Getting an accurate measurement about news consumption
has 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
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.