Online News Consumption and What It Says About Us

I think we can all agree that the times have changed and are still changing at a rapid pace. The days when you could buy a ‘pape’ from a newsboy on the street corner for 7 cents are behind us. In fact, newspapers have all but died out by now it seems. According to this 2016 article by Pew Research Center, only about 20% of U.S. adults often get their news from print newspapers… and 48% of those folks are over the age of 65! Only 5% of adults age 18-29 still acquire print newspapers. This makes total sense to me, a 22-year-old who fits snugly in that demographic. It also makes sense to me because the internet has changed the game! Why go to something as archaic as a newspaper when after only a few clicks, every news article ever published is right there in front of you on the computer screen?

However, despite my original hypothesis, the internet is not the most common way for Americans to consume their news. Television still holds the torch with 57% of adults consuming cable, local, or nightly news, according to the same article by Pew Research Center.Interestingly, though, among the age demographics of 18-49 year-olds, the internet still inches slightly higher than TV. So only the 50-65+ demographic still prefers TV news to online news.

Although print newspapers are pretty much out of the picture, that doesn’t mean that those newspapers are out of business! Contrarily, the major newspapers in the U.S. (The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, and the like) have all adjusted to the new internet-obsessed generation we live in and have digitalized their papers. Furthermore, those sites are the most viewed news sites on the internet! Matthew Hindman, an internet researcher and author, affirms this notion in his 2011 article titled “Less of the Same: The Lack of Local News on the Internet.” In it, he explains how news consumers almost always prefer national news sources to local ones online. Check out Hindman’s words: “The broad landscape of online local news is easy to summarize. Local news is a tiny part of Web usage; collectively, local news outlets receive less than half of a percent of all page views in a typical market… Only a handful of local news Websites—17 out of 1074… are unaffiliated with traditional print or broadcast media.” The good news is that these national news outlets are still getting some web traffic; the bad news is that news sites in general occupy a relatively miniscule part of the internet. Who knows? Maybe news consumption as a whole will continue to decline!

Now enters the question: what about social media? Surely the youngest generation, Generation Z, is getting their news from Twitter, Snapchat, and Facebook! Well, according to this Pew Research Center article, that is incorrect! In fact, social media news has only barely edged its way ahead of newspapers! However, according to this article, when it comes to specific social media platforms, here are the standings: “Facebook is still far and away the site Americans most commonly use for news, with little change since 2017. About four-in-ten Americans (43%) get news on Facebook. The next most commonly used site for news is YouTube, with 21% getting news there, followed by Twitter at 12%. Smaller portions of Americans (8% or fewer) get news from other social networks like Instagram, LinkedIn or Snapchat.” Who knows how these statistics will change among the next generation, though?

All of this data is very interesting, especially since the internet is still young and its effects on politics are advancing every day. Hindman opens his article that I referenced earlier by making this statement: “Perhaps no part of the American media environment is as little understood as Web‐based local news.” Surely more research needs to be done on this topic! Only time will tell how emerging technologies will continue to evolve news consumption trends in America.




Could Partisanship be a GOOD Thing??

Selective exposure. It is a term that may be relatively unknown to the layman but is clearly visible if one is aware of what it is and what it looks like. Especially when it comes to politics.

Natalie Jomini Stroud, a leading source on the topic of selective exposure, says in a study she wrote titled The Oxford Handbook of Political Communication, “Selective exposure is the motivated selection of messages matching one’s beliefs” (Stroud, 531). Basically, the idea here is that, given the many options of today’s news climate, people will choose to ignore the news that contradicts their fundamental beliefs and instead will consume the news that conforms to their preexisting notions. I encourage you to check out Stroud’s article titled “Polarization and Partisan Selective Exposure” to learn more about selective exposure here.

Everybody knows that news outlets such as Fox and CNN are biased. So why do people tune in? There is plenty of research on the issue at hand. Leon Festinger, recognized as the father of modern social psychology, wrote a book in 1957 titled A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance that has received much scholarly acclaim and is a widely accepted reason for selective exposure. Festinger’s cognitive dissonance theory can be explained using the analogy of a smoking habit. Somebody who smokes a pack of cigarettes a day, knowing full well that smoking causes cancer, is living in dissonance.Their behaviors do not align with their cognition. The theory of cognitive dissonance would suggest that one does not enjoy the state of dissonance and thus will try to remove the dissonance and experience peace. For the smoker, they would have to quit their smoking habit to come to a point of consonance. You can read more about cognitive dissonance here. When it comes to politics, the theory of cognitive dissonance would provide a reason why we engage in selective exposure. Because we don’t like the feeling of dissonance, which can be created by receiving opposing political opinions, an easy solution is to simply ignore news that contradicts your opinions. Thus you are left with partisan selective exposure.

So if cognitive dissonance is why we engage in selective exposure, what are some results of selective exposure? Well, when it comes to politics, some outcomes include polarization of the political climate, increased selective exposure, and less tolerance for those on the opposite side of the political spectrum. These are all negative outcomes of selective exposure, but what if selective exposure is a good thing? What if selective exposure has its place in democracy? What if partisanship isn’t as bad as it first seems?

The New York Times produced an article on March 1, 2018 titled “What Motivates Voters More Than Loyalty? Loathing”which discusses the topic of “negative partisanship”. Negative partisanship is the concept that voters align themselves against the opposing party rather than with their own party. The 2016 presidential election provides pretty good evidence in support of the prevalence of this notion.

Now, this article still seems to shine a negative light on partisanship, and you can surely understand why! Nobody wants to identify with anger and hatred toward a political candidate, or anyone for that matter! These are emotions that people largely want to deny. Yet, as this article implies, these emotions are the very thing which motivates voters to get to the polls on election day!

So I submit this thought: if selective exposure, which is compelled by cognitive dissonance and leads to negative partisanship, encourages citizens to vote, then how bad can it really be? In a democracy, voting is arguably the easiest way to participate in politics, and it is vitally important to the success of a democracy. Check out this chart recording the voter turnout rates since 1916. Is the increase in voter turnout in recent years due in part to negative partisanship?