Apparently not according to research by Microsoft.Â
If analysts at Microsoft Research are correct, a startling number of American Web users are no longer paying attention to the news as it is traditionally defined. In a recent study of â€śfilter bubbles,â€ť Sharad Goel, Seth Flaxman, and Justin RaoÂ asked how manyÂ Web users actually read the news online. Out of a sample of 1.2 million American users, just over fifty thousand, or four per cent, were â€śactive news customersâ€ť of â€śfront sectionâ€ť news. The other ninety-six per cent found other things to read.
The authors defined an active news customer as someone who read at least ten substantive news articles and two opinion pieces in a three-month periodâ€”if you remove the requirement of reading opinion pieces, the number of news readers climbs to fourteen per cent. The authors studied U.S.-based Web users who, between March and May of 2013, accumulated a total of 2.3 billion page views.
News can be a vague category; the authors defined by collecting news sites with appreciable traffic (the New YorkÂ Times, the Huffington Post, and Fox News), blogs (Daily Kos andÂ Breitbart), and regional dailies (the SeattleÂ TimesÂ and the DenverÂ Post). Using â€śmachine learningâ€ť algorithms, the authors separated what, based on word usage, they considered front-section news from the other content on news sites, like sports, weather, life style, and entertainment. Whatâ€™s left is the narrow, classical news article, about, say, the State of the Union, as opposed to one about the latest adventures ofÂ Justin BieberÂ orÂ Farrah Abraham.
Various influences shaped the study. The data was collected only from Internet Explorer users (who, the authors say, tend to be slightly older), and it represents only those who agreed to make their Web-browsing history available. Additionally, just because people donâ€™t surf news Web sites doesnâ€™t mean that they donâ€™t get news from other sources, like physical newspapers, talk radio, Twitter, â€śThe Colbert Report,â€ť or the evening news.
That said, the sample size, 1.2 million, is impressiveâ€”far greater than that of a typical survey. And the number of people whom the study shows to be paying attention to the news online is consistent with the low ratings of cable news during the same period. Also, as opposed to relying on what people said they did, the Microsoft researchers drew on a record of what theyÂ actuallyÂ did, which is significantly different. In a 2012 Pew survey, for example, thirty-nine per cent of people said that they had read news online the day before. The difference between the two numbersâ€”fourteen and thirty-nineâ€”may, in part, reflect different definitions of â€śnews.â€ť (The Pew survey did not define the term.) And, of course, what people like to think they do is often different from what they do. Â Read more »