Online news reading behavior: From habitual reading to stumbling upon news

Article (PDF Available)inProceedings of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 48(1):1 - 10 · January 2011with 2,983 Reads 
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DOI: 10.1002/meet.2011.14504801139
Cite this publication
The Internet and new technologies are changing the information behavior of news readers. This study explored the perception of news and online news reading behavior by applying Savolainen's (1995) model of Everyday Life Information Seeking. Online news readers participated in a two-phase mixed method study. The first phase involved a web survey with 148 participants recruited through the website of a local newspaper and the second phase followed up with think-aloud interviews with 20 survey respondents. The findings revealed that while for some respondents the perception of news is tied to traditional media, another group held a much broader view that went beyond what is reported by professional journalists. These respondents considered “all of the Internet” as news. Findings of this study indicate that that online news reading mostly happens on a habitual basis without conscious decisions from news consumers. Many respondents stated that they follow the same routine of reading news online at specific times every day and monitor news throughout the day. However, for many respondents incidental exposure to online news is becoming a typical way to get informed about the new events.
Online news reading behavior: From habitual reading to
stumbling upon news
Borchuluun Yadamsuren
University of Missouri
111 London Hall
Sanda Erdelez
University of Missouri
303 Townsend Hall
The Internet and new technologies are changing the
information behavior of news readers. This study explored
the perception of news and online news reading behavior by
applying Savolainen’s (1995) model of Everyday Life
Information Seeking. Online news readers participated in a
two-phase mixed method study. The first phase involved a
web survey with 148 participants recruited through the
website of a local newspaper and the second phase followed
up with think-aloud interviews with 20 survey respondents.
The findings revealed that while for some respondents the
perception of news is tied to traditional media, another
group held a much broader view that went beyond what is
reported by professional journalists. These respondents
considered “all of the Internet” as news.
Findings of this study indicate that that online news reading
mostly happens on a habitual basis without conscious
decisions from news consumers. Many respondents stated
that they follow the same routine of reading news online at
specific times every day and monitor news throughout the
day. However, for many respondents incidental exposure to
online news is becoming a typical way to get informed
about the new events.
Online news, news reading, news reading behavior,
incidental exposure to online news, news exposure
News reading is more deeply embedded in people’s daily
lives than it has ever been, thanks to wireless Internet,
mobile technologies, and portable devices. According to
Purcell et al. (2010), on a typical day, 92% of Americans
access news in multiple formats. The Internet provides
“audiences with substantially more control over the news
selection process than they enjoyed with the traditional
media” (Tewksbury, 2003, p. 694). Instead of reading a
copy of the local newspaper or watching the scheduled
evening news, people increasingly turn to the Internet for
daily news. Cell phones, laptops, and other portable devices
provide a tremendous opportunity for readers to choose
stories that interest them at any time they desire and form
myriad channels and websites. Readers subscribe to online
news, customize the news they receive, and use really
simple syndication (RSS) feeds to get the news that they
feel is most important and interesting.
The study of users’ information seeking behaviors can
provide important insight into the impact of online media
on the news readers’ behavior. The aim of this study was to
explore information behavior of online news readers in their
everyday life information seeking context. The study was
guided by Savolainen’s (1995) Everyday Life Information
Seeking (ELIS) model and included the following broad
research questions:
1. What are the respondents’ perceptions of online
2. How do the respondents read news online?
Online News Reading Behavior
A number of studies have investigated how news reading
behavior has changed in the digital environment. Nguyen
(2008) examined the predictive power of nine common
features of online news by developing and testing a
theoretical model of the online news adoption/use process,
based on expectancy-value and innovation-diffusion
theories. Liu (2005) showed that a screen-based reading
behavior is emerging, which is characterized by more time
spent on browsing and scanning, keyword spotting, one-
time reading, and non-linear reading, and less time on in-
depth and concentrated reading.
Flavian & Gurrea (2006) proposed three basic goals for
reading digital newspapers: 1) to search for specific
information; 2) to search for updated news; and 3) for
ASIST 2011, October 9-13, 2011, New Orleans, LA, USA.
Copyright © Borchuluun Yadamsuren, Sanda Erdelez
leisure-entertainment. They analyzed the online newspaper
readers’ behavior to identify their main goals for reading
news and concluded that many readers use online
newspapers to seek information on specific subjects, such
as stock prices and sports results.
Tewksbury, Weaver, & Maddex (2001) recognized that
there is a potential chance for readers to stumble on news
when they are engaged in other online activities and
identified this behavior as incidental exposure to news.
They argued that the prevalence of news on the Internet
provides opportunities for people to encounter news in an
incidental fashion as a byproduct of their other online
activities and that search engines and information portals
increase the chances for incidental exposure to online news.
In their 2008 study, Tewksbury, Hals, & Bibart defined the
two broad forms of news exposure behaviors: selectors and
browsers. Selectors’ news reading behavior is characterized
by “a focus on specific content defined by individual
interests and needs” (p.257). Browsers arecharacterized
by use of news media to obtain information on a range of
topics” (p.257).
Everyday Life Information Seeking (ELIS) Model
The ELIS model developed by Savolainen (1995) provides
a holistic framework for social, cultural, and psychological
factors affecting information seeking behavior in an
everyday life context. According to his model, the source
preferences and use patterns individuals select and apply to
solve problems or make sense of their everyday world are
socially conditioned. The model suggests that the “way of
life” (“order of things”) and “mastery of life” (“keeping
things in order”) are the main factors in ELIS behavior. In
this model, values, conceptions, and current phase of life
affect information seeking behavior and source selection. In
addition, an individual’s material, social, cognitive, and
cultural capital provide the basic equipment for seeking and
using information.
The "way of life" concept is based on the sociological idea
of habitus developed by Bourdieu (1984). Savolainen
(1995) interprets Bourdieu’s definition of habitus as a
socially and culturally determined system of thinking,
perception, and evaluation, internalized by the individual
and argues that habitus is a relatively stable system of
dispositions by which individuals integrate their
experiences and evaluate the importance of different
choices. An individual’s preference for newspapers, news
channels, or websites is affected by habitus. Savolainen
defined the concept of "way of life" as “order of things,”
based on the choices that individuals make, ultimately
oriented by the factors constituting habitus (p.144). He
considers various activities taking place in the daily life of
people as things. These activities could be not only work
related but also repetitive tasks, such as household care and
hobbies. Order refers to preferences given to these work-
related and non-work-related activities.
Assumptions of This Study
First, the present study assumes that online news reading is
a part of people’s everyday life information seeking
processes and that people are engaged with news both
purposefully and unconsciously. Chaffee and McLeod
(1973) noted that the use of mass communications occurs
not in isolation from the rest of a person’s social life, but
interwoven in “an ongoing system of reciprocal influences”
(p.237). Their study demonstrated that social utility plays a
major role in the type of information people select. News
reading is not separated as a distinct and purposeful
activity, but instead is placed among many other
information seeking activities. People could read online
news both in their leisure time and in the work
Second, the study assumes that the Levy & Windall’s
(1984) audience-activity approach can be applied in the
research of the information behavior of news readers. The
authors argue that people tend to display three different
types and amounts of activity in different communication
settings and at different times in the communication
process: active, passive, and ritualistic. On the Internet, the
activity of online news readers can change at various points
in time and they can go through any of these types of media
usage several times a day.
Third, the study takes a social constructionist approach,
opening the avenues to the construction of the meaning of
news and online news by both the respondents and the
researcher and by taking into account the complexity of
having a single definition for these concepts.
The present study used the mixed method design.
According to Creswell and Clark (2007), there are four
types of mixed method design: triangulation, embedded,
exploratory, and explanatory. This study utilized the
explanatory and triangulation design approaches.
Explanatory design uses qualitative data to build upon
initial quantitative results. This design is suitable for a study
where the researcher wants “to use quantitative participant
characteristics to guide purposeful sampling for a
qualitative phase” (Creswell & Clark, 2007, p.72).
The study was conducted in two phases. In Phase I, the
researcher used surveys to collect data on respondents'
general news reading behavior. The researcher used
purposeful and convenience sampling for this study. The
participants were recruited through the website of the local
newspaper, affiliated with Midwestern University. The
total number of valid responses obtained in the period of
data collection was 148 questionnaires. Descriptive
statistical analysis of the survey helped the researcher
screen participants for in-depth interviews in Phase II.
In Phase II, the researcher conducted in-depth interviews
using think-aloud sessions with a selected number of
respondents. Qualitative data collection with 20
respondents took place during 4 weeks in April and May
2009. All interviews were recorded with Morae Recorder
3.0 and a digital audio recorder. The researcher also took
short notes during interviews to capture key points. All
interview sessions, except two, took place in the
Information Experience Laboratory (IE Lab) at the
University of Missouri. To suit the needs of the
respondents, two of the interview sessions were conducted
at the home and the office of the respective interview
Interview instrument
A list of primary questions was developed to direct the
interviewing process. The interview questions were tied to
the research questions of the study, with the goal of
exploring the online news reading behavior of respondents
in an ELIS context.
Interview sample
About 40% of the interview respondents were male and 60
% were female. The majority of the interview respondents
(70%) were between the ages of 20 and 40. About 25% of
were over the age 40 and only 5% were under the age of 20.
The majority of the interview respondents (70%) stated that
they have some graduate work and graduate/professional
degree. About 40% were students, 5% were employed part
time, and 55% full time. The respondents covered a wide
range of occupations including private sector. For
confidentiality reasons, the interview respondents were
identified by the codes from R1 to R20.
Qualitative data analysis
Qualitative data from the 20 interviews, including think-
aloud sessions, were fully transcribed. All transcripts were
imported to QSR NVivo 8.0, a qualitative data analysis
software package.
The main goal of the qualitative data analysis was to find
the emergent themes relevant to the main research
questions, which explored the online news reading
behavior of respondents.
The researcher employed both inductive and deductive
analyses in the qualitative data analysis process. The main
concepts from the ELIS model were used in the deductive
analysis process. The grounded-theory approach was used
to analyze qualitative data by means of inductive analysis.
Strauss & Corbin (1998) provide a framework, commonly
referred to as grounded theory, of coding procedures for
rigorously analyzing large amounts of raw qualitative data.
This study's methodology relies on the constant
comparative method of analysis (Glaser & Strauss, 1967),
which helps the researcher avoid the dangers of waiting
until the very end to analyze data, including discovering a
lack of data, an inability to investigate emergent findings,
or an inability to resolve conflicting data.
This paper presents findings from the qualitative part of the
study regarding the online news reading behavior of
RQ1. What are the respondents’ perceptions of online
To understand how respondents perceived news, the
researcher asked the following questions: “What is your
definition of news?” and “How would you define news?”
Defining what news was seemed to be a challenging task
for several respondents. Several of them admitted that it
was difficult to define news. Ambiguity and difficulty in
defining “news” were visible through the following words
used: “anything,” “whatever,” “all,” and “general.” R20
said: “News…um….um….I don’t know. I guess it’s
whatever is interesting.”
Respondents used the following criteria to distinguish news
from other types of information: old v. new definitions of
news; content (topic areas, balanced, enhancing knowledge,
not sensational, not slanted, objective, interesting, true, fact
based); knowledge gap (something they do not know or do
not have); impact; importance; proximity (local, world,
professional community); currency of information; utility
(work-related needs, hobbies, interests, useful, applicable);
and emotions (feel-good stories).
Respondents shared their thoughts about the changing
nature of news with technological innovations. Three
respondents shared that their perception of news was
broader than the traditional notion of news provided by the
mainstream media. R13 said that most people think news is
“stuff” that is “produced” by “large corporate news
outlets.” He said that this traditional definition of news is
limited. He considers that the entire Internet is news. With
this definition, he thinks that he is “soaked in media” and
media are “going around” him. R5 said that news is
“information” that he did not have before and does have
“afterwards.” He compared his broader definition of news
to his parents’ perception, which considers news as “what
comes on at five o’clock, and ten o’clock every day.”
R9 said that news is “anything that enhances” his
“understanding of events happening in the world” whether
it is “related” to skills he needs “to learn at work” or
“personal hobbies or interests.” He described the traditional
definition of news as something that “lands” on his “porch
or front door in the morning.”
In contrast to the aforementioned cases, R15 had a strict
definition of news. She did not count the stories that appear
in various blogs and magazines as news. For R16,
“pictures” were not considered news. News had to be
“some form of a story” about “something that has
R10 defined news with two scales: proximity and
importance. News to him is “events” that are “[fit] on two
scales: proximity and importance. He could
literally be an event from anywhere, [he does] get, like
some of the newsletter, news searches that [he does],
produce small stories um, on small…on little things like a
particular charity event or something like that.” He also
said that news definition depends on “how many people it
Four respondents said that news is information they “do not
know” or “do not have.” The illustrative remarks include
the following:
Well, uh, you know, news is information, you know.
Information that you did not possess before you
encountered it…for me news is information that I do
not have, that I find, and that afterwards I do have.
What is my definition of news…oh, um, giving the
information on current topics of interest that I don’t
already have. (R12)
News to me is, very general, to me it’s information
that, I don’t know I think it’s hard to define in some
sense, because, it’s ….to me it’s not fair. To me I think
all this stuff is news. (R16)
Four respondents’ perceptions of news were tied to the
coverage about the world and the impact of news:
…I guess like just what’s going on around the world
today, just like…some of the things that impact our
world. (R6)
Um…I guess, anything that’s uh, it’s anything that
might impact other people, some event or problem in
the world that has consequences for uh, the large
majority of people. (R19)
Two respondents said that they would consider their
professional or work-related information as news. R20
looks “for things in the news that talk about people with
dyslexia” because she writes a blog for her business. She
considers the online discussions taking place at the Mom's
Source website ( as news.
R5 also thinks that the discussion related to technology at
the social networking site Ning ( is
news because he gets informed through questions and
answers about opinions on certain topics in his professional
In order to see if the respondents' definitions of news
depended on whether the stories were written by
professional journalists or not, the researcher asked the
question, “Does it matter who wrote the news stories?” Five
respondents said their perception of news does not depend
on who wrote news stories. R12 reported that she is “open
to read variety of articles” and decides on “her own
whether she feels that it is “a slanted” or “objective article.”
R14 said “it does not matter” if the authors of news stories
are “professional journalists.” She cares whether “the facts”
are right. R16 also stated that the authors “don’t necessarily
need to be paid to tell a news story.” She said the readers
can judge whether the stories are “biased” or “incorrect.”
R19 claimed that he “does not pay attention to the author.”
R10 said that his judgment about the authorship of news
stories depends on the topic of news and his interest. He
reads “just about anything that is written” for things that are
of his “personal interest.” However, he said he follows
professionally written news pieces for his “citizenship
oriented interests.”
RQ2. How do the respondents read news online?
A majority of reported that they have specific times or daily
schedules for reading news online. Four respondents said
they check news online in the morning. R1 stated that she
reads The New York Times and the Columbia Missourian
newspapers every morning. She also checks the Indian
news sites. R5 said he reads news every morning after he
comes to his office: “…the first thing I do is go through my
e-mail, make sure there is nothing pressing that I need to
attend to immediately and after that I‘ll usually uh, visit just
a couple news sites, CNN, Slashdot, see whats going on
R10 reported that he checks news in the morning for 20
minutes after he gets to his office at 7:30 a.m. Then, he said
he checks news “just … [at] any time when there’s a slack
period.” He reads The New York Times, the Washington
Post, the Columbia Daily Tribune, and the Columbia
Missourian “thoroughly every day.”
R13 said he starts using his iPhone from the moment he
wakes up, but he does not check Google Reader or
Facebook early in the morning. He added that he does not
want to get his “mind running about all this stuff quite that
early.” He starts reading news when he comes to his office
and starts using his computer.
Three respondents reported that they check news online in
the morning, but afterwards they continue browsing for
news several times a day. R12 said he reads news late
evening or early morning: “… like it might be six-thirty in
the morning and usually after ten or ten-thirty at night.”
R16 said she checks Digg “usually in the morning” and for
“a little break” during her working day to “use it as little
mental break to go and look for fun things.” R20 said she
checks news when she is home because she does not have
an Internet connection in her office. She does not directly
go to the news sites, but looks at the customized toolbars
”once in the morning” and “once in the evening.”
R7 said she checks local newspapers' websites in the
evening to “see what’s going on” and goes to different sites
“if something catches” her attention.
R2 visits the local newspapers’ websites in the afternoon
when they are updated: “…usually I try to wait until after I
think the website’s been updated for the day, usually after 2
o’clock, 3 o’clock.”
In most cases, respondents follow the same routine of
reading news online at specific times. However, a few
respondents reported that their news reading behavior could
be spontaneous. R19 stated that he has an “irregular
schedule” of reading news online. He said he checks online
news “any time” he wakes up at “strange times… not really
in the morning,” mostly in the afternoon. R4 admitted that
his behavior could be “spontaneous” depending on his “day
and mood.” R13 said that his news choice varies “during
different times of the day” and in “different setting[s].” He
explained that he follows the news stories about
programming and different languages during the day, but
when he gets home he reads about bikes, music, and local
Monitoring for updated news
The majority of respondents reported that they monitor
news throughout the day. A few respondents said that they
check online news on their portable devices, such as laptops
and iPhones, everywhere they go. R3 takes his laptop to his
school and “browses the news sites” even during class “at
least a little bit.” He pointed out that he can get the Internet
anywhere with “mobile broadband” even “on a train in the
middle of nowhere.”
R13 said he has a lot of chances to check the news
throughout the day. This 26-year-old Web developer spends
his entire working day on the computer and checks news
“every once in a while,” switching over to his Google
Reader or Facebook “for a little break.” He said that it is a
way he takes “a little prolonged break from the routine of
working.” He admitted that he is “inundated” and “soaked
in” media because he could “literally” be “out at four in the
morning riding [his] bike on the Katy Trail” and “open up
Twitter or Facebook or Google Reader.”
R4 said he checks news “throughout the day and night” and
"it happens whenever.” R5 stated that he returns to CNN
“periodically throughout the day” to read news updates. He
thinks that CNN isupdated three, four times a day
whereas Slashdot is updated throughout day. He goes to
CNN at his lunch break, after he gets home, after dinner or
whenever he “is bored.” However, he said that “the
majority of flipping for news” happens in the morning.
R10 said he knows exactly when the two local newspapers
update their websites and checks them in the afternoon: “
although at two o’clock I’ll go to the Tribune when they do
their current thing. The Missourian seems to update about
that same time, and it kind of seems to vary.” He said that
except checking these two newspapers in the afternoon,
most of his online news reading is “just kind of catch-as-
catch-can” activity.y
R11 reported that she monitors news all day using her
default personal homepage and listening to the Internet
radio because “the news is always right there.” R16 said she
checks Digg“ at least a couple of times a day.”
Ordered routine of visiting online news sites
Respondents provided rich data demonstrating and
describing their online news reading behaviors during
think-aloud sessions and in the interview process. Many
respondents reported that they have a specific order for
checking a number of online newspapers. R3 said that he
customized the Firefox browser with the bookmark for
news with a “dozen of news sources” which he visits on
daily basis. He explained that he has “a very organized
routine” of reading online news. He opens The New York
Times and has “at least seven tabs” open for all “different
news sites” and “keep[s] switching between them. He
starts reading The New York Times first and then goes to
other big national papers, including the Los Angeles Times,
the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal.
R11 said that she goes through the list of websites like “a
cow going through pasture.” She explained further that she
has her ownlittle path,” which starts from the earthquake
map and goes to CNN, Drudge Report
(, Yahoo!, Google, BBC,
and CBC. She called her habit of checking the earthquake
map “embarrassing.”
R19 stated that he has a routine of checking a list of news
websites every day repeating “the same process every time”
he goes online.
Incidental exposure to online news
Five respondents stated that their online news reading is
random and happens mostly through incidental exposure to
news. R9 reported that she does not actively seek for news
as opposed to many other respondents who have habit of
reading news in the morning or in the evening. This 31-
year-old program coordinator at the university said she does
not need to look for news because she lives in very
“dynamic” and “media rich environment,” which allows her
“to stumble across information.” She noted that this media
environment is “too extreme” and news is “so fragmented.”
The present status of overwhelming news gives her feeling
of living in an “attention deficit disorder society” with “too
many opportunities for stumbling upon things,” which
makes it difficult to “focus on a clear path.” She said she
wants to have a “less complicated,” “less distracting,” and
“simpler” place for news reading to avoid “the Web
environment,” which is “a giant mass of stumbling upon
news or information.” This young lady admitted that she
“expects” incidental exposure to news to be “the way” she
“discovers news” in her daily life. She said that she should
be “reading many sources and get an understanding of
what’s going on in the world,” but she cannot do it because
she does not have time to “invest” and “manage left, central
and right views” and “look at all those news sources and
magazines.” Instead of it, she said that news “comes” to her
“through incidental exposure”:
...because of the way the work environment is, it’s a
balance between a constant interruptions and focusing
on certain tasks you might be doing. Many things at
once...I wouldn’t just generally sit down and just
designate a bunch of time to news reading.
R13 said that he tries to stay away from “the news from the
mainstream media,” but he “runs into” this type of news a
lot on the Internet. He said he extensively uses the Internet
because he is a Web developer. The researcher asked the
respondent if he felt uninformed about the general news
covered in the mainstream media since he reads news
mainly from the alternative sources. He responded that he
“feels ahead” of others because he is “soaked in media” and
encounters news in many places. He added that news is “so
widespread” on the Internet. He gets exposed to news
“incidentally” through “people who post about it on
Twitter” and stories that “shows up on places like Boing-
Boing.” He explained that he gets news from the Internet,
blogs and social networking tools, which provide “links to
ongoing events from people in that location. He said he
likes getting news in this way without media filter:
… like that happens with Twitter a lot. When there
was…like that terrorist attack in Mumbai, there were
people in the hotel that was being bombarded that were
posting about it you know. So like, rather than getting
it through CNN, which has their filter of perception.
Like people on Boing-Boing were literally reading
about what was happening in real time from people
who were on the Internet.
R14 stated that she does not seek news, but mostly relies on
incidental exposure to news. She said she gets news from
Yahoo! or MSNBC portals. She said she sometimes clicks
on the interesting links in Facebook, when somebody
makes a ”status update about something that has to do with
the news.” She said that she does not usually go directly to
news websites unless her husband sends her the links to
Incidental exposure to news was also reported as a main
way to get exposed to news events for R17. This 27-year-
old graduate student said the Yahoo! portal is her main
source of news. She noted that she looks at news at Yahoo!
every time she checks her e-mail. She reads Yahoo! news
“because it is right there” and she can” just glance there.”
She said this way “the news comes” to her on her way to e-
…Yahoo! … always publish some kind of news of the
day, and right there you can see it and if it’s a hot
news, like economic crisis, it’s right there, with no
need of searching around. Or you come to office and
like people start talking and know about stuff, and then
okay, I’m going to read around and stuff like that.
Her news reading behavior remains passive, unless she
encounters news either at the Yahoo! portal or through
personal communication with her colleagues at work. Once
she finds out if there is anything important is going on, such
as a plane crash, elections, an economic crisis, a bailout and
so on, she starts actively looking for news on the given
topic. She said that she goes to CNN and MSNBC when she
has “more interest” in certain news, otherwise she does not
have the need to go there.
R18 said that she does not read news actively. She said her
main ways to get informed about the news events are
listening to radio when she drives and “running across”
news on the Internet. She said she is “oblivious” to news
unless she is incidentally exposed to news, which changes
her behavior from passive to active. She said she checks
CNN and New York Times when she follows up news
stories based on her incidental exposure. R13 also reported
that he always “runs into news on the Internet.”
Preference of online media
Respondents stated that they prefer online news sources
over other channels of news for the following reasons:
variety of content online, willingness to have impact and
make changes, features of online media (dynamic, beyond
the limitations of traditional media), and time-saving
R5 is a doctoral student who conducts a research on
technology usage. He said he gets 99% of his news online,
especially technology news. R3 stated that he “rarely picks
up” newspapers on the campus. He said he prefers online
news over traditional newspapers for two reasonsto
support online media and to save the forest:
I feel like I’m going to be able to give them more
money by going to their website and clicking on their
ads than like by picking up the free newspaper and also
since I’m very conflicted because I’m an
environmentalist and also a journalist and I know that
about all the money in journalism comes from the
printed paper.. .but I mean, how many forests to we
have to slaughter so that we can deliver the news at a
slightly higher, well that much higher profitability
rate…So I compromise my own little way by doing
He said he clicks on banner ads to open the new browser
windows “to support news” knowing that “they only get
like 50 cents” from that click. He said he is “silly enough to
believe that it’s making a difference every time” he clicks
on those banners.
Three respondents compared online media with traditional
newspapers to explain about their preferences for online
news. R2 likes online media because it’s “more timely than
the newspaper.” R16 said she stopped her subscription to
the print newspapers because she does not like “subscribing
to one company” and “paying for it.” Further, she explained
her choice as follows:
…And it’s not as portable, you can’t take breaks with
it… I’m going to read from your quality and your level
of bias and read all the stories pertaining to how you
view things so you would have to get tons of different
newspapers and tons of different magazines and then
comparing news stories, that would be impossible …
and it would be very hard to do and lots of tiny print
whereas you would need ten minutes on the Internet to
do that, to compare, you know, what this person says
about this story to what that person says about that
story. It’s like totally different and, I don’t even, I don’t
even get print news anymore.
R8 said he thinks that the Internet encourages him “to look
in different ways” compared to traditional newspapers. He
said the Internet “jumps out” at him more than the print
newspapers did. He likes online news because he “can
direct it” to his interests: “…you don’t have to listen to the
whole story, like a newspaper, flipping the pages you can
turn it, and move to a different topic if you’re not
Three respondents compared their online experience with
TV watching. R10 said he prefers online news over TV
because TV is “too staticand it “stops” him “from going
anywhere or doing anything” making him just “sit and
wait.” He said he “hates” commercials on TV. He said the
following about why he likes watching TV shows and
DVDs on his computer:
Um…because it’s too static. It’s just, I sit there and I
don’t…I mean if I have to I have a computer and I’ll
watch movies and I’ll rent DVDs of television shows
that I like, I’ll watch entertainment that way, but I hate
commercials and I feel like in a lot of ways, it really
just sort of stops me from going anywhere or doing
anything, I’m just sitting and waiting for it.
R19 said he prefers online news sources because he has a
“gut feeling” that “there’s probably a lot more out there”
than is reported on cable news. He thinks that TV reporters
don’t have enough “time and reason to cover everything”
because there are “so many different topics they can cover
in half an hour.”
R5 said he prefers online news because he does not want to
spend too much time watching TV news:
… TV news is you know, what takes them a half hour
to tell me, stories that I don’t really are about you
know, Bobby the dog hurt his paw, you know stuff like
that, uh, I can find out all of that information in two,
three, four minutes online.
He stated that he likes having the option to choose stories
himself on the Internet instead of being “spoon-fed” by a
“saccharin-sweet kind of commentator” giving him the
information. In addition, he wants to get a variety of
viewpoints on news stories:
whenever you watch the news on TV you only get
the perspective of whoever wrote the news piece, but
online if you find a piece and you say well I want to
find out some more about that, you can dive into it
readily. You can inform yourself. You can get more
than one perspective on it. So, yes, I do use radio and
TV, but not very much.
This study confirms that online news reading is a complex
behavior, one well worthy of academic attention. With the
numerous technological advancements in news delivery,
people have much more flexible and rich media
environments, as compared to traditional media, which
follow a pre-determined schedule to disseminate news.
Interview respondents stated that they are inundated with
media, “soaked in media,” “constantly being shot with
news,” and living in an “attention deficit disorder society”
overloaded with news and information. They called the
Internet an “interwoven network of news and information.”
It is apparent from the present exploratory study that due to
the Internet's nature as an information-rich environment, it
is becoming complicated to differentiate the types of
information and information sources online. Ambiguity and
difficulty with the definition of news were visible in the
following words used in the definition of news by many
respondents: “anything,” “whatever,” “all,” “general.”
This exploratory study revealed that people perceive news
differently than before. The traditional notion of news, that
lands at people’s front doors or that comes on their TV
screens at scheduled times, is only a portion of the
contemporary definition of news. The findings of this study
suggest that while some respondents still keep the
perception of news as tied to traditional media, another
group holds a much broader perception of news that goes
beyond what is reported by professional journalists. This
second group of respondents considered “all of the Internet”
as news. Some of them said that “anything that enhances
their understanding of events happening in the world” is
news. There were a few cases when respondents considered
information they obtained at professional social networking
sites as news. Respondents used the following descriptions
to differentiate news from other types of information on the
Internet: balanced, not sensational, not slanted, enhancing
knowledge, objective, interesting, true, and fact based.
Utility of news in their perception was explained by
learning, filling a knowledge gap, having impact, utility of
information obtained from news, proximity, currency, and
affective features. Most respondents stated that they do not
pay much attention to bylines or who wrote news stories.
Many respondents said that news stories do not need to be
written by professional journalists. However, they cared
about the source of news or brand of news media
organizations. Respondents reported that they read a wide
range of online news sources from the websites of
traditional news organizations, such as The New York
Times, The Washington Post, and local newspapers, to the
crowd-surfing sites, such as Digg. Some respondents also
preferred to read news on portals and alternative news
sources, such as Yahoo! and Gawker. A number of
respondents perceived news in terms of information related
to their work and professional needs. Non-native speakers
of English stated that they mostly get news in their own
languages from the websites of home countries.
The ELIS model distinguishes the two types of information
behavior: orienting v. problem-solving behavior.
Savolainen (1995) distinguishes two dimensions in ELIS:
seeking of orienting information concerning current events
and seeking of practical information for solutions of
specific problems. The findings of this study show that
people read news mostly for orienting needs. Job-related
needs influence their news source and story selection.
People select news stories and sources that meet their job-
related needs. There was not much indication of problem
solving from news reading. Online news reading mostly
seemed to happen for orientation purposes.
Many respondents stated that they follow the same routine
of reading news online at specific times every day and
monitor news throughout the day. There were indications
that online news reading for the most part happens on a
habitual basis without conscious decisions. This habitual
type of reading supports Savolainen’s (1995) statement that
habits of information seeking form a part of "mastery of
life" and that they are rooted in an unconscious level and
not wholly subject to reflection. It is also in the line with
James's (1914) statement that habit reduces many actions to
automatic responses that require no intellectual energy.
Habits of online news reading or online news reading
behavior were visible in terms of the following factors: time
(when people read news online): early in the morning
before they start their job or in the evening (those who do
not have Internet access during day); frequent monitoring a
few times a day (to get over boredom, to have break from
work); and incidental exposure to online news.
There were strong indications that online news reading
behavior is not only an individual process, but that it is also
affected by society, culture, and other people. According to
the ELIS model, culture is an important factor that
influences the information seeking behavior of people.
Many respondents in this study supported this notion stating
that they read news to be able to converse with others.
Another group of people read news following the wisdom
of the crowd, reading news on sites such as Digg. These
findings related to the social aspects of online news reading
support the Purcell et al. (2010) study, which found that
news consumption is a “socially-engaged and socially-
driven activity,” especially online (p.4). This report states
that news is becoming “a shared social experience as people
exchange links and recommendations as a form of cultural
currency in their social networks” (p.40).
Many respondents reported that incidental exposure to
online news is their typical behavior to get informed about
the news events. These findings are similar to the Purcell et
al. (2010), which found that eight in ten online news users
(80%) reported that they experience “serendipitous” news
consumption at least a few times a week, including 59%
who said that this consumption happens every day or
almost every day (p.29).
Understanding online news reading behavior, including
incidental exposure to online news, may help media
practitioners and other information agencies working to
disseminate information and news for citizens. The proper
structure and design of information sites and the placement
of important news stories at appropriate places would help
to promote a democratic society, encouraging people to
hear and see news not only from like-minded people, but
also from opposing views. It will be especially important
for media organizations to place links to their important
stories in different corners of the Internet, where people
could get exposed to news incidentally. This way, the
media industry could expand from its core consumers,
reach a broader audience, and fulfill its role in promoting
the public discussion of important issues. An important
finding from the present study is that most respondents did
not care much about the source of information, which raises
the question of how to help people to be more information
literate in an online environment with plethora of
information. More analysis of online news reading behavior
could also be beneficial in educating the public on
information literacy and in providing insights about the
credibility of online sources.
Limitations of the Study
Findings of this study are limited because of the exploratory
nature of the study and participant sampling. Recruitment
of the survey respondents through the website of a local
newspaper, affiliated with a journalism school in college
town, skewed the sample to a group of highly educated and
dominantly white respondents. The respondents' online
news reading behavior in the present study is not
generalizable to the overall population of the US.
Since data collection took place on the testing laptop and
computer in the lab, there were some limitations for
respondents to show their news reading behavior naturally.
Most respondents did not have a problem using the test
computer and describing their behavior. However, a few
respondents were not able to show their setup for browsers
and tools they use for online news reading. R20 was not
able to show or explain how she uses her toolbar for alerts.
R3 also had difficulties showing how he sets up his toolbar,
but he sent the image from his Mac laptop after the
interview. The researcher was aware of this potential
problem. However, it was difficult to ask the respondents to
get access to their computers and to get permission to install
the Morae Recorder. This problem should be taken into
account in future studies on the information behavior of
online news readers.
Future Studies
The present study shows that human information behavior
and library and information science theories could be
valuable for studying media audiences because peoples
perception of news is quite broad, going beyond the
traditional definition of news. People have trouble
distinguishing different types of information, including
news because of the blurring lines between different types
of information and information providers, and because of
the increasing number of blogs and other types of
information written by ordinary people. It might be
informative to study the design and news content of
alternative news sources online and see why they attract
news readers.
Savolainen’s (2008) model of everyday life information
practice might provide a potential theoretical framework for
studying online news reading behavior because news
reading is not an active information search, but typically
happens on a habitual basis. This model distinguished three
main modes of information practice, accomplished in the
context of the world of daily life: information seeking,
information use and information sharing. The context refers
“to the totality of experiences” of both individual and
interpersonal actions (p.64). Future studies could focus on
online news reading behavior among representatives of
different social classes, occupations, and generations.
Savolainen (1995) mentioned that the generation to which
individuals belong naturally could add more to social
classes. The potential avenues for future research could
focus on the social and affective dimensions of online news
reading behavior, collaborative news reading behavior, the
credibility of online news, digital literacy, the impact of
social media on news consumption, information literacy,
and news reading.
Erdelez’s (2004) Information Encountering model could
provide firm theoretical foundation to investigate the nature
of incidental exposure to online news looking at readers,
information, information needs and environment, where
they encounter news.
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