Rachel Davis Mersey

Associate Professor of Journalism


Rachel Davis Mersey aims to improve the practice of journalism in a manner that enhances publications’ relationships with their audiences by understanding audience identities. To this end, she uses quantitative and qualitative research strategies to examine journalism in a changing media environment.

Mersey’s research has been published in journals across a variety of disciplines. A paper, "Maybe the Internet cannot save journalism: The geographic sense of community gap left when taking news online," received the top paper award from the International Newsmedia Marketing Association in 2007. Her first book, Can Journalism Be Saved? Rediscovering America’s Appetite for News, was published by Praeger in August 2010. She has also conducted research on young adults and newspapers for the Newspaper Association of America and on local information needs for the Chicago Community Trust. She is an advisory member to the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, jointly organized by the Knight Foundation and the Aspen Institute.

A former features writer at the Arizona Republic in Phoenix, Mersey helped to launch the paper’s weekly tabloid targeting women 18 to 34 years old, which won Gannett’s 2003 Innovator Drive for Excellence Award. During this time, she also worked across platforms with azcentral.com and the local NBC affiliate. Before joining the Medill faculty in 2008, she was an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. 

Current Research

Media and Identity. One of Mersey's major research themes involves the identity-media connection, in particular, the role that specific media properties play in individuals’ lives. She has written extensively on identity salience and media use, a topic that has received scant attention from researchers in mass communications. Her book, Can Journalism Be Saved?, posits a new theoretical framework, the identity-based model of journalism, which aims to understand individuals’ connections to media as mediated by identity. Her chapter on “The Identity Experience" in Medill on Media Engagement addresses the professional application of the identity-based model of journalism. As an extension of this research, Mersey has begun to examine Arab identity and media use with particular attention to Al Jazeera-English, which is headquartered in Doha, Qatar, home to Northwestern University in Qatar. In related work, she has partnered on ongoing research with AJ+, Al Jazeera’s news app launched in 2014, to understand Millennials and their relationships with global news.

In 2014, Mersey also delivered the keynote speech on audience and identity at an annual conference of the Norwegian Institute of Journalism in Fredrikstad, Norway.

News Metrics and Engagement. In collaboration with the American Press Institute (API), Mersey is leading a research initiative to improve news-use metrics. In 2014, she brought together researchers and journalism practitioners from across the United States to discuss the question of which metrics would best measure engagement with online news media products, capturing both the value of the media to the consumer and its advertising potential. Several research projects emerged from that initial meeting, including a study of the path to subscriptions and the value of using total time reading as a measure of engagement. 

Mobile Media. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and others have played an undeniable role in shaping the current socio-political landscape of the Middle East, yet most mobile media research to date has focused on the business aspects of their use—not, for example, how their content might influence public education and engagement. Mersey is helping to launch a new study that will seek to understand the development and diffusion of mobile media content in the Arab world. Working with John Pavlik of Rutgers University and Everette Dennis, dean of Northwestern’s campus in Qatar (NU-Q), she will deploy computer science methodology and data analysis with an eye toward creating a model of innovative mobile content designed to foster learning and engagement in the Arab world. This research is funded by the Qatar National Research Fund’s (QNRF) National Priorities Research Program (NPRP).

Selected Publications

Journal Articles

Mersey, R. D., E. Malthouse, and B. Calder. 2012. Focusing on the reader: Engagement trumps satisfaction. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 89(4): 695–709.

Pirotte, M., D. Courtney, M. Schmidt, and R. D. Mersey. 2012. Increase in non-contrast computerized tomography scans of the head following popular media stories about head injury. Western Journal of Emergency Medicine.

Sullivan, D., and R. D. Mersey. 2010. Using equity-based performance measures to build a community-based brand. Journal of Media Business Studies 74:59–76.

Mersey, R. D. 2010. Re-evaluating Stamm’s Theory of Newspapers and Communities in a new media environment: Toward a new theory based on identity and interdependence. Northwestern University Law Review 1042: 517-36. 

Mersey, R. D., E. Malthouse, and B. Calder. 2010. Engagement with online media. Journal of Media Business Studies 7(2): 39–56.

Sullivan, D., and R. D. Mersey. 2010. Using equity-based performance measures to build a community-based brand. Journal of Media Business Studies 7(4): 59–76.


Mersey, Rachel Davis. Can Journalism Be Saved? Rediscovering America’s Appetite for News. Praeger (2010).

Book Chapters

Mersey, R. D. (Forthcoming). The changing magazine audience: Enriching the reader relationship. In The Future of the Magazine Form, ed. D. Abrahamson and M. Prior-Miller. Peter Lang Publishing.

Mersey, R. D. 2013. An argument for news media managers to direct and use audience research. In Media Management and Economics Research in a Transmedia Environment, ed. A. B. Albarran, 121–132. New York: Routledge.

Mersey, R. D. 2010. The identity experience. In Medill on Media Engagement, ed. A. Peck and E. Malthouse,  81–93. New York: Hampton Press.