed to on Facebook resulting to misconception, misunderstanding, misjudgment of the news and swayed opinion. This finding confirms that the assertion of Van Dijk(1988) and Chen, Conroy, and Rubin (2015) who aver that previously, the primary function of a headline was to give the reader, who was scanning the newspaper, a clear understanding of what the article was about but many headlines are not read within the context of a newspaper contents anymore thereby shifting core function of the headline from being one of the primary ways to attract the readers’ attention, reader curiosity as to what the article is about, so that it lures the reader into opening the article.
Finding from research question four revealed thatmajority of the Facebook users in Enugu metropolis read only online newspaper headlines on Facebook without reading the full contents of the story, thereby subjectively forming their opinion and reacting to the news based on the gratification they derive or how the headlines suits them. This finding confirms that the assertion of Ecker et al., 2014) who aver that headlines potentially determine how many people read the news and with the increasing competition of the online world, it is not surprising to see headlines become more aggressive, exaggerated, and somewhat misleading. More important, headlines are not only the ﬁrst impression of news articles, they can even drive the way users perceive the rest of the content associated to them by affecting the way people will remember it. Reis, et al, (2016) found in a study that there was the predominance of negative news headlines in all the news sources analyzed and Nguyen, Legg, and Sweeny(2011) established that the news people read have impacts on their behavior and ultimately can affect society.
There are studies that suggest that content that evokeseitherhigh-arousalpositiveemotions(awe) ornegativeemotions(angeroranxiety)tendtobe more viral (Berger and Milkman, 2013). There- fore, headline popularity can also be measured according to what emotion, sentiment, or reaction it produces. And, there are also recent studies that deal with sentiment analysis on headlines and short-texts (Nassirtoussi et al., 2015). This justifies the Uses and gratifications theory adopted in this study to explain the patterns of online newspaper readership among Facebook users in Enugu metropolis.
In line with the submission that more people read online newspapers than traditional hard copy newspapers as traditional newspapers are increasingly lured into reinventing themselves to explore the Internet in content delivery because online newspapers provide readers more information, with more depth and greater speed than the hard copy versions, this paper filled a gap in knowledge that which established how online newspaper readers, especially those who read on Facebook, process the information presented to them in online newspaper headlines. It was established in this paper that those sampled are exposed to online newspapers on Facebook and they are selectively exposed to the headlines which they use to form their opinions and reaction as well as responding to the news according how it suits and gratifies them.
Based on the research findings, the researcher made the following recommendations:
1. Readers of online newspapers on Facebook should cultivate the habit of reading the full story before reacting to the news in order to make an informed opinion. This they can do by clicking on the web link provided under the newspaper headlines leading to the full story.
2. Online newspapers should avoid sensational and misleading headlines capable to sway opinion and cause misinformation and misrepresentation of facts knowing that facts are sacred.
3. Online newspapers should include the vital information on the headline and the lead while uploading news on their Facebook pages. This will help to address the various readership patterns and provide accurate information among various Facebook users who read online newspapers.
4. Further studies should filter various headlines which are at variance with the contents using content analytical method.
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