Surveys Underestimate Online News Exposure: A Comparison of Self-Reported and Observational Data in Nine Countries
40 Pages Posted: 8 Feb 2020 Last revised: 1 Sep 2020
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. We offer new insights on the nature of those problems when measuring exposure to online news sources. We show how commonly used self-report measures of digital news consumption are problematic for four reasons: such measures only pay attention to a small fraction of all available sources; they underestimate their audience share; they distort the relative position of news sites in visibility rankings; and they alter longitudinal trends. Our analyses quantify the magnitude of these measurement 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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