Commentary

Specific Survey Questions Help Publishers Drill Down On News Consumption

Getting an accurate measurement about news consumptionhas become more challenging amid the fragmentation of media channels. Researchers must re-evaluate their traditional ways of gaining consumer insights, especially since what people say they do and what they really do can be vastly different, a report by Pew Research Center suggests.

Obtaining accurate information on the subject is a significant concern, as political consultant Mark Hellman explained in an op-ed for The Hill. While a Knight Foundation survey found 41% of people read news in social-media links, a separate analysis of hard data gleaned from electronics devices found only 9% of people clicked on news, according to Mellman's comparison of consumer surveys with passive data collection.

Pew provides some recommendations on how to improve both methods of gathering insights about news consumption.
Surveys can be designed better to capture certain nuances that aren't immediately evident. For example, when people were asked a general question about whether they had paid for news in the prior year, 83% said they had not. However, when people are asked more specific questions about whether they had bought a subscription to a newspaper, magazine or news website, or donated to a news organization, some indicated they actually had paid for news.
Adding a reference period to survey questions, such as "in the past week" instead of "in a typical week," provides a more accurate view of news consumption, Pew found. Instead of asking general questions about media outlets like "cable TV news," providing names of news sources, such as "CNN" or "Fox News," can help survey respondents recall their viewing habits. Pew provides other examples of how surveys can be improved.
In conducting surveys, researchers need to recognize that people who associate news consumption with civic duties are more likely to say they follow the news closely. While surveys are subjective, they still can provide a more comprehensive view of media consumption that has yet to be captured with passive tracking of digital channels.
Passive methods for tracking digital audiences tend to under-report news consumption because people use multiple connected devices, including computers, smartphones, tablets, smart speakers and smart TVs. In-app news consumption also is difficult to track with passive methods, as Pew notes.
Still, passive data is useful to individual publishers that want to measure how their digital audiences consume news and gain insights on individual stories most popular among readers. For online publications that require readers to log in for access, the passive data can be especially insightful.

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1 comment about "Specific Survey Questions Help Publishers Drill Down On News Consumption".
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  1. S Datkowitz from Publicmedia Technologies, December 10, 2020 at 12:15 p.m.

    The difficulty getting accurate information on News consumption is comparable to the challenges faced by those who do political polling. Embarrassment or at least reluctance to reveal news sources goes hand-in-hand with those who refuse to acknowledge political affiliation. 


    In addition to fragmentation of sources, the few who will submit to queries are unwilling to be totally honest further skewing results. It is ironic that most of the digital News sources have a high degree of analytics associated with them yet few aggregated tallies are available. Such are the perils of all this monetized data on users. After all this time you would think better methods for data collectin would have been found by now. These challenges are certainly a problem looking for a product.  

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