The Blind Spots of Measuring Online News Exposure: A Comparison of Self-Reported and Observational Data in Nine Countries
41 Pages Posted: 8 Feb 2020 Last revised: 28 May 2021
Date Written: January 20, 2020
Measures of news exposure are common in research that tries to explain political knowledge, political engagement, opinion formation and, more generally, media effects. Much of that research employs self-reported measures obtained with surveys, known to suffer from accuracy problems. Observational measures, however, also suffer from limitations – especially when mobile access is excluded from the analyses. Here we offer new insights on the nature of those problems in a comparative perspective. We show that commonly used self-report measures of digital news consumption are problematic for three reasons: these measures only pay attention to a small fraction of all available sources; they underestimate audience share; and they distort the relative position of news sites in visibility rankings. Measurement problems, however, also exist when mobile access is excluded from observational studies. Our analyses quantify the magnitude of these problems, offering unprecedented comparative evidence of online news consumption that spans nine countries and a period of five years. We discuss the implications of our findings for future research on news exposure.
Keywords: news consumption, web, digital traces, exposure, measurement error
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