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Information Technologies and Omnivorous News Diets over Three U.S. Presidential Elections

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Technology convergence and rising expectations for interactivity have had a significant impact on the news diets of U.S. voters. While television may appear to be the most important single media in this system of political communication, for a growing portion of the population, news diets are defined by combinations and permutations of secondary media. What explains the changing distribution of primary media choice and the dramatic rise in secondary media? We offer a theory of omnivorous information habits to help explain the rising number of people who make active choices to get political news and information from several media technologies, sourced from multiple news organizations, and then engage with news and information through varied interactive tools. Data from 2000, 2004, and 2008 demonstrate not just the growing importance of secondary media, but the importance of the Internet in particular. Indeed, elections have become occasions in which people make significant changes in their information diets.
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Information Technologies and Omnivorous News
Diets over Three U.S. Presidential Elections
Adrienne L. Massanari a & Philip N. Howard b
a School of Communication, Center for Digital Ethics and Policy, Loyola University
Chicago
b Department of Communication, University of Washington
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To cite this article: Adrienne L. Massanari & Philip N. Howard (2011): Information Technologies and Omnivorous News
Diets over Three U.S. Presidential Elections, Journal of Information Technology & Politics, 8:2, 177-198
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Journal of Information Technology & Politics, 8:177–198, 2011
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ISSN: 1933-1681 print/1933-169X online
DOI: 10.1080/19331681.2011.541702
Information Technologies and Omnivorous News Diets
over Three U.S. Presidential Elections
Adrienne L. Massanari
Philip N. Howard
ABSTRACT. Technology convergence and rising expectations for interactivity have had a significant
impact on the news diets of U.S. voters. While television may appear to be the most important single
media in this system of political communication, for a growing portion of the population, news diets are
defined by combinations and permutations of secondary media. What explains the changing distribution
of primary media choice and the dramatic rise in secondary media? We offer a theory of omnivorous
information habits to help explain the rising number of people who make active choices to get political
news and information from several media technologies, sourced from multiple news organizations,
and then engage with news and information through varied interactive tools. Data from 2000, 2004,
and 2008 demonstrate not just the growing importance of secondary media, but the importance of
the Internet in particular. Indeed, elections have become occasions in which people make significant
changes in their information diets.
KEYWORDS. Elections, information habits, Internet, multimedia information retrieval
INTRODUCTION
Over the last decade, there have been
several obvious changes in the system of
political communication in the United States.
Newspaper readership has plummeted, Internet
use has skyrocketed, and a segment of the
population—which includes many young
Adrienne Massanari is an assistant professor of new and digital media, and currently serves as the Program
Director for the School of Communication’s Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University
Chicago. Her research interests include the social and cultural impacts of new media, information architecture,
user-centered design, game studies, and youth culture. Dr. Massanari is a co-editor of Critical Cyberculture
Studies (2006) from NYU Press.
Dr. Philip N. Howard is associate professor in the Department of Communication at the University of
Washington, with adjunct appointments at the Jackson School of International Studies and the Information
School.
For access to datasets, the authors are grateful to Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Internet and American
Life Project. For feedback on this manuscript, the authors would like to thank Lance Bennett, Andrew
Chadwick, David Domke, Deen Freelon, John Gastil, Patricia Moy, Michael Schudson, Keith Stamm, and
Jennifer Stromer-Galley.
Address correspondence to: Adrienne L. Massanari, School of Communication, Loyola University
Chicago, Water Tower Campus, 820 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611 (E-mail: amassanari@luc.edu).
voters—has essentially become newsless. Yet,
one of the less understood trends has been
in the organization of primary and secondary
media choices, and the ways in which news
diets can be composed of several media, several
organizational sources, and diverse ways of
interacting with information about political
life. During the Presidential elections in 2000,
177
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178 JOURNAL OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY & POLITICS
one-fifth of the adult population identified
something other than television as its primary
source of political news and information, and in
both 2004 and 2008, one-third of the population
did so. In other words, one in 10 U.S. adults
stopped identifying television as their primary
medium for getting news and information about
the Presidential elections. In 2000, 35 percent
of U.S. adults had a secondary medium for
information about the elections, and in both
2004 and 2008, more than 50 percent of adults
had a secondary medium.1What explains the
changing distribution of primary media choice
and the dramatic rise in secondary media?
What explains changes in the range of media
technologies used, the number of organizational
sources consulted, and the growing expectation
of online interaction with news and informa-
tion? How have elections themselves served
as occasions for the restructuring in political
communication?
To understand contemporary patterns of
learning about political life through multiple
information technologies, the theoretical reach
of political communication analysis must be
extended to the variety of sources for infor-
mation and the range of possibilities for polit-
ical engagement (Chaffee & Metzger, 2001;
Howard, 2005b). Yet, as Bennett and Iyengar
argue, contemporary political communication
research seems dedicated to “adding new find-
ings to established categories of study such as
the ever-popular sub-subfields of framing, prim-
ing, agenda setting, and so on” (Bennett &
Iyengar, 2008, p. 713). The Internet is an infor-
mational tool unlike other mass communication
media because it allows content interactivity
and narrowcasting. However, some have specu-
lated that the Internet may push people toward
informational specialization (Delli Carpini &
Keeter, 2002). Researchers often find evidence
of partisan self-selection among information-
seekers, but it has been difficult to demonstrate
whether or not new information technologies
support selectivity or omnivorousness. In part,
this is because research on self-selection bias
has tended to focus on simply whether or not
people watch the news on television, not on
multimedia news diets, preferences among news
organizations, and the ways in which individuals
consume news through online interaction and
fact-checking (Mutz, 2006; Prior, 2007).
Indeed, online-only news audiences may
become fragmented over time, but evidence
suggests that online audiences tend to treat
the Internet as an additional research source,
and that their informational sophistication tends
to improve over time (Hardy, Jamieson, &
Winneg, 2009; Howard & Massanari, 2007).
Concomitantly, content analysis of blog posts
and online news sources reveals that like-
minded authors are most likely to link to each
other, reference opponents without linking, and
have low reliance on traditional newsworthi-
ness criteria for selecting stories to promote
(Baum & Groeling, 2008; Hargittai, Gallo, &
Jane, 2008; Tremayne, Zheng, Lee, & Jeong,
2006). Democrat partisan sites tend to link to
one another and provide off-site links to original
news sources, while Republican partisan sites
tend to not provide outside references and prefer
to keep users on-site. So, much of the research
on self-selection among political information
consumers tends to singularly privilege televi-
sion, and much of the research on self-selection
among political information producers tends to
focus on content references and link structure.
The Internet is often treated like mass com-
munication media such as the television, radio,
or newspaper and is primarily examined through
survey or experimental research that explores
particular software applications. Interrogating
political content online is different from watch-
ing television news, and our diet of polit-
ical news should not be treated additively
(Tewksbury & Rittenberg, 2009). It is difficult to
study social use of the Internet, and many schol-
ars tend to study only one of these aspects at a
time: either the choice of Internet media in com-
parison with other media, the kinds of sources
people have in their news diet, or the ways peo-
ple interrogate political news and information.
However, the Internet consists of a wide range
of informational tools that not only allow citi-
zens to consume political content from news and
campaign organizations, but also allows those
citizens to produce their own news stories and
opinion pieces. In this way, while studies of
broadcast news can look for patterns in audience
reception, studying Internet news habits often
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Massanari and Howard 179
involves studying political engagement. Yet how
many people really do these things? How do
decisions about interacting with political infor-
mation fit with decisions about media choices
and sourcing preferences?
This study compares data about how peo-
ple consumed news and information about the
Presidential elections in 2000, 2004, and 2008.2
Previously, these data have been used to show
that the Internet is now a mainstay of political
news and communication habits among citi-
zens in the U.S. (Hardy et al., 2009). Rather
than replacing other media for political news
and engagement, the Internet is embedded in
the context of a multimedia system of com-
munication and a system of political engage-
ment with multiple opportunities and constraints
(Rice & Katz, 2004; Stromer-Galley, 2004).
First, this study identifies the poorly studied
structural changes in primary and secondary
media choices being made by U.S. adults over
the last three Presidential elections. Second, the
current literature on the Internet and news learn-
ing habits is reviewed, which does teach us
about how particular software applications are
used for political news, but does not provide
contextual evidence about the broader structure
of news diets. Third, we draw from recent schol-
arship on the Internet and news consumption,
Chaffee’s work on taste cultures, and contem-
porary cultural sociology to offer a theory of
omnivorousness to help categorize the growing
cohort of people who consume political news
and information from multiple media, multi-
ple sources, and interact with the information
in multiple ways. To test for omnivorous news
habits, data from the Pew Internet and American
Life project during the last three Presidential
elections are analyzed. Statistical models reveal
the ways in which demographic and political
factors—allowing with election year—have an
impact on omnivorous news habits.
INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY
AND NEWS DIETS
Table 1 summarizes some of the most inter-
esting trends in news consumption in three
Presidential campaign years. Each year, around
election time, the U.S. adult population is sur-
veyed about how it gets most of its news about
the Presidential campaign. Many analysts just
report the primary media choice or aggregate
media choices by category, and doing so sug-
gests that television is still the overwhelmingly
dominant medium of choice.3Yet this sort of
aggregation obfuscates interesting changes in
the pattern of primary and secondary choices
for election news. Between 2000 and 2008,
television was often reported as the primary
media preference for news, but its dominance
has slipped over time. By 2004, a growing por-
tion offered newspapers, radio, or the Internet
as their primary medium. Indeed, by 2004, the
Internet surpassed radio as the most popular
alternative to television. But perhaps the most
interesting change is in the number of reported
secondary media choices.
During the 2000 election season, about one-
fifth of the adult population offered something
other than television as its primary source of
political news, and in 2004 and 2008, about one-
third of the adult population offered something
other than television as its primary source of
political information. In 2000, and even more so
in 2004, newspapers were often the secondary
media of choice, but in 2008, the Internet was
the most prominent alternative to television as
a first choice. Interviewers were also instructed
to probe for a secondary choice if the respon-
dent only revealed one response. In 2000, just
over one-third of the sample offered a secondary
media choice, and by 2004 and 2008, over half
the sample offered a secondary media choice.
In 2000, a study of student media choices sug-
gested that widespread Internet use was unlikely
to diminish the use of traditional news media
(Althaus & Tewksbury, 2000). This may be
borne out by the data in Table 1, though it
might be more accurate to argue that widespread
Internet use has added to the diversity of news
feeds by supporting multimedia news diets.
The national survey data presented in Table 1
suggest that there have been some interesting
structural changes in media choice. Between
2000 and 2008, television’s dominance as the
primary medium of choice for news about the
presidential election declined slightly, and a sig-
nificant portion of the population went from
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180 JOURNAL OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY & POLITICS
TABLE 1. How Have You Been Getting Most of Your News about
the Presidential Election Campaign?
2000 2004 2008
First choice
Television 78.4 67.1 67.2
Newspapers 7.4 13.3 8.6
Radio 7.7 8.0 7.9
Magazines 0.4 1.1 0.5
Internet 4.2 6.6 12.5
Other 1.4 2.4 1.7
Don’t know or refuse 0.6 1.5 1.6
Total primary media 100.0 100.0 100.0
Secondary choice
Television 13.2 19.3 19.6
Newspapers 47.7 43.0 37.0
Radio 22.3 13.8 10.9
Magazines 0.9 3.5 2.9
Internet 13.9 18.0 26.0
Other 2.0 2.4 3.5
Don’t know or refuse 0.1 .. ..
Subtotal secondary media 35.5 56.6 51.5
No secondary media 64.5 43.4 48.5
Total secondary media 100.0 100.0 100.0
Weighted N 7,028 4,568 6,987
Note: The 2000 sample includes some respondents who were interviewed before the
election. The 2004 and 2008 surveys were post-election surveys.
Source: Authors’ calculations based on Pew Research Center for the People and Press data
from 2000, 2004, and 2008.
relying on one medium to relying on multiple
media. What explains the changing distribution
of primary media choice and the dramatic rise in
secondary media?
MEDIA, SOURCE, AND INTERACTION
Many people use more than one medium for
news and have done so for decades, employ-
ing combinations of radio news, television news,
newspapers, and news magazines. Chaffee’s
work in the 1980s revealed the importance of
treating news on a Guttman scale—beginning
with television, then television and newspa-
pers in combination, and peaking with televi-
sion news, newspapers, and news magazines. In
other words, those who read newspapers tend to
watch TV news as well, but those who watch
TV news do not necessarily read the newspa-
pers (Chaffee & Schleuder, 1986). While it is
reasonable that people who consume lots of
political information through one medium might
try to do so through the Internet, adding the
Internet to a Guttman scale would have low
concept validity. The concept of the Guttman
scale relies on users’ and respondents’ distinc-
tion between types of media. It is not simply
that the Internet can replace radio or newspa-
pers as the third or fourth most popular choice of
media. The Internet replicates content—textual,
audio, video—from both new and traditional
sources through interactive informational tools.
Nonetheless, contemporary research on how
people use the Internet for political news and
information tends to treat media choice, source
choice, and interactivity habits as distinct areas
of inquiry.
Choosing Media for Political News
and Information
The first approach to studying news habits
and the Internet is by comparing available media
choices such as television, radio, and newspaper
news. There is significant debate over the impact
of choosing to consume news online, relative to
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Massanari and Howard 181
choosing broadcast media. In comparing news-
papers, television, and the Internet, it was found
that interacting with information online built
trust and civic participation, depending on com-
munity context (Shah, McLeod, & Yoon, 2001).
While this was especially true for younger
adults, many are still waiting for the evidence
that the new information environment will actu-
ally draw more youth into political participa-
tion (Delli Carpini, 2000; Xenos & Bennett,
2007). Tewksbury, Weaver, and Maddex (2001)
found that in comparison to news readers in the
1996 election, undergraduate news readers in
1998 were less likely to be able to recall and
situate news if they had obtained the informa-
tion online. In a comparison between the print
and online editions of The New York Times,it
was found that student Internet users were less
likely to recognize and recall political events
(Tewksbury & Althaus, 2000). In contrast, in a
study focusing on the Netherlands, gender and
level of topical interest explain more about how
people consume and retain news than whether
the information was presented online or in print
(d’Haenens, Jankowski, & Heuvelman, 2004).
In part, the divergent conclusions of these stud-
ies may be related to sample selection: the
Internet users unable to recognize and recall
political events were undergraduates at a U.S.
university; the population that had no problem
retaining political news was made up of Dutch
adults. In addition, both the Internet and print
media have adapted over time, such that online
content is no longer structured like a linear print
newspaper, and print newspapers increasingly
provide links to online content for further inter-
est. Many of these studies suggest that topical
interest is often a greater predictor of political or
news sophistication than media choice; however,
few of us actually have the narrow dyadic news
diets that political communication researchers
investigate.
It is conceptually important to distinguish
people who actively go online to learn new
information from those who go online to find
evidence that reinforces their opinion, or from
those who accidentally find information while
surfing for other content, and, a surprisingly
large portion of those who just happen to see
the news while on some other informational or
entertainment task online, and are not neces-
sarily looking deliberately or following up with
something they learned from another medium
(Howard, 2005b). These addenda, however,
should probably not diminish the importance of
the outcome—learning new things about pol-
itics. Chancing across political information is
probably not a bad thing. Even with political
interstitials online, there is an important distinc-
tion between the agency involved in clicking
through and following an unexpected news story
and the passivity of listening to the news sto-
ries selected for broadcast medium. Querying
online sources at a computer is not a background
activity, but for many respondents the televi-
sion or radio is often on in the background. In
terms of data quality, it is probably of greater
concern that most news consumption data do
not distinguish between how often an individ-
ual tunes in and out of news stories during a
reported hour of news consumption, nor how
often such self-reported news exposure is actu-
ally in the “background” while the respondent is
doing other things.
Choosing Sources at Election Time
The second grouping of scholarship on
Internet use and news habits concentrates on the
kinds of news organizations chosen as sources.
Initially, it was argued that the Internet would
bring a plethora of alternative news sources into
the public sphere, challenging the dominance of
mainstream media. Although it is true that alter-
native news sources have greater organizational
capacity and reach with new media technologies
such as the Internet, it is hard to compara-
tively measure the market share or dominant
position of news sources. Recently it has been
observed that a large portion of Internet users
prefer to trust only sources that share brand-
ing with trusted offline sources. This is neither
surprising, nor does it weaken the claim that
all in all there is greater diversity in accessible
news sources because so many new sources—
from candidate Web sites to Really Simple
Syndication (RSS) feeds and blogs—are treated
as sources of news (Warnick, 2004). The impor-
tant factor behind the selection of news sources
and positive outcomes in political participation
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182 JOURNAL OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY & POLITICS
may be discussing the news, whether through
face-to-face or computer-mediated communi-
cation (Hardy & Scheufele, 2005). As with
other media, Internet users often accept infor-
mation from political advertisements as a substi-
tute for researching reliable sources (Valentino,
Hutchings, & Williams, 2004). Choosing a
medium for information may be different from
choosing a news organization source for infor-
mation, but we still come up with shortcuts that
help the disinterested avoid politics and help the
interested confirm their opinion (Eliasoph, 1998;
Ferejohn & Kuklinski, 1990). More important,
online experience and frequency of use signif-
icantly contribute to ever more sophisticated
uses of the Internet, overcoming even socioeco-
nomic status in predicting how active a person is
in searching across different topics (Howard &
Massanari, 2007).
There are many kinds of sources for politi-
cal information beyond news Web sites. Local
political organizations, the Web sites of politi-
cians in office and candidates for office, partisan
and nonpartisan Web sites, and issue-specific
organizations all provide content that they—and
many readers—consider news. Elsewhere it has
been found that the proportion of Internet users
who visited at least three types of these Web
sites for political information between 1996
and 2002 dropped. Only issue-specific political
Web sites have grown in popularity, providing
information about specific issues or policies of
interest, such as the environment, gun control,
abortion, or healthcare reform (Howard, 2005a).
However, the organization of political informa-
tion on campaign Web sites is structured in
particular ways. Candidate Web sites provide
basic issue positions while avoiding both direct
and indirect forms of dialogue, and only the
intensity of the campaign battle seems to drive
up the quality and quantity of political informa-
tion on these sites (Stromer-Galley, 2000; Xenos
& Foot, 2005).
Interacting with Political Content Online
The third line of inquiry about Internet use
and news concerns the forms of interaction peo-
ple have with political content, including news
about campaigns and elections. The final set of
questions has to do with the interactivity that
a growing number of citizens are coming to
expect out of media and sources. Many people
still rely on news editors to prioritize stories and
vet content, but a growing number interrogate
information—plumbing for further details, com-
parative contexts, and related stories. This argu-
ment is important because others have found
cohort-specific connections between using the
Internet for political information and levels
of civic engagement, interpersonal trust, and
life contentment, though the models cover tiny
amounts of explained variation (Shah, Kwak, &
Holbert, 2001). It remains difficult to demon-
strate what causes what; experimental settings
reveal that people with a sophisticated argument
repertoire are more likely to participate in online
debate, and that a sophisticated argument reper-
toire is one of the consequences of participating
in online debate (Cappella, Price, & Nir, 2002).
Chatting online also seems to have a pos-
itive impact on participation rates (Hardy &
Scheufele, 2005). However, since only one in
10 Internet users ever joins political discus-
sion groups or chats about politics online, it is
important to move beyond the use of software-
specific Internet applications to assess the mul-
tiple, varied forms of engaging political debate
and interacting with political information online
(Rainie, Cornfield, & Horrigan, 2005). A sig-
nificant amount of the political news and infor-
mation that people consume comes from highly
interactive tools, but there are quite a few of
these tools, and different tools are popular at
different points in time.
All in all, there is also a tendency within
political communication scholarship to either
confound media choice, source choice, or inter-
activity habits of Internet users, or to focus
on one of these at the expense of the others.
Connecting these three lines of inquiry requires
a theory of news consumption that helps explain
the contemporary situations in which some U.S.
adults identify a campaign or special interest
group Web site as a source of news, or sit-
uations where some people rely on television
stations as sources of news, but expect to be able
to interact with—indeed manipulate—content
from that news organization by going online.
However, there are important reasons to situate
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Massanari and Howard 183
the way people interact with political infor-
mation along with their choices of media and
choices of organizational source. Since recent
scholarship suggests that the diversity of media
choices, source choices, and interaction with
political information is on the rise, we offer
a theory of “omnivorous” news habits to help
explain contemporary trends of primary and
secondary news consumption.
OMNIVOROUS CONSUMPTION
OF POLITICAL NEWS AND
INFORMATION
There is growing evidence that Internet use
has a direct effect on patterns of information
acquisition, but a more tenuous connection to
offline political engagement (Xenos & Moy,
2007). The Internet is a unique medium for
simultaneously consuming and producing polit-
ical content, learning the news, and express-
ing opinion. Part of the challenge of studying
the Internet lies in understanding what Chaffee
called the structure of communication “taste cul-
tures” that are less relevant in traditional mass
communication’s analytical approach to broad-
cast media (Chaffee & Metzger, 2001).
In recent years, cultural sociology has
become an important subdiscipline because it
systematically, yet holistically, treats phenom-
ena that many social scientists abandon as being
too complex to unravel. Moreover, cultural soci-
ology has helped advance political communi-
cation scholarship by providing some theoreti-
cal grounding for understanding trends in news
consumption.4Culture is often referred to as a
black box of case-specific attributes that do not
fit into parsimonious models of how race, class,
or gender may explain behavior and attitudes.
One of the interesting theories about cultural
change concerns the social construction of taste
(Bourdieu, 1984). Several scholars have argued
that musical, culinary, or literary tastes once
were definable as highbrow, middlebrow, and
lowbrow, such that snobs only liked a narrow
selection of music, food, and literature genres.
In recent years, however, there has been a shift
in taste. Whereas highbrows once stuck to this
narrow range of genres, now highbrows like to
sample as many genres as possible (Peterson
& Kern, 1996). This growing cohort of cultural
omnivores appreciates many forms of art and
participates in a wide range of artistic activi-
ties. They reach far and wide for cultural con-
tent through multiple sources and over multiple
media (Griswold & Wright, 2003; Peterson &
Ryan, 2003). Elsewhere, cosmopolitan individ-
uals have been shown to use the Internet to
learn about political alternatives and distant cul-
tures, but this behavior was difficult to explain,
perhaps because the Internet itself was treated
as an “agent of cosmopolitan-ness” (Jeffres,
Atkin, Bracken, & Neuendorf, 2004; Tarrow,
2001). While there may be some variation across
advanced democracies, the information omni-
vore is not confined to traditionally respected
sources (Warde, Wright, & Gayo-Cal, 2007).
Omnivorousness may be a useful metaphor for
describing the growing cohort of multimedia
news consumption.
A theory of omnivorousness may help explain
some of the recent trends in how people acquire
and interact with political news and informa-
tion. Regular Internet use may expose people
to a wider range of news sources, provide more
interactivity with those sources, and encourage
an interest in information about campaigns and
elections from other media. Thus, we suggest
that a news omnivore can be defined as some-
one who uses more media on average, chooses
from a greater variety of sources on average, and
interrogates political news and information by
using more than the average number of interac-
tive online tools. News omnivores do more than
simply consume lots of news stories, they use
more sources, involve more technologies, and
interact with more information resources.
Omnivorous news habits may take differ-
ent forms. Some people prefer the name-brand
news organizations as sources, but choose to
use Internet media over television. Others will
only ever use television, preferring to try differ-
ent sources but only on television. Still others
will actually learn most of their political infor-
mation interactively, moving between media on
particular stories, and learning from candidates
and issue groups instead of traditional news
sources. This distinction between news organi-
zations is also increasingly blurred, with local
Downloaded by [University of Illinois Chicago] at 13:30 14 January 2013
184 JOURNAL OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY & POLITICS
news television channels providing Web site
content through transcripts of stories, and major
national newspapers providing online editions
with short video documentaries. These online
news stories are sometimes assembled by differ-
ent news teams, and other times are assembled
by the print news team but structured in such a
way as to provide more depth and interactivity
than allowed in print media (Boczkowski, 2004).
There are several important reasons for con-
ceptualizing political news and information this
way. First, while many scholars continue to
use analytical categories like television, news-
paper, and Internet, it is increasingly clear that
people who consume political news and infor-
mation do not make the same distinctions. The
television news may be on but in the back-
ground noise of the household; the deliberate
search for political news on the Internet is a
more involving exercise than passively receiving
a broadcast from a mass medium. Many peo-
ple rely on blogs, special interest groups, and
political candidates for their news. Television
and newspaper stories often refer to further
details online, while many Internet users seem
to prefer visiting the Web sites of established
offline news organizations. A significant amount
of political learning is done through informa-
tion networks that bridge or bond communities
(Norris, 2002). It is not simply that there is a
new medium—the Internet—in our toolkit for
consuming news. It is important to theoretically
distinguish between the types of choices peo-
ple face when pulling from this modern toolkit:
choices of which media to use, which sources to
rely on, and the level of interaction with news
to pursue. People who choose multiple media,
multiple sources, and multiple ways of interact-
ing with political information can be said to have
omnivorous news habits.
METHOD AND DATA
The consumption of political news and infor-
mation in the U.S. peaks during major polit-
ical crises and presidential elections. To test
for media omnivorousness, data from random
digit dial, national samples collected by the Pew
Internet and American Life Project5and the Pew
Center for the People and the Press6are ana-
lyzed. These organizations fielded surveys on
technology, news habits, and political participa-
tion in the month leading up to each presidential
election. Survey research suggests that news
consumption in election years with no presiden-
tial race is different from the patterns in years
where there is a presidential race. For the sake of
continuity and comparability, this analysis pro-
ceeds with data from the 2000, 2004, and 2008
election years.
Each sample is of U.S. adults, 18 years and
older, and most of the data were collected in the
weeks immediately before or after an election
day. Results for the 2000 survey are based on
telephone interviews conducted under the direc-
tion of Princeton Survey Research Associates
among a nationwide sample of 8,378 adults, 18
years of age or older, between October 10 and
November 26, 2000. For results based on the
total sample during October 10 and November
19 (N =7,426), one can say with 95 percent
confidence that the error attributable to sampling
and other random effects is plus or minus 1.5
percentage points. For results based on online
users (N =4,186) during this period, the sam-
pling error is plus or minus 2 percentage points.
For results based on election news consumers
(N =1,435) during this period, the sampling
error is plus or minus 3 percentage points. For
results based on online users (N =2,876) during
the period of October 10 through November 9,
the sampling error is plus or minus 2 percentage
points. For results based on election news con-
sumers (N =841) during this period, the sam-
pling error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
For results based on all adults (N =3,234) dur-
ing the period November 10–26, the sampling
error is plus or minus 2 percentage points.
Results for the 2004 survey are based on the
findings of a daily tracking survey conducted by
Princeton Survey Research Associates between
November 4 and November 22, among a sample
of 2,200 adults, aged 18 and older. For results
based on the total sample, one can say with 95
percent confidence that the error attributable to
sampling and other random effects is plus or
minus 2 percent. For results based Internet users
(N =1,324), the margin of sampling error is plus
or minus 3 percent.
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Massanari and Howard 185
Results for the 2008 survey are based on the
findings of a daily tracking survey conducted by
Princeton Survey Research Associates between
November 20 and December 4 among a sample
of 2,254 adults, aged 18 and older. For results
based on the total sample, one can say with 95
percent confidence that the error attributable to
sampling and other random effects is plus or
minus 2 percent. For results based on Internet
users (N =1,591), the margin of sampling
error is plus or minus 3 percent. Several of
these N values change when census weights are
applied.
The dependent variables of omnivorous
media, source, and interactivity habits were con-
structed conservatively, based on inspection of
the means reported in Table 2. The first step in
testing for omnivorous news habits is to descrip-
tively explore patterns in daily media choice, the
selection of sources, and habits of interacting
with political news and information. To explore
omnivorous news habits, Table 2 compares the
media sources, choices, and forms of interac-
tion that U.S. adults had with political news and
information during the 2004 election season.
Amedia omnivore is operationally defined
as someone reported using two or more media
for political news and information. The options
included television, radio, newspapers, maga-
zines, the Internet, and an “other” category.
Asource omnivore is defined as someone who
has chosen five or more different organiza-
tional sources for political news and infor-
mation. Other research has suggested impor-
tant differences between the content originating
with the same news organization through dif-
ferent media, so these remained distinct. For
example, the televised ABC evening news and
ABCnews.com were coded as two separate
sources. An interactive omnivore is defined as
someone who reported doing five or more inter-
active tasks with either general or political news
and information.
Across each of the surveys, the number of
media from which respondents could choose
remained constant. Over time, however, the
Pew surveys asked respondents about a wide
range of organizational sources for news about
campaigns, elections, and politics. Sometimes
a particular blog, Sunday morning talk show,
or radio broadcast was named. Given that the
prominent branded news sources change from
election to election, this makes sense, so we cre-
ated an index based on the number of named
TABLE 2. Media, Sources, and Interactivity for Political News and Information 2000–2008
2000 2004 2008
Media choices
Mean number of media 1.35 1.60 1.53
(SD =.488) (SD =.517) (SD =.527)
Media omnivores, percent choosing two or more 35.5 61.8 54.8
Number of media respondents could choose from 6 6 6
Source choices
Mean number of sources 2.13 5.70 3.42
(SD =3.297) (SD =3.416) (SD =3.411)
Source omnivore, percent choosing five or more 20.0 58.5 30.2
Number of sources respondents could choose from 28 44 23
Interactivity choices
Mean number of interactive tools 1.50 3.31 3.62
(SD =1.945) (SD =5.078) (SD =4.498)
Interactivity omnivore, percent choosing five or more 32.8 27.8 30.2
Number of online interactivity options respondents could choose from 11 29 30
Weighted N 6,546 4,568 6,987
Note: In 2000, respondents were only queried about the diversity in news sources for their Internet use, and the N of
respondents for media choices in that year was 7,028. For media choices, the percent choosing two or more media in
the year 2000 is the same has the figure reported in the previous table, because respondents were only offered two
media choices in that survey.
Source: Authors’ calculations based on Pew Research Center for the People and Press data from 2000, 2004, and 2008.
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186 JOURNAL OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY & POLITICS
organizational sources that a respondent could
have signaled some familiarity with during the
Pew interview. Similarly, the range of ways an
Internet user can interact online with politi-
cal news had grown significantly, with options
in later years simply not available in previous
years. Combing through the Pew survey instru-
ment also allowed us to compose an index of
the full range of ways respondents could have
signaled their interaction with political news
though e-mail listservs, blogs, or Twitter, for
example. Even though the list of possible orga-
nizational sources and interactivity options was
lengthy and changing, the index distribution
revealed that five source choices and five inter-
activity options was a useful threshold. Table 2
reveals the different ways that respondents may
display different forms of omnivorousness. For
some people, an omnivorous news diet may
mean using many media, while for others it may
mean using a few media but consulting a wide
range of sources. This threshold allowed us to
distinguish between people who chose to get
news from a few organizations or do a few things
online from those who really do have multiple
ways of engaging with news.
FINDINGS AND ANALYSIS
In terms of daily media choices, television is
still most important as the primary medium of
choice for two-thirds of U.S. adults. To assess
the public’s media choices, respondents were
asked about whether they watched television
news or read a newspaper yesterday. The cate-
gory of radio use was created from a question
about which media were the source of news
about the presidential campaign. Respondents
were asked how often they went online for
news and information about each election, and
respondents who did so more than once a day
were grouped with those who did this on a daily
basis. Other media for political information—
such as documentaries, films, and candidate
literature—are not used often enough to be
included in this index of daily media choice.
Table 2 presents data on changing media
choices, source choices, and interactivity
choices specifically for the three most recent
presidential elections in the United States. In
important ways, presidential elections are the
occasions in which media diets can change:
Political content is plentiful over traditional
media, and campaign organizations experiment
with new information technologies. In terms
of daily choices between media—television,
newspapers, radio, and the Internet—there are
a few important differences between the pop-
ulation of Internet users and nonusers. For the
nationally representative population surveyed,
the mean number of media used, the diversity
of news sources consulted, and the number of
ways of interacting with news and information
increased after the 2000 election. Indeed, media
and source diversity peaked with the 2004
election, while the mean number of interactive
tools that citizens used to interrogate news about
the campaigns has grown with each passing
election. In 2008, when respondents were not
offered the choice of additional media, 51.5
percent of them indicated using a secondary
form of media (see Table 1). However, Table
2 shows that when offered the possibility of
indicating additional media choices (out of a
maximum of six), 54.8 percent of respondents
indicated using at least two media.
To distinguish source omnivores, respon-
dents who regularly or sometimes consulted
these sources were separated from those who
did so hardly ever or never. Television access
type refers to news sources from local, net-
work, or cable channels. Although the survey
offered a dozen sources of news and informa-
tion to respondents, interviewers were instructed
to always offer local television news; national
nightly network news on CBS, ABC, or NBC;
and cable news channels such as CNN, MSNBC,
or the Fox News cable channel before offering
the other options. When the other options were
offered, they were offered randomly. This inter-
view strategy privileged the first three options.
Respondents were also asked about specific tele-
vision programs as sources, such as NewsHour
and Sunday morning news shows, and spe-
cific newspaper and news magazines, such as
USA Today and The Atlantic Monthly.Only
a few radio sources were named, including
National Public Radio (NPR), Rush Limbaugh,
and Howard Stern. By 2008, 30.2 percent of the
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Massanari and Howard 187
population had regular news diets fed by five or
more sources.
Building on recent findings about how users
define online news sources, these are organized
by type, partisanship, and brand. For example,
respondents were queried about their general
choices of news sources online, from the news
sites of commercial online services such as
America Online, major news organizations such
as CNN or The New York Times, local news orga-
nizations, Web sites that specialize in politics,
Web sites set up by the candidates themselves,
issue-oriented Web sites, and the Web sites of
state or local governments.
Partisan Web sites included the Bush/Cheney
and Gore/Lieberman Web sites in the 2000 sur-
vey, and the Bush/Cheney and Kerry/Edwards
Web sites in 2004. Respondents who viewed
these Web sites were pooled with respondents
who visited the Republican and Democratic
National Committee Web sites, or who visited
Web sites that provide information about spe-
cific issues or policies such as the environment,
gun control, abortion, or healthcare reform.
Finally, respondents were asked about specific
news Web sites by name. The list included a
range of news organizations, from well-known
ones such as ABCnews.com, CNN.com, and
the Wall Street Journal Online, to online news
and opinion sites such as Slate.com and the
National Review, and online columns and blogs
such as Talking Points Memo, Daily Kos, or
Instapundit. Between 2000 and 2004, the pro-
portion of people who visited two or more gen-
eral online sources, partisan sources, or name-
brand news sources grew significantly. At the
same time, the portion of Internet users who did
not research political information regularly or
occasional basis diminished.
In terms of interaction with information
sources, an index of tasks was composed with
several questions from the survey. Respondents
were queried about many different kinds of
interaction with political news and informa-
tion, from signing up for news bulletins by
e-mail to researching candidate statements on
key issues and forwarding political cartoons to
family and friends. As political campaigns and
news agencies developed more complex tools
for querying public databases, viewing content,
and interacting with news stories, the range
of options offered to survey respondents grew.
During the survey in 2000, respondents could
signal that they had done any one of 11 different
interactive things online. By 2008, there were
30 possible ways of interacting with information
about campaigns and elections, ranging from
blogging and reading blog posts, to receiving
campaign newsletters and using social network-
ing software to link to affinity groups. Internet
users were asked if they had ever created con-
tent for the Internet, helped to build Web sites,
created online diaries, or posted thoughts on
an online bulletin board or other online com-
munity. They were asked if they had sent or
received an invitation to a meeting or party using
a service like Meetup.org, or if they had cre-
ated or read a blog. Some of these activities
may or may not have involved political issues,
but many television news programs, newspa-
pers, and radio shows have a significant amount
of content that is public interest but barely
newsworthy. Thus, activities like blogging are
a means of producing content for others, and
may not be expressly political but are important
forms of civic engagement (see Appendix A for
a complete description of the index questions).7
Other forms of interactivity are expressly
political. For example, respondents were asked
if they had ever participated in online discus-
sions about the elections or online polls, or
had dug for more information about candidates’
positions on the issues. Many of the questions
also relate to the kinds of information that
respondents extract from Web sites and then
forward along networks of family and friends.
Such information ranged from endorsements or
ratings of candidates by political organizations,
video clips and jokes about the candidates or
the election, and information about when or
where to vote on Election Day. With a growing
number of ways to interact with political news
and information, the mean level of interactivity
increased over time. By 2008, some 30.2 per-
cent of the population had regular news diets
that included five distinct ways of interacting
with political news and information. Some of
the variation in these numbers can be explained
by the range of answer options offered in a
given year, so over time, we can predict who
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188 JOURNAL OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY & POLITICS
is using more media for news and information
about elections, consulting with a greater num-
ber of news organizations, and finding ever more
ways of interacting with news content.8
To help explain omnivorous news habits,
Table 3 offers models for media, source, and
interactivity choices. Although it is common to
report the coefficients from the logistic regres-
sion of independent variables onto a dependent
variable, the exponentiated coefficients are the
more intuitive odds ratios. The odds ratio is
the probability that one variable, controlling
for all the other factors in a model, will cor-
rectly predict a person’s positive response to a
question. For example, in the model for explain-
ing omnivorous media choices, the odds that a
respondent with a bachelor’s degree used mul-
tiple media for political news and information
during a recent presidential election are 32.2
percent greater [(1.322 – 1) ×100] than the
odds for a respondent who did not complete
a bachelor’s degree. Thus, it is even possible
to predict the odds that a particular respondent
had omnivorous news habits in media, source,
or information interactivity. The odds that a
30-year-old woman with a bachelor’s degree
reported interacting with political content—if
she earned less than $50,000 a year, was African
American, and self-identified as a Democrat—
were 6:1 in the year 2000. Over subsequent elec-
tions, however, the odds that similar respondents
interacted with political information improved
significantly, from 89:1 in 2004 to 110:1 in
2008.9
To help isolate the effect of experience online
on interest in political news and information,
the models control for additional demographic
and status variables that might reasonably come
to bear as explanations for omnivorous news
consumption. We include variables of age, gen-
der (with female as the reference category), and
race (with White as the reference category),
and standard socioeconomic variables such as
income and education. The models also control
TABLE 3. What Explains Omnivorous News Habits? Logistic Regression Models
for Omnivorous Media, Source, and Interactivity
Media choice Source choice Interactive choice
Log odds S.E. Log odds S.E. Log odds S.E.
CONSTANT 0.084∗∗∗ 0.075 0.118∗∗∗ 0.089 0.070∗∗∗ 0.107
DEMOGRAPHICS
Age 1.008∗∗∗ 0.001 0.972∗∗∗ 0.002 0.964∗∗∗ 0.002
Gender (female as reference) 0.8910.043 0.792∗∗∗ 0.052 0.739∗∗∗ 0.061
Race (White as reference)
African American 0.8400.075 0.875 0.090 0.7740.109
Asian American 0.880 0.167 1.005 0.178 0.527∗∗ 0.232
Other 1.020 0.098 1.026 0.120 0.991 0.143
SOCIO-ECONOMIC STATUS
Income ($50k or More) 1.175∗∗ 0.047 1.914∗∗∗ 0.054 2.151∗∗∗ 0.063
Education (B.A. or more) 1.322∗∗∗ 0.047 2.344∗∗∗ 0.055 2.711∗∗∗ 0.064
POLITICS
Party (Independent or no party
as reference)
Republican 1.171∗∗∗ 0.052 1.242∗∗∗ 0.064 1.551∗∗∗ 0.074
Democrat 1.009∗∗ 0.052 1.447∗∗∗ 0.063 1.402∗∗∗ 0.076
Election year (2000 as reference)
2004 12.679∗∗∗ 0.058 29.127∗∗∗ 0.068 14.957∗∗∗ 0.076
2008 8.512∗∗∗ 0.052 8.206∗∗∗ 0.065 18.477∗∗∗ 0.075
Nagelkerke R20.287 0.375 0.359
Unweighted N 16,904
∗∗∗Significant at 0.001; ∗∗significant at 0.010; significant at 0.100.
Source: Authors’ calculations based on Pew Research Center for the People and Press data from 2000, 2004,
and 2008.
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Massanari and Howard 189
for party (declared Independent or offer no
party preference as the reference category)
and election year (2000 as the reference cate-
gory). Respondents who declare as Independent
but who “lean” Republican or Democrat were
classified as being Republican or Democrat.
Logistic regression models are most appropriate
because the dependent variables are binaries.
In early rounds of exploring these data, we
used interval variables for income and years,
but to seek a sensible, parsimonious model,
we made both income and education dichoto-
mous variables. Both of these variables had clear
threshold effects at the level of college education
and an annual household income of $50,000. We
also explored the possibilities of doing different
models for each year, but found that combin-
ing data and holding election year constant was
also a good way to provide a more parsimo-
nious explanation for these data. In addition,
we tried forcing data into linear regression, but
found better explanatory power when we con-
structed an index where the data were dichoto-
mous (respondents were either a source, media,
or interactive omnivore or they were not). As
a result, we also changed our statistical test
to a logistic regression, which more accurately
models data where the dependent variable is
dichotomous.
Modeling Omnivorous Media Choices
According to the model on media choices,
being older, wealthier, and more educated are
strong statistically significant predictors of using
multiple media for election news. Being male
or African American decreases the odds that a
respondent would have multimedia news diets.
Among the political variables, any respondent
with a party affiliation is more likely than those
in the reference category—who have no party
preference—to have multimedia news diets.
Interestingly, Republicans are the most likely, in
comparison to other party affiliations, to have
multimedia news diets. Over the three presi-
dential elections studied here, the single largest
statistically significant effects are the election
year in which respondents were queried about
diversity in their media diet. If a respondent
was queried about his or her news diet in 2004,
that was when he or she was most likely to
report having a multimedia news diet. One might
expect that 2008 would be the big statistical pre-
dictor of whether or not people made diverse
media choices, since this was year in which
the competition for the office of President pit-
ted two incumbents and saw Barack Obama’s
impressively branded campaign. Yet, holding
other factors constant, 2004 was the Presidential
election year in which people most sought out
diverse sources; it might have been that con-
tentious debate over the U.S. involvement in Iraq
or debates over the outcomes of the 2000 race
inspired people to look for more diverse sources.
Overall, this model explains 29 percent of the
variation in the sample.
Modeling Omnivorous Source Choices
The model for explaining which respondents
consult multiple sources for news and informa-
tion revealed statistically significant, negative
effects for age and being male. Being older
or being male means the respondents in this
sample were less likely to have much diversity
in their news sources. There were no statistically
significant race effects, and education proved
to be the strongest socioeconomic variable
predicting whether a respondent used multiple
news sources at election time. Among the party
preferences, Democrats were mostly likely to
report using several news sources. However,
the single strongest effect was whether or
not respondents were asked about their news
sources during the 2004 election. The 2004
election was also important in the model for
source choices. In that year, this representative
sample of U.S. voters seemed to consume news
from the widest range of sources, more than
they had in 2000 but also more than they did in
2008. Overall, this model explains 38 percent of
the variation in the sample.
Modeling the Interactive Omnivore
Once again, older respondents and men are
less likely to report omnivorous news habits, and
are less likely to interact with political content
online. African and Asian Americans are much
less likely than Whites to have used many of the
interactive tools for engaging with political con-
tent. These effects can be overcome, however,
by other factors such as having a college degree,
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190 JOURNAL OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY & POLITICS
earning more than $50,000 a year, or holding
a preference for one of the two main politi-
cal parties. Logically, the effect of election year
is strongest in Model 3. Relative to 2000, the
Internet was such an important part of politi-
cal communication in 2004 and 2008 that these
election years are the strongest statistically sig-
nificant effects in the model for interaction with
news. Overall, this model explains 36 percent of
the variation in the sample.
Demographics, Status, and Politics
Across all the ways of assessing an omniv-
orous news diet, age positively contributes
to media choice more than source or inter-
active choices. This is likely because older
respondents grew up with more exposure to
radio, magazines, and newspapers as regular
media. Being older makes it less likely that a
respondent will have multiple organizational
sources for news, and less likely that they will
be interacting with news online. Gender differ-
ences are clear here, with female respondents
more likely to have multimedia news diets,
news sources, and interactivity experiences.
Males tend to have less diverse media, source,
and interactivity experiences. Race is rarely a
statistically significant effect in these models,
but where it does appear significant, it is in
reference to respondents who reported being
White—a consistently negative effect.
Consistent with other findings on the impact
of socioeconomic status on technology use,
income and education are strong positive predic-
tors of multimedia, multisource, and interaction
with news. Moreover, education is consistently a
larger positive effect than income, revealing that
education can overcome wealth as a predictor of
omnivorous news diets. Republicans, more than
Democrats, seem to use a few more media and
interact with political information at election
time. But Democrats, more than Republicans,
seem to rely on more sources for their news.
All other factors being equal, however, it is
interesting that education and income are gen-
erally stronger effects than having a party
affiliation.
Perhaps most interesting, the election
years themselves prove to be among the most
important predictors of media, source, and
interactivity omnivorousness. The election in
2004 was a time in which the major structural
change in political communication took the
form of a rise in media and source omnivorous-
ness. Compared to the elections in 2000 and
2004, it was the 2008 election year that saw
the greatest boost in interaction with news and
information. It is likely that the aggressive use
of new information technologies by political
campaigns and news agencies actually had the
effect of diversifying news diets. In 2004, U.S.
voters were hungry for diverse media sources in
their diet. In 2008, U.S. voters were eager to use
information technologies to interact with news
about campaign politics.
CONCLUSION
Drawing from several theoretical traditions,
we offered a theory of omnivorous news diets
to help explain trends in primary and secondary
media choice, and the impact of information
technologies on news consumption. Over time,
a growing segment of the population is increas-
ingly interested in having multiple ways of
engaging with political news and information,
over several media, from several sources dur-
ing elections. Such habits are most noticeable
during elections with the excitement of political
competition, and it is likely that they dissipate
somewhat between elections. Increasingly, the
Internet is a mainstay of political news and com-
munication habits among U.S. adults, but as
an important secondary, supplemental medium.
This secondary status is still crucial to under-
standing the structure of contemporary news
choices, however, because it has affected the
way we construct our news diets with each
major election. Even though a small proportion
of U.S. citizens is dropping out of public life
by not actively consuming news, information
technologies have also created a news environ-
ment for a growing proportion of the public to
improve the diversity of their news diet.
Anecdotally, news managers report that the
biggest change in news consumption is in the
fact that so many people now have Internet
access from work. Whereas U.S. citizens used
to take in political news through nightly news
broadcasts at home, a growing number consume
Downloaded by [University of Illinois Chicago] at 13:30 14 January 2013
Massanari and Howard 191
news during the workday.10 Knowing that a
growing segment of the population is omniv-
orous, the next step may be to test the pos-
sibility that this blending of news diets is
made possible through work place connectivity.
Even the courts are beginning to recognize that
media consumption is no longer so monolith-
ically dominated by television. In FCC v. Fox
Television Stations, Justice Thomas wrote that
“traditional broadcast television and radio are
no longer the ‘uniquely pervasive’ media forms
they once were” (Federal Communications
Commission et al., Petitioners v. Fox Television
Stations, Inc. et al., 2009, par. 7).
Indeed, the elections themselves are distinct
occasions in which the public evaluates the
options for media, sources, and interactivity
with political content. Distinguishing between
the kinds of choices people make when they
consume political news helps to explain these
changes; they choose from a selection of media,
a range of sources, and have numerous tools for
interrogating, responding to, and sharing politi-
cal news and information. Democrats seem to be
more likely to consult with several news agen-
cies for their diets; Republicans seem to be more
likely to use multiple media; both Democrats
and Republicans seem to be more likely than
Independents to interact with political content.
It is time to treat information technologies
as deeply embedded features of contemporary
political communication in advanced democra-
cies. Research on information technology and
news consumption must become a more holis-
tic study of news diets, and a line of inquiry that
distinguishes between the multiple technologies
people have for engaging with political informa-
tion. Political omnivores may not keep up their
diverse media diets between elections, but these
political contests are the important events during
which media diets are often reconfigured. The
statistical models presented here reveal much
about the degree to which such reconfiguring has
occurred since the 2000 election year. Indeed,
whereas content analysis of blog posts, Web site
links, and news story references may reveal a
growing specialization in content, this research
demonstrates that a growing segment of the pop-
ulation is diversifying news diets. The layering
of primary, secondary, and supplemental media
may be holding specialization tendencies in
check, but allowing omnivorousness tendencies
to flourish.
Political omnivores are clearly an impor-
tant part of the American electorate. In future
studies, we could further explore the dimen-
sionality of omnivourousness to better under-
stand how individuals fall along this contin-
uum, perhaps differentiating between offering
models for those who are only slightly more
likely than average to consume different polit-
ical sources/media types and those who are
significantly more likely to seek out a variety of
content and sources. In addition, further explo-
rations into the ways in which political ideology
(the choices made by strong conservatives ver-
sus more moderate conservatives, for example)
impacts omnivorousness might prove valuable.
NOTES
1. Authors’ calculations based on Pew Research
Center for the People and Press data from 2000, 2004, and
2008.
2. For replication data, readers are invited to visit
the author’s Web page at http://faculty.washington.edu/
pnhoward/.
3. This trend may have been subject to interviewer
effects, as some interviewers would have probed more
deeply than others. However, interviewers were given the
same set of instructions each year, and the survey was
organized by the Princeton Research Associates each year.
Interviewers were required to note a primary media choice,
and were asked to probe for a secondary media choice.
They were not instructed to rotate options, however, and
offering television first may have actually positively biased
the response rate for that answer option.
4. See, for example, Bennett and Iyengar (2008) or
the special collection of Political Communication edited
by Michael Schudson on the contributions of cultural
sociology to the study of political communication.
5. See http://www.pewinternet.org.
6. See http://www.people-press.org
7. Questions for each year of data collection changed,
sometimes slightly, and sometimes more significantly.
In constructing the indices, we attempted to include
equivalent questions wherever possible. The Media Choice
index for 2000 consisted of the answer to this ques-
tion: “How have you been getting most of your news
about the presidential election results and questions about
who won? From television, from newspapers, from radio,
from magazines or from the Internet.” In 2004, the Media
Choice index consisted of responses to the following ques-
tion: “How have you been getting most of your news
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192 JOURNAL OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY & POLITICS
about the presidential election campaign? From television,
from newspapers, from radio, from magazines, or from
the Internet?” In 2008, the question became: “How have
you been getting most of your news about the November
elections—from television, from newspapers, from radio,
from magazines, or from the Internet?” See the Appendix
for lists of the Source Choice Index and Interactive Index
questions.
8. Data about voting habits and Internet use is known
to suffer from an over-reporting problem due to the social
desirability of affirming good habits with survey inter-
viewers. This research assumes that such over-reporting is
present but constant between elections.
9. In this example from the election year in
2000, the odds =0.070(Constant) 0.964(Age)
0.739(Female) 0.774(African American) 0.527(Asian
American) 0.991(Other) 2.151(Income $50k or More)
2.711(Education BA or More) 1.551(Republican)
1.402(Democrat) 14.957(2004 Election Year)
18.477(2008 Election Year) and since e(0) =1, the
odds =0.070(Constant) 0.964(30) 0.739(0)
0.774(1) 0.527(0) 0.991(0) 2.151(0) 2.711(1)
1.551(0) 1.402(1) 14.957(0) 18.477(0).
10. The survey evidence presented here was collected
around election time, when public attention turns to pol-
itics. Along with the growing omnivorousness among a
portion of the public is a segment that reports getting no
news. On an average day—during the rest of the year—
some 19 percent of survey respondents in 2008 reported
getting no news (Pew Research Center for the People and
the Press, 2008).
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APPENDIX A: QUESTIONS
COMPRISING THE SOURCE
CHOICE INDEX AND
INTERACTIVE INDEX FOR
2000, 2004, AND 2008
The Source Choice index in 2000 consisted
of the following questions (1 point assigned for
each “yes” answer):
1. Where do/did you go most often for news
and information about the 2000 elections?
Answers: News sites of commercial online
news orgs (AOL), Web sites for news
organizations (CNN.com, etc), Web sites
of local news organizations, Web sites
specializing in politics, Web sites set up
by candidates themselves, issue-oriented
Web sites, Web sites for state/local gov-
ernment, some other source, DK/Ref.
(1 point assigned for each answer—up to
8 responses allowed)
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194 JOURNAL OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY & POLITICS
1 point for each “yes” answer to the following
questions:
2. Did you ever get election news from the
Web sites of the Broadcast TV networks—
ABC, NBC or CBS?
3. Did you ever get election news from the
Web sites of national newspapers such
as The Washington Post,The New York
Times,orLos Angeles Times?
4. Did you ever get election news from the
Wall Street Journal Home Page?
5. Did you ever get election news from
C-SPAN’s Web site?
6. Did you ever get election news from the
MSNBC.com?
7. Did you ever get election news from the
CNN.com?
8. Did you ever get election news from the
Web sites of national news magazines such
as Time or Newsweek?
9. Did you ever get election news from the
online-only magazines such as Salon or
Slate?
10. Did you ever get election news from the
PBS Online?
11. Did you ever get election news from
the Web pages of the House of
Representatives, the Senate, or the White
House?
12. Did you ever get election news from the
AOL News Channel?
13. Did you ever get election news from the
news features on Web sites like yahoo.com
or msn.com?
14. Did you ever get election news from the
Web sites of special interest groups?
15. Now thinking about some campaign Web
sites, do or did you ever go onto the
Web site of a candidate or campaign to
get news or information about the 2000
elections?
16. Now thinking about some campaign Web
sites, do or did you ever go onto the
Gore or Lieberman campaign Web site to
get news or information about the 2000
elections?
17. Now thinking about some campaign Web
sites, do or did you ever go onto the Bush
or Cheney campaign Web site to get news
or information about the 2000 elections?
18. Now thinking about some campaign Web
sites, do or did you ever go onto the Rock
the Vote Web site to get news or informa-
tion about the 2000 elections?
19. Now thinking about some campaign Web
sites, do or did you ever go onto the
Voter.com Web site to get news or infor-
mation about the 2000 elections?
20. Now thinking about some campaign Web
sites, do or did you ever go onto the Web
sites of the Democratic and Republican
National Committees to get news or infor-
mation about the 2000 elections?
The Source Choice index for 2004 consisted
of the following questions:
1. Do you get most of your news about
the presidential election campaign from:
Local news, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN,
MSNBC, Fox Cable news, CNBC
(1 point assigned for each answer—up to
8 responses allowed).
2. Where do you go online most often for
news and information about the 2004 elec-
tions? News sites of commercial online
news organizations (AOL), Web sites of
news orgs (CNN.com, etc), Web sites of
local news organizations, sites special-
izing in politics, Web sites set up by
candidates themselves, issue-oriented Web
sites, Web sites state/local government, or
some other source (1 point assigned for
each answer—up to 8 responses allowed).
1 point for each “yes” answer to the following
qestions:
3. The Kerry/Edwards campaign Web site to
get news or information about the 2004
elections?
4. The Bush/Cheney campaign Web site to
get news or information about the 2004
elections?
5. The Web sites of the Democratic and
Republican National Committees to get
news or information about the 2004
elections?
6. Do you ever visit Web sites that pro-
vide information about specific issues or
policies that interest you, such as the
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Massanari and Howard 195
environment, gun control, abortion, or
healthcare reform?
How often do you get news or informa-
tion from the following sources? (1 =
regularly, 2 =sometimes, 3 =hardly
ever/never, 9 =dk/ref)—1 point for each
“regularly” or “sometimes” answer:
7. Local television news
8. National nightly network news on CBS,
ABC, or NBC
9. Cable news channels such as CNN,
MSNBC, or the Fox News CABLE
Channel
10. National Public Radio (NPR)
11. C-SPAN
12. NewsHour with Jim Lehrer
13. Late night TV shows such as David
Letterman and Jay Leno
14. Morning TV shows such as Today,Good
Morning America,orThe Early Show
15. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
16. Sunday morning news shows such as Meet
the Press,This Week,orFace the Nation
17. Rush Limbaugh’s radio show
18. Howard Stern’s radio show
19. A local daily newspaper
20. The print edition of a national daily news-
paper, such as The New York Times or USA
Today
21. News magazines such as Time ,U.S. News,
or Newsweek
22. Business magazines such as Fortune and
Forbes
23. Magazines such as The Atlantic,Harper’s,
or The New Yorker
24. Political magazines such as The Nation or
The New Republic
25. The news pages of Internet service
providers such as AOL News or Yahoo
News
26. Network TV news Web sites such as CNN.
com, ABCnews.com, or MSNBC.com
27. Web sites of major national newspapers
such as the USA Today.com, New York
Times.com, or the Wall Street Journal
online
28. The Web sites of your local newspaper or
TV stations
29. Other kinds of online news magazine and
opinion sites such as Slate.com or National
Review
30. Online columns or blogs such as
Talking Points Memo, the Daily Kos,
or Instapundit
The Source Choice index for 2008 consisted
of the following questions:
1. Did you get most of your news about the
November elections from...? Local news,
ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC, Fox
Cable, CNBC (1 point assigned for each
answer—up to 8 responses allowed).
1 point for each “yes” answer to the following
questions:
2. Portal news services (Google/Yahoo)
3. Network news web sites CNN/ABC/
MSNBC
4. Web sites of major newspapers (NYT,
Wall Street Journal, etc.)
5. Local news orgs
6. Issue oriented Web sites
7. State/local gov’t sites
8. Alternative news organizations (Alternet.
org/Newsmax)
9. International news organizations
10. Radio (Web)
11. News satire (The Onion, etc.)
12. Fact checking sites
13. Blogs covering news, politics, or media
14. Others’ commentary on newsgroup, Web
site, blog
15. Visited Obama/Biden site for news or info
16. Visited McCain/Palin site for news or info
The Interactive Index for 2000 consisted of
the following questions:
1. Do you ever look for news or information
about politics and the campaign online?
(1 point for a yes answer)
2. Yesterday, did you look for news or infor-
mation about politics and the campaign?
(1 point for any yes answer)
3. How often do/did you go online to get
news about the elections? (1 =More
than once/day, 2 =Everyday, 3 =3–5
days/wk, 4 =1–2 days/wk, 5 =less
often, 6 =no or never—1 point for
answers 1 through 5)
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196 JOURNAL OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY & POLITICS
1 point for each “yes” answer to the following
questions:
4. When you go/went online to get infor-
mation about the elections, do/did you
participate in online discussions or chat
groups about the elections?
5. When you go/went online to get informa-
tion about the elections, do/did you regis-
ter your own opinions by participating in
an electronic poll?
6. When you go/went online to get infor-
mation about the elections, do/did you
get information about a candidate’s voting
record?
7. When you go/went online to get infor-
mation about the elections, do/did you
get information about when and where to
vote?
8. When you go/went online to get informa-
tion about the elections, do/did you get
or send e-mail supporting or opposing a
candidate for office?
9. When you go/went online to get infor-
mation about the elections, do/did you
contribute money to a candidate running
for public office through his or her Web
site?
10. When you go/went online to get informa-
tion about the elections, do/did you look
for more information about candidates’
positions on the issues?
11. When you go or went online do or did
you ever encounter or come across news
and information about the 2000 elections
when you may have been going online for
a purpose other than to get the news?
The Interactive Index for 2004 consisted of
the following questions (1 point for each yes
answer):
1. Go online to get news/info about the elec-
tion (yes more than once/day, yes daily,
yes 3–5 days a week, yes 1–2 days a week)
2. Sent or received e-mails about the election
3. Have you participated in any other
campaign-related activities using the
Internet, such as reading discussion
groups, signing petitions, or donating
money online?
4. Have you sent e-mails about the 2004
campaign to groups of family or friends
who are part of an e-mail list or online
discussion group?
5. Did you subscribe or sign up to receive
e-mail from any of the presidential cam-
paigns this year, or not? IF YES: Did you
sign up to receive e-mail from the Bush
campaign, from the Kerry campaign, or
from some other candidate’s campaign?
(1 =yes, Bush; 2 =yes, Kerry; 3 =
yes, someone else—up to three answers
allowed)
6. Have you ever signed up to receive e-mail
newsletters or other online alerts contain-
ing the latest news about politics or the
election?
7. Sent e-mails urging people to get out and
vote without reference to a particular can-
didate?
8. Sent e-mails urging people to get out and
vote for a specific candidate?
9. During this year’s election, did you happen
to sign up online for any volunteer activi-
ties related to the campaign—like helping
to organize a rally, register voters, or get
people to the polls on election day—or did
you not sign up online for any?
10. Did you get any information online about
the race for President?
11. Did you get any information online about
races for U.S. Senate?
12. Did you get any information online about
races for U.S. House?
13. Did you get any information online about
races for Governor?
14. Did you get any information online about
local races in your area?
15. Did you get any information online about
ballot measures or initiatives?
16. When you went online to get information
about the elections, did you ever do any of
the following? Participate in online discus-
sions or chat groups about the elections.
17. When you went online to get information
about the elections, did you ever do any of
the following? Register your own opinions
by participating in an online poll.
18. When you went online to get information
about the elections, did you ever do any
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Massanari and Howard 197
of the following? Get information about a
candidate’s voting record.
19. When you went online to get information
about the elections, did you ever do any
of the following? Get information about
when or where to vote.
20. When you went online to get information
about the elections, did you ever do any of
the following? Contribute money online to
a candidate running for public office.
21. When you went online to get information
about the elections, did you ever do any of
the following? Look for more information
about candidates’ positions on the issues.
22. When you went online to get information
about the elections, did you ever do any
of the following? Get or send e-mail with
jokes about the campaigns and elections.
23. When you went online to get information
about the elections, did you ever do any
of the following? Find out about endorse-
ments or ratings of candidates by organi-
zations or groups.
24. When you went online to get information
about the elections, did you ever do any
of the following? Find out how the can-
didates were doing in the public opinion
polls.
25. When you went online to get information
about the elections, did you ever do any
of the following? Check the accuracy of
claims made by or about the candidates.
26. When you went online to get information
about the elections, did you ever do any of
the following? Watch video clips about the
candidates or the election that are available
online.
27. When you go online, do you ever
encounter or come across news and infor-
mation about the 2004 elections when you
may have been going online for a purpose
other than to get the news?
The Interactive Index for 2008 consisted of
the following questions (1 point for each yes
answer):
1. Look online for news or information about
politics or the 2008 campaigns?
2. Did you communicate with others about
politics/the campaign/the 2008 elections
using the Internet, whether by e-mail/text
messaging/instant messaging/or using
a social-networking site? (Yes, more
than once/day, Yes, everyday, Yes, 3–5
days/wk, Yes, 1–2 days/wk)
3. Receive e-mail from a candidate or politi-
cal party? (Yes, more than once/day, Yes,
everyday, Yes, 3–5 days/wk, Yes, 1–2
days/wk)
4. Send e-mail to or from friends, family
members or others about the campaign?
(Yes, more than once/day, Yes, everyday,
Yes, 3–5 days/wk, Yes, 1–2 days/wk)
5. Receive e-mail to or from friends, family
members or others about the campaign?
(Yes, more than once/day, Yes, everyday,
Yes, 3–5 days/wk, Yes, 1–2 days/wk)
6. Receive text messages from a candidate or
political party? (Yes, more than once/day,
Yes, everyday, Yes, 3–5 days/wk, Yes, 1–2
days/wk)
7. Send or receive text messages with friends,
family members, or others about the cam-
paign? (Yes, more than once/day, Yes,
everyday, Yes, 3–5 days/wk, Yes, 1–2
days/wk)
8. Use instant messaging (IM) to talk with
friends, family members, or others about
the campaign? (Yes, more than once/day,
Yes, everyday, Yes, 3–5 days/wk, Yes, 1–2
days/wk)
9. Use Twitter to post your thoughts or expe-
riences related to the campaign? (Yes,
more than once/day, Yes, everyday, Yes,
3–5 days/wk, Yes, 1–2 days/wk)
10. Sign up online to receive updates about the
campaign or the elections?
11. Contribute money online to a candidate
running for public office?
12. Look for more information online about
candidates’ positions on the issues or vot-
ing records?
13. Watch video online from a campaign or
news organization?
14. Watch video online that did not come from
a campaign or a news organization?
15. Sign up online for any volunteer activi-
ties related to the campaign—like helping
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198 JOURNAL OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY & POLITICS
to register voters or get people to the
polls?
16. Share photos, videos, or audio files online
that relate to the campaign or the elec-
tions?
17. Forward someone else’s political com-
mentary or writing to others?
18. Forward someone else’s political audio or
video recordings to others?
19. Set up news alerts to get political or cam-
paign information e-mailed to you when
new information is cited in the news or on
the web?
20. Customize a Web page to display new
political or campaign information that is
especially interesting or important to you?
21. Subscribe to receive campaign or political
information through an RSS feed?
22. Thinking about what you have done on
social-networking site like Facebook and
MySpace, have you gotten any campaign
or candidate information on the sites?
23. Thinking about what you have done on
social-networking sites like Facebook and
MySpace, have you started or joined a
political group, or group supporting a
cause on a social networking site?
24. Thinking about what you have done on
social-networking sites like Facebook and
MySpace, have you revealed on a social
networking site which Presidential candi-
date you voted for this year?
25. Thinking about what you have done on
social-networking sites like Facebook and
MySpace, have you discovered on the sites
which Presidential candidate your friends
voted for this year?
26. Thinking about what you have done on
social-networking sites like Facebook and
MySpace, have you signed up as a “friend”
of any candidates on a social networking
site?
27. Now thinking back to before you voted in
this year’s presidential election, did you
ever go online to find out if you were
registered to vote in this election?
28. Now thinking back to before you voted in
this year’s presidential election, did you
ever go online to find a place where you
could go to vote?
29. Now thinking back to before you voted
in this year’s presidential election, did
you ever go online for information about
absentee or early voting?
30. Now thinking back to before you voted in
this year’s presidential election, did you
ever go online to find out what others
in your area were saying about possi-
bly long lines where you were going to
vote?
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