Online news is still used relatively rarely, with people often relying on friends and family for political information. Michael Reiss' dissertation uses an improved method for measuring online news consumption and argues in favor of comprehensively investigating various sources of information - including beyond traditional news - in order to better assess their influence on democratic societies.
This dissertation presents a detailed examination of modern news consumption, encompassing four studies that offer empirical, methodological, and conceptual perspectives. A key finding is that online news usage is low, with individuals often relying more on friends and family for political information. Moreover, it introduces an improved method for measuring online news consumption and critiques the often-times narrow conceptualizations of news that excludes vital sources of information. Consequently, this dissertation suggests that research should be guided by normative outcomes (e.g., an informed citizenry), which provides a more comprehensive framework to evaluate how various information sources, extending beyond traditional news, are used and influence democratic societies.
As news consumption is considered vital for the functioning of democracy, this dissertation will systematically investigate contemporary news consumption as well as provide a critical review of current research into news consumption.
The methodological findings include the introduction and discussion of a refined measure for identifying online news. For digital trace data, this allows a more realistic assessment of online news consumption.
On the conceptual side, the studies illustrate that different news conceptualizations can influence measurements of the extent of online news consumption and avoidance. Furthermore, the production-focused perspective on news is criticized for its narrowness, insofar as it potentially omits relevant sources of information and news, such as interpersonal communication.
The synopsis scrutinizes the findings and presents an additional theoretical perspective on news consumption. This includes the observation that some research draws on an overly broad and generic normative embedding of news, which can lead to a narrow analytical scope and deductive fallacies.
Finally, based on these discussions, the synopsis suggests a normative turn, in order to productively research the influence of news and other information in contemporary democratic societies. Specifically, it advocates centering normative outcomes in the research process and going beyond narrow conceptualizations of news that can stand in the way of a comprehensive and holistic investigation. The combination of different research designs in this dissertation provides for multifaceted insights and allows individual studies to partially compensate for the limitations of the other studies. Finally, these limitations are discussed and avenues for future research are outlined.
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