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.

The Effect of Good News. The media has been widely criticized for focusing on the negative news in communities or perhaps worse, in this era of traditional media declining, of not covering communities at all.  And while there is substantial evidence that there is a prosocial relationship between community attachment and news use—newspapers help locals understand who they are and what they should care about—there has been scant research on the power of positive news in otherwise declining communities. Mersey is working in partnership with Insight Labs and the Foundations of East Chicago, Ind., to examine the effect of good news on metrics of community cohesion, satisfaction and individual efficacy.

Community Information Gaps. Some have argued that society has left the information age for the attention age, the justification being that the total—and seemingly unending—amount of information available has led to the commoditization of attention in a way previously unobserved. While evidence of such a shift exists, an overemphasis on attention neglects real concerns about differences between the "information rich" and the "information poor." Taking into account issues of information quality, quantity, and availability, Mersey is working with the Chicago Community Trust to detect and evaluate how individuals perceive information gaps in their communities. The project is designed to help the researchers identify which communities are underserved by the current media landscape.

Selected Publications

Journal Articles

Mersey, R. D., E. Malthouse, and B. Calder. Forthcoming. Focusing on the reader: Engagement trumps satisfaction. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly.

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.


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