Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Pew: Measuring News Consumption in a Digital Era

A transition to digital technologies has brought upheaval to the news media industry by way of a multitude of new providers and ways to get news. 

Just as American news organizations have had to drastically reevaluate their business models, it would make sense that researchers who are trying to measure public news consumption need to reexamine the traditional methods they have used. A new Pew Research Center analysis explores how best to measure public news consumption – asking, which current survey practices work well and where might changes be in order?

This study took a multimodal approach to investigating these topics, drawing on cognitive interviews, split-form survey experiments, comparisons between passive data and self-reported survey data, and a full, nationally representative survey. First, 21 cognitive interviews were conducted through RTI International in late February and early March 2020 to obtain qualitative feedback on the public’s understanding of emerging concepts about news consumption in a digital age and inform the development of survey experiments. Second, split-form survey experiments were conducted to test different survey approaches to measuring news consumption, among 1,031 respondents April 17-19, 2020, and a further 1,018 respondents April 24-25, 2020, on Ipsos’ KnowledgePanel.

Third, the Center used passive data collected from 1,694 Ipsos KnowledgePanel members who consented to participate in the monitoring of their online activity. Researchers collected passive data on these panelists’ digital activity (such as which news websites and apps they visited) between May 16 and June 15, 2020, to compare with their responses to a survey fielded by Ipsos June 2-11, 2020. Finally, that June survey queried an additional nationally representative sample of 2,021 respondents on Ipsos’ KnowledgePanel about their awareness and use of different aspects of media and news.

Among the key findings of this study:
  • Americans are familiar with newer digital platforms, but few use them for news, limiting the topics researchers can reasonably ask about in surveys. The June survey finds that while U.S. adults are broadly familiar with five newer digital technologies asked about in the survey (streaming devices, internet streaming services, push notifications and alerts, smart speakers, smartwatches), few say they use them regularly for news consumption, and results from the cognitive interviews suggest that many don’t even think of these platforms as ways to get news.
  • Only 9% of U.S. adults are “very confident” they can tell if a news organization does its own reporting, though just over half (55%) say they are at least “pretty confident.” When asked whether six sources do their own news reporting (ABC News, Wall Street Journal, HuffPost, Google News, Apple News and Facebook), nearly a quarter of U.S. adults (23%) could not identify correctly whether any of the six sources do so.
  • When asking respondents whether they pay for news, survey researchers need to carefully specify what they mean in an era of changing media business models. For example, when asked a general question, “In the past year, have you paid for news?” most Americans (83%) say they have not paid for news. More specific questions, however, reveal that this seemingly straightforward question does not capture the full range of how Americans pay for news. When asked a specific follow up question about whether they had paid for a “subscription to a newspaper, magazine, or news website” or “donation to a public broadcaster or other news organization,” some Americans who said no to the initial question about paying for news reported that they or their household actually had paid for news in one of these ways.
  • While there is no “silver bullet” for perfect survey measures of news consumption, the split-form survey experiments reveal that a series of refinements could drive marginal improvements, such as around the goal of reducing overreporting of news consumption. Some changes do not affect overall measures of news consumption, but may make important differences for measuring consumption of specific platforms. The study tested a number of concepts including adding a reference period when asking about news consumption frequency. For instance, adding a specific reference period appears to get more accurate measures of radio consumption (e.g., asking how many days respondents got news from public radio “in the past week” vs. “in a typical week”).
  • Researchers also tested listing news consumption frequency options in reverse order (“… never, rarely, sometimes, often”); including examples of sources (“Cable TV news, such as CNN, Fox News or MSNBC”); and asking about relative or specific time frames (“How many days a week?” vs. “How often? … often, sometimes, rarely, or never”) to see if these yielded substantially different results. (Dig deeper.)

No comments:

Post a Comment