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Antecedents of Incidental News Exposure: The
Role of Media Preference, Use and Trust
To cite this article: Manuel Goyanes (2019): Antecedents of Incidental News Exposure: The Role
of Media Preference, Use and Trust, Journalism Practice, DOI: 10.1080/17512786.2019.1631710
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/17512786.2019.1631710
Published online: 19 Jun 2019.
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Antecedents of Incidental News Exposure: The Role of Media
Preference, Use and Trust
Department of Communication Sciences, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, Getafe (Madrid), Spain
The online environment has radically changed the way in which
users consume, discover and manipulate news. The growing
relevance of social media platforms and digital intermediaries for
news sharing and consumption increase the likelihood of citizens
to be exposed to online news even when they are not seeking it.
This digital transformation fundamentally challenges the way
online news use and exposure have been conceptualized and
measured, aﬀecting also to citizens’knowledge about public
aﬀairs and politics. This article examines the factors that predict
the probability to be an “incidentally exposed news user”online.
Speciﬁcally, based on a representative US sample from the Pew
Research Centre, this study analyses the role of media preference,
use and trust. Findings indicate that beyond users’demographics
and loyalty, readers’news preferences, uses and trust, specially of
social media platforms, aﬀect their probability to be incidentally
exposed to news online. These results have important empirical
and theoretical implications for understanding the connection
between readers’news consumption patterns and online
exposure, intentional or incidental.
Incidental news exposure;
social networking sites;
media trust; media
preference; media use; news
In the past few years, readers’news consumption behaviour has substantially changed
(Shu et al. 2017). The growing popularity of digital platforms and the sharp decline in
newspaper circulation and network news ratings have led many scholars to speculate
that new media would eventually replace traditional sources of news and information
(Meyer 2004; Ahlers 2006). The relevance of social networking sites for news sharing, dis-
tribution and consumption has grown dramatically (Mitchell and Page 2014; Shearer and
Gottfried 2017; Shehata & Strömbäck 2018). In this changing media environment, the
potential power of social media platforms and digital intermediaries to incidentally
expose citizens to news has increased exponentially (Morris and Morris 2017;Toﬀand
According to recent data, 72% of the American population use social networking sites
(Brenner and Smith 2013). By 2012, nearly half reported getting news through social media
channels, a number that jumped to 62% in 2016 to 67% in 2017 (Shearer and Gottfried
2017). Recent data of news consumption indicates that most individuals encounter
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CONTACT Manuel Goyanes mgoyaneshum.uc3m.es
news content on Facebook when on the site for other purposes (78%), and only a minority
(22%) actually think of the site as a useful way to get news (Matsa and Mitchell 2014). This
means that, in contrast to intentional exposure, even relatively uninterested news users
may get incidentally exposed to online information (Bergström and Jervelycke Belfrage
2018) as by-product of using these platforms (Boczkowski, Mitchelstein, and Matassi
2018), positively aﬀecting their knowledge about public aﬀairs and politics (Kim, Chen,
and De Zúñiga 2013) and challenging the way online news use and exposure have
been conceptualized and measured (Kümpel, Karnowski, and Keyling 2015).
In this context, an important question for exploring how users are digitally informed
arises: which factors inﬂuence the probability to be an incidentally exposed news user?
This issue is important for several reasons. First, because in contrast to the ideological
polarization that occurs when people intentionally seek out political information and dis-
cussion online (Bowyer, Kahne, and Middaugh 2017), incidental exposure to political infor-
mation online has been shown to be associated with greater exposure to diverse
viewpoints (Wojcieszak and Mutz 2009), political knowledge and engagement (Morris
and Morris 2017). Therefore, people that are incidentally exposed to news are more
likely to have greater political knowledge and hold diverse viewpoints. Second, according
to Oeldorf-Hirsch (2018) the growing reliance on social media to be informed suggests
that individuals may be moving to an increasingly passive exposure to information, chan-
ging users’media practices (Boczkowski, Mitchelstein, and Matassi 2018) and positively
aﬀecting online participation and interest in politics (Valeriani and Vaccari 2016). Hence,
exploring the factors that predict the probability to be an incidentally exposed news
user would have important theoretical ramiﬁcations for political communication scholars
and their ambition to understand how users consume online news and their eﬀects in
diﬀerent political outcomes and democracy (Kim, Chen, and De Zúñiga 2013; Morris
and Morris 2017; Ardèvol-Abreu, Diehl, and Gil de Zúñiga 2017; Edgerly et al. 2018).
Previous studies on incidental news exposure mostly look at the socio-political eﬀects
of this phenomenon (Kim, Chen, and De Zúñiga 2013; Ardèvol-Abreu, Diehl, and Gil de
Zúñiga 2017) and how people consume news online and through social media platforms
(Bergström and Jervelycke Belfrage 2018; Boczkowski, Mitchelstein, and Matassi 2018;
Edgerly et al. 2018). However, despite the importance of understanding the factors that
inﬂuence the probability to be an incidentally exposed news user, little empirical research
has focused speciﬁcally on exploring the potential predictors of this phenomenon. Build-
ing on previous works on online news consumption, this article complements these
studies looking at the demographic and media predictors of incidentally exposed news
users on the online environment. Therefore, instead of focusing on how the perceived
and self-reported levels of incidental news exposure aﬀect diﬀerent political outcomes
(Kim, Chen, and De Zúñiga 2013), media practices (Boczkowski, Mitchelstein, and
Matassi 2018)and repertoires (Edgerly et al. 2018), this study reports how users encounter
news online, shedding light on the potential media predictors of two paradigmatic online
news consumers: incidentally exposed or intentionally exposed news users.
Particularly, this paper illustrates how media preference, use and trust aﬀect the prob-
ability to be an incidentally exposed news user online. By exploring these media antece-
dents, the article aims to understand the potential relation between users’media
perceptions and online news behaviour, incidental or intentional. As past studies have
shown, diﬀerent media perceptions inﬂuence how people access news (Tsfati and
Cappella 2003,2005; Fletcher and Park 2017), and therefore, an empirical examination of
the potential predictors of users’incidental consumption is essential. Speciﬁcally, ﬁndings
show a negative association between news preference (traditional media and website/
apps over social media platforms) and incidental news exposure and a positive association
between website/apps use for news, social media user for news and trust in social media
platforms with incidental news exposure. In an online environment characterized by an
increasing process of self-selection, echo chambers and ﬁlter bubbles, these ﬁndings
have important empirical and theoretical implications for understanding the connection
between readers’news consumption patterns and incidental online exposure.
In order to explore the factors that predict the probability to be an incidentally exposed
news user online, it is important to ﬁrst understand the evolution, changes and transform-
ations of news consumption patterns in the digital environment. We ﬁrst return to early
studies on users’news consumption behaviour and the power of social networking
sites to expose users to news as a by-product of using these platforms. From there, the
study turns to recent literature on incidental exposure, focusing on its eﬀects, antecedents
and how users discover and manipulate news online. Finally, these two previously discon-
nected literature streams are linked in order to pose our main hypothesis.
Predictors of Incidental News Exposure
In the current news media landscape, audiences are confronted with a broad pallet of
choices in composing a media repertoire (Hasebrink and Popp 2006). According to
recent research on digital news consumption, news audiences are increasingly fragmen-
ted over diﬀerent devices, news sources and, especially, situational contexts (Picone
2016). News users now have more power to navigate the news content they want to
use, when, where, and how (Swart, Peters, and Broersma 2016). In this environment,
news users increasingly choose their own trajectories across the media landscape and
follow the news on multiple media platforms (Picone, Courtois, and Paulussen 2014). In
general terms, as Picone, Courtois, and Paulussen (2014, 5) point out, “the fundamental
change is that audiences are shifting from traditional to digital media platforms”. In this
digital transition, information counts as the vanguard of media liquefaction (Debrett
2010), given its status of a transferable commodity that is no longer tied to a speciﬁc plat-
form (Van Damme et al. 2015).
Beyond direct access to online newspapers, the digital era has also brought new oppor-
tunities to make source selection quicker and easier (Bell 2014) through news aggregators
as well as seeking the opinions of fellow news consumers via social media platforms (Lee
and Ma 2012). The new digital competitors (blogs, social networking sites, news aggrega-
tors, etc.) have made news organizations appear less distinct (Fletcher and Park 2017), pro-
viding new information spaces independent of institutions or news organizations. In
addition, in a media landscape characterized by an abundance of information and a pro-
liferation of news outlets, the mobile news audience is more relevant for news consump-
tion than ever. For instance, according to recent market research, more than 70% of
Americans get news on a mobile device, up from 54% in 2013 (Mitchell et al. 2016).
JOURNALISM PRACTICE 3
This change suggests that mobile news consumption has permeated individuals’news
consumption repertoires, replacing and/or complementing other platforms for news
access (Nelson and Lei 2017).
Social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram have also brought new
opportunities to be digitally informed. According to the Pew Research Center (2017),
nearly 70% of all adults now use SNSs in the United States, with Facebook leading the
ranking and followed by other platforms such as Instagram, Pinterest or LinkedIn. In this
regard, the power of social networking sites to incidentally or intentionally exposed
users to news has grown exponentially (Morris and Morris 2017), driven in part by the
ease with which audiences can pass along, recommend, and link to newsworthy stories
(Olmstead, Mitchell, and Rosenstiel 2011). Facebook is the most popular social media
channel for getting news, as two-thirds of all Facebook users report receiving news
through the site (Shearer and Gottfried 2017).
The burgeoning literature on incidental news exposure mainly addresses the poten-
tial eﬀects of INE on diﬀerent political outcomes (Feezell 2015; Valeriani and Vaccari
2016; Gil de Zúñiga, Weeks, and Ardèvol-Abreu 2017). Fundamentally, the central
debate behind most studies is to determine whether intentional or incidental news
exposure aﬀects citizens’political knowledge/participation/discussion (Valeriani and
Vaccari 2016), and the democratic consequences that this phenomenon might entail
(Morris and Morris 2017). The main conclusions emphasize that incidental exposure
to political information is associated with greater exposure to diverse viewpoints (Woj-
cieszak and Mutz 2009), political knowledge (Kim, Chen, and De Zúñiga 2013)engage-
ment (Morris and Morris 2017;Oeldorf-Hirsch2018) and participation (Valeriani and
Vaccari 2016). However, little research has focused on the main predictors of such
phenomena. INE is generally framed according to two dichotomies: active/passive
news gathering and the digital scenario in which it is set, the Internet and, especially,
social media platforms. Most studies deﬁne INE as the way in which readers encounter
information online, i.e., with no intention of doing so and thus accidentally (Downs
1957). The initial focus of measuring the eﬀects of INE on the Internet evolve to
social media platforms due to their crucial role in news dissemination, sharing and con-
sumption (Fletcher and Nielsen 2018) and their potential for incidentally exposing users
to news (Yadamsuren and Heinström 2011).
The rise of social media has arguably further contributed to the phenomenon of acci-
dental or unintentional exposure to public aﬀairs content because such content is often
“pushed”to people by their acquaintances (Tang and Lee 2013). A new set of agents
has begun to inﬂuence how news is selected and disseminated, and social media are
one genre in which control is only partial, allowing greater customizability than most
low control environments and exposing users to online information they did not seek
out or care to see (Bode 2017). Recent data on news consumption indicate that most indi-
viduals encounter news content on Facebook when on the site for other purposes (78%),
and only a minority (22%) actually think of the site as a useful way to get news (Matsa and
As many readers incorporate social media platforms into their news diet, the odds for
inadvertent exposure to news therefore increase. Users that prefer getting news from
social media are more prone to incidental news exposure, especially compared to those
traditional news media or website/apps of media sources in which intentional
newsgathering is the common way of news access. A study by Lee and Kim (2017) found
the relationship between INE and people’s ability to recall news events to be fully
mediated by actual exposure to the linked article. Incidental news exposure is not a
“happy accident”(see Thorson 2018), particularly on social media, where some users are
systematically more likely than others to stumble upon news. Thus, the aspect of (existing)
inequalities in news exposure and consumption is crucial to understanding the potential-
ity of INE. In this regard, the network heterogeneity allowed by social media positively cor-
relates with incidental exposure to news in the online environment, increasing the
chances of ﬁnding news accidentally, especially when one’s social network is more hetero-
geneous than homogeneous (Lee and Kim 2017). In addition, according to Fletcher and
Nielsen (2017) heavy news users (online and oﬄine) will likely beneﬁt less from incidental
exposure because they are more likely to be already consuming news from lots of diﬀerent
Similarly, general time spent on getting news online and thus an interest in news is a
fundamental driver of intentional news seeking (Knoll, Matthes, and Heiss 2018). People
who are interested in current aﬀairs tend to consume online news purposefully to gain
knowledge and acquire relevant information they need or want. In fact, according to
Knoll, Matthes, and Heiss (2018), when people feel a need for political information, inten-
tional exposure might occur. Therefore, we predict that:
H1: Users who prefer getting news from traditional media and online websites/Apps are less
likely to be incidentally exposed to news than users who prefer getting news from social
H2: Users who report higher levels of print newspaper use are less likely to be incidentally
exposed to news
H3: Users who report higher levels of website/apps use for news are less likely to be inciden-
tally exposed to news
H4: Users who report higher levels of social media use for news are more likely to be inciden-
tally exposed to news
Social media platforms are now a crucial space for news sharing, dissemination and
consumption. However, at the same time, they provide a critical space for the general
propagation of fake news. In today’s media environment, information is free-ﬂoating on
the Internet (Sundar 2008) and traditional gatekeepers like professional editors, journalists
are largely absent (McGrew et al. 2017; Cook et al. 2012). This phenomenon gives people a
huge responsibility for critically self-evaluating the reliability of online information
(McGrew et al. 2017), generating a growing diﬃculty for the audience to distinguish
between journalistic and non-journalistic news content and thus to calibrate the diﬀer-
ence between false and correct information (Tandoc et al. 2017). According to recent
market research, 64% of Americans say fabricated news stories causes them a great
deal of confusion relating to the basic facts of current issues and events (Pew Research
Center 2016). This might lead them to make decisions against their own interests
(McGrew et al. 2017). In fact, media literacy is now a common course in many students’
curricula, speciﬁcally designed to evaluate and manage the information they are
exposed to on the Internet (Potter 2013).
JOURNALISM PRACTICE 5
Beyond social media platforms, trust and conﬁdence amongst citizens in traditional
mass media are continuously decreasing (Allcott and Gentzkow 2017). Despite their
crucial role in shaping public opinion, citizens’attitudes towards the news have
reached historic lows (Turcotte et al. 2017). In a growingly complex media scenario,
characterized by a huge abundance of media choice and low switching costs, news
organizations’eﬀorts to retain an audience are increasingly more diﬃcult. In this
context, many news readers ﬁnd it diﬃcult to consult the information they need
and to trust its authority (Coleman 2012). Distortions, bias, hoaxes, plagiarism or inac-
curacies are arguably some of the main factors that have undermined the reliability
and credibility of legacy media (Fisher 2016). In addition, the commoditizations of
online news and journalists’labour (Goyanes and Rodríguez-Castro 2019) have unde-
niably contributed to the fall in media trust. This lack of trust in mainstream media
could explain the increased demand for news from non-traditional outlets (Allcott
and Gentzkow 2017), such as social media platforms. Many readers of news get it
from social media like Facebook or Twitter, both intentionally and accidentally
(Matsa and Mitchell 2014). If an individual’s perception of the trustworthiness of
social media platforms as a source for obtaining news is positive, it might be
assumed that they will carry on consuming news through these platforms. In fact,
according to the marketing literature, trust is a strong predictor of customer loyalty
(Lischka and Messerli 2015). As trust in news and news organizations is declining
across western democracies, it might be that people who do not trust news media
are only incidentally caught by news, especially in the social media environment.
Therefore, we predict that:
H5: Users who report higher levels of trust in social media platforms for getting news are more
likely to be incidentally exposed to news.
In addition, given the lack of a theoretical framework to link a potential association
between trust in national/local news organizations and incidental exposure, we pose
the following research question:
RQ1: How does trust in national and local news organizations aﬀect the probability of being an
incidentally exposed news user?
Finally, we want to explore whether the eﬀects of the interaction between time spent
getting news/trust in social media platforms and social media use for news aﬀect the prob-
ability to be incidentally exposed to news online. Speciﬁcally, we are interested in testing
whether time spent getting news/trust in social media platforms and social media use for
news, reduce, or increase, the levels of incidental news exposure. It can be assumed that
these three variables are key factors in shaping users’incidental exposition and thus in
amplifying or mitigating their knowledge about public aﬀairs and politics. We therefore
explore the following research questions:
RQ2: How is the nature of the interaction of social media use for news in the relationship
between time spent getting news online and incidental news exposure?
RQ3: How is the nature of the interaction of social media use for news in the relationship
between trust in social media platforms and incidental news exposure?
The analysis in this study is based on a Pew Research Center survey conducted between
January 12 to February 8, 2016, among a national representative sample of 4,654 adults.
The results of the study carried out by the Pew Research Center are descriptive. The
model constructed is based on a binomial logistic regression, analyzing the probability
of being incidentally exposed to news as a dependent variable. Logistic regression tests
the probability of a dichotomous event occurring—in this case, being or not an incidental
exposed news user. The predicted proportion of activities follows the logistic model of ln
, where P
is the probability of being an incidental exposed news user.
All variables are standard measurements developed by the Pew Research and
implemented also in other studies (Goyanes 2014). Since the variables came from a sec-
ondary database they are already ﬁxed. Therefore, although there is no reliability or val-
idity assessment that conﬁrms the appropriate measurements, the methodical
procedure and standard steps followed by the Pew Research ensure certain consistency.
In addition, all the variables were measured with a single item and were not from estab-
lished scales. Despite all of these important limitations, a survey is the only realistic option
for addressing the research questions posed.
Independent and Dependent Variables
Incidental news exposure. The dependent variable, the probability to be an incidentally
exposed news user, was measured by asking participants the following question:
“Which statement best describes how you get news online, whether on a computer,
phone, or tablet, even if neither is exactly right?”(1) I mostly come across news online
because I’m looking for it (2) I mostly come across news online when I’m doing other
things online. This is the standard measurements implemented by the Pew Research in
order to investigate the power of incidental exposure and how users consume digital
news. Previous studies have also explored the predictors and eﬀects of incidental exposure
and the measurement were slightly diﬀerent (Ardèvol-Abreu, Diehl, and Gil de Zúñiga
2017; Morris and Morris 2017). In general terms, incidental exposure is implicitly under-
stood as any incidental news input encountered on two basic settings: the Internet
(Kim, Chen, and De Zúñiga 2013) and SNS (Valeriani and Vaccari 2015; Feezell 2015).
Most studies rely on the original deﬁnition and measurement of Tewksbury, Weaver,
and Maddex (2001, 548), by which INE is measured in a broad sense as:
When you go on-line, are you ever exposed to news and information on current events, public
issues, or politics when you may have been going online for a purpose other than to get news?
Therefore, the measurement of incidental exposure in this manuscript refer to the general
Internet domain, with no speciﬁcation of the platforms, news organizations or web pages
in which incidental exposure occurs.
Media preference. This variable was measured by asking participants the following ques-
tion: “Which of the following would you say you prefer for getting news?”(1) reading news
in a print newspaper, listening to news on the radio or watching news on television, (2)
getting news from a news website or app and (3) getting news from a social networking
site (such as Facebook or Twitter).
JOURNALISM PRACTICE 7
Print newspaper use. This variable was measured by asking respondents: “How often do
you get news from print newspapers?”on a four-point Likert scale, ranging from (1) never,
to (4) often.
News website/apps use. This variable was measured by asking respondents: “How often
do you get news from news websites or apps?”on a four-point Likert scale, ranging from
(1) never, to (4) often.
Social media use for news. This variable was measured by asking respondents: “How
often do you get news from social media platforms?”on a four-point Likert scale,
ranging from (1) never, to (4) often.
Trust in national news organizations. This variable was measured by asking respondents:
“How much, if at all, do you trust the information you get from national news organiz-
ations?”on a four-point Likert scale, ranging from (1) not at all, to (4) a lot.
Trust in local news organizations. This variable was measured by asking respondents:
“How much, if at all, do you trust the information you get from local news organizations?”
on a four-point Likert scale, ranging from (1) not at all, to (4) a lot.
Trust in social media platforms. This variable was measured by asking respondents: “How
much, if at all, do you trust the information you get from social media platforms?”on a
four-point Likert scale, ranging from (1) not at all, to (4) a lot.
In order to control for potential confounds, our statistical models also include a variety of
variables that may explain relationships between the variables of interest. The ﬁrst set of
controls includes socio-demographic variables: age, gender, income, education and politi-
cal orientation. Then we introduced media antecedents, including time spend getting
news and three variables controlling for readers’news loyalty. After sociodemographic
controls and media antecedents, we introduce our variables of interest in two diﬀerent
blocks: ﬁrst, media consumption variables and then trust in news organizations and
social media platforms. Finally, the interaction terms were introduced. As outlined, the
regression analysis was executed in ﬁve diﬀerent blocks. The aim of introducing the set
of controls, antecedents and predictor variables hierarchically is to specify a ﬁxed order
of entry in order to test the eﬀects of variables independent of the inﬂuence of others
and to control de eﬀects of covariates.
Demographic information. Data for the control variables were collected using standard
survey measurements developed by Pew Research (i.e., demographics: gender [nominal
variable: male = 1; female = 2], age [ordinal variable: 1 = 19–29; 2 = 30–49; 3 = 50–64; 4 =
65 + ], annual household income [ordinal variable: 1 = Less than $10.000; 2 = $10 to
under $20.000; 3 = $20 to under $30.000; 4 = $30 to under $40.000; 5 = $40 to under
$50.000; 6 = $50 to under $75.000; 7 = $75 to under $100.000; 8 = $100 to under
$150.000; 9 = $150.000 or more], education [ordinal variable: 1 = H.S. graduate or less; 2
= Some college; 3 = College graduate + ] and political orientation [nominal variable, 1 =
Republican; 2 = Democrat; 3 = Independent]).
Time spent getting news online. This variable was measured by asking respondents:
“Thinking about all the time you spend online, how much of that time is spent getting
news?”on a four-point Likert scale, ranging from (1) not at all, to (4) a lot.
Media loyalty. In a context in which a tsunami of information is continuously reaching
citizens, retaining a loyal audience is more important than ever for news organizations.
Growing competition is the landmark of the current media environment, fuelled by pro-
fessional and non-professional media outlets such as blogs or social media platforms. Mar-
keting literature deﬁnes consumer loyalty as “the relationship between an individual’s
relative attitude and repeat patronage”(Dick and Basu 1994, 99). Loyalty describes a
strong relationship between the consumer and a speciﬁc brand. In short, customer
loyalty explains a long-term relationship that a user has with their favourite or most
used brand or company. For news organizations, the basic measure of loyalty is the
time users spend consuming their news articles or news websites or apps access. There-
fore, news users that regard a news organization as the best alternative to fulﬁl their
needs are more prone to reuse it. In fact, loyalty is the expression of reuse intention
(Picón, Castro, and Roldán 2014). Heavy news users and ones satisﬁed with their news
outlets are more prone to be loyal to one or several news organizations. In this regard,
according to Fletcher and Nielsen (2017), heavy news users will likely beneﬁt less from inci-
dental exposure because they are more likely to be already consuming news from lots of
diﬀerent outlets, aﬀecting as a result their likelihood of being incidentally exposed to news
online. Therefore, we controlled for media loyalty, measuring it with three diﬀerent vari-
ables, asking participants the following question: “Which of the following statements
comes closer to your view?”(1) I don’t give much thought to the sources I get my news
from, (2) I give a good deal of thought to the sources I get my news from [Thought
source in the regression], (1) I usually turn to the same news source(s) when I get news,
(2) I don’t usually turn to the same news source(s) when I get news [Same news source
in the regression] and (1) I consider myself to be loyal to the news source(s) I get my
news from, (2) I am not particularly loyal to the news source(s) I get my news from
[Loyal news source in the regression].
The national representative sample of 4,654 US residents included slightly more women
(50.5 per cent, N= 2.352) than men (49.5 per cent, N= 2.302) with an age range between
18 and 99 (mean = 2.68, SD = 1.00). Most respondents said they prefer getting news by
reading news in a print newspaper, listening to news on the radio and watching news on
television (67 per cent, N= 3.116), followed by news websites of apps (23.2 per cent, N=
1.081) and social networking sites such as Twitter or Facebook (7.8 per cent, N= 357).
When it comes to media loyalty, most respondents said they give a good deal of thought
to the sources they get their news from (83.1 per cent; N= 3.866) and only 16.4 per cent
of respondents (N= 762) said do not give much thought to the sources they get their
news from. The vast majority of participants usually turn to the same news source(s)
when they get news (79,8 per cent; N= 3.713), while only 19.9 per cent said they do not
usually turn to the same news source(s) when they get news (N= 921). Finally, respondents
that consider themselves to be loyal to the news source(s) they get their news from (53 per
cent; N= 2.465) were slightly more than those who were not particularly loyal (46.4 per cent;
N= 2.159). Finally, slightly more respondents said they come across news online because
JOURNALISM PRACTICE 9
they are looking for it (45.8 per cent; N= 2.131 [44.4 per cent said they mostly come across
news online when they are doing other things online]) Table 1.
Probability to be Incidentally Exposed to News
H1 proposed that users who prefer getting news from traditional media and online web-
sites/Apps are less likely to be incidentally exposed to news than users who prefer getting
news from social media platforms. Consistent with H1, people that prefer traditional news
media (p< .05; β=−.364; .695e
) and news websites/Apps (p< .01; β=−.1.110; .330e
getting news are less likely to be incidentally exposed to news than people that prefer
getting news through social networking sites (such as Facebook or Twitter). Therefore,
those that prefer getting news from social media platforms are more likely to be inciden-
tally exposed to news than people who prefer getting news from traditional media and
online websites/Apps, supporting H1. Women (p< .01; β=−.616; .540e
), less educated
citizens (p<.01; β=−.210; .811e
) and people with lower incomes (p< .01; β=−.104;
) are also more likely to be incidentally exposed to news online.
H2 predicted that users who report higher levels of print newspaper use are less likely
to be incidentally exposed to news. Results of the regression analysis revealed that the
association between print newspaper use and incidental news exposure is not statistically
signiﬁcant. Therefore, H2 was not supported. H3 proposed that users who report higher
levels of website/apps use for news are less likely to be incidentally exposed to news.
Results of the regression analysis revealed a statistically signiﬁcant and negative associ-
ation between website/apps news use and incidental news exposure (p< .01; β=−.562;
). Therefore, the more a user gets news from websites/app of a news organization,
the less likely to be an accidentally exposed news user. Hence, H3 was supported. H4 pre-
dicted that users who report higher levels of social media use for news are more likely to
be incidentally exposed to news. The regression analysis shows a statistically signiﬁcant
and positive association between social media use for news and incidental news exposure
(p<.01; β= .493; 1.637e
). The more a user gets news from social media platforms, the
more likely to be an accidentally exposed news user, thus supporting H4.
H5 proposed that users who report higher levels of trust in social media platforms for
getting news are more likely to be incidentally exposed to news. Consistent with H5, the
regression analysis revealed a statistically signiﬁcant and positive association between
trust in social networking sites (p< .05; β= .152; 1.164e
) and incidental news exposure.
Therefore, people that have a strong trust in social networking sites for getting news
are more likely to be incidentally exposed news users, supporting H5. However, the
regression analysis did not reveal a statistically signiﬁcant association between trust in
national/local news organizations and incidental news exposure (RQ1). Finally, the inter-
action terms of the regression analysis did not reveal a statistically signiﬁcant association
between (1) media time and social media use for news and (RQ2) and (2) trust is social
media platforms and social media use for news (RQ3) Table 2.
Conclusion and Discussion
The aim of this study is to shed light on the media uses and preferences that predict the
probability to be an incidentally exposed news user online. The analysis, based on a USA
10 M. GOYANES
Table 1. Zero order correlations.
Mean SD Age Education Income
SNS use for
Apps use for
Trust national news
Trust local news
Age 2.68 1.00 –
Education 2.32 0.75 −.019 –
Income 5.56 2.41 .088** .452** –
Time spent getting
2.70 0.76 −.024 .116** .123** –
Print newspaper use 2.31 1.04 .357** .029* .043** .041** –
SNS use for news 2.50 1.12 −.345** −.068** −.125** .131** −.128** –
News sites/Apps use
3.03 0.98 −.163** .178** .163** .484** −.049** .219** –
Trust national news
2.95 0.72 .120** .044** .051** .058** .158** −.002 .048** –
Trust local news
1.94 0.65 −.098** .024 −.009 −.028 −.156** −.030 −.001 −.498** –
2.12 0.86 −.259** −.084** −.118** .113** −.095** .166** .682** .109** −.106** –
JOURNALISM PRACTICE 11
representative sample from the Pew Research Centre, suggests that news consumption
patterns are crucial factors to understand the level of readers’incidental exposure
online. Speciﬁcally, the ﬁndings presented in this study, and further discussed below,
provide relevant theoretical implications for understanding the relationship between inci-
dental exposure and media uses, preferences and trust. Therefore, results of this paper
reconcile two research streams that have been neglected in most previous studies,
despite their potentiality to address and respond to relevant questions about how and
why users consume news, even when they are not seeking it.
Findings indicate that females, less educated people and with lower incomes are more
likely to be incidentally exposed news users than males, educated people and with higher
incomes. This study also shows that people that rely on social networking sites to be
informed are more likely to be incidentally exposed news users than those relying on tra-
ditional media and news website/Apps. In addition, users that spend more time getting
news online are more prone to be incidentally caught by news. Results are in line with pre-
vious INE studies, speciﬁcally regarding the gender diﬀerences and news interest (Fletcher
and Nielsen 2017) which can be taken as a proxy of time spent getting news online.
These ﬁndings also complement previous studies regarding the eﬀects of socio-econ-
omic status (SES) on incidental news exposure (Morris and Morris 2017). This study found a
negative relationship between socio-economic status and INE (in terms of education and
income) and therefore lower SES individuals are more likely to be incidentally exposed
Table 2. Logistic regression analysis predicting incidental news exposure online.
Block 1: Demographics
Age −.026 .975
Gender −.616** .540
Education −.210** .811
Income −.104** .902
Block 2: Media antecedents
Time spent getting news −.1.195** .303
Thought source .423** 1.527
Same news source −.226* .798
Loyal news source −.032 .968
Block 3: Media Consumption
Print newspaper use −.078 .925
News sites/Apps use for news −.562** .570
SNS use for news .493** 1.637
Block 4: Trust
Trust national news organizations −.017 .983
Trust local news organizations .049 1.051
Trust SNS .152* 1.164
Block 5: Interaction terms
Media Time* SNS use for news .010 1.010
Trust SNS* SNS use for news −.017 .983
*p< .05; **p< .01.
12 M. GOYANES
news users. This ﬁnding suggests that although incidental exposure could potentially miti-
gate diﬀerent gaps, specially, political ones (Morris and Morris 2017; Fletcher and Nielsen
2017), and therefore have a positive impact on political participation and civic engage-
ment (Valeriani and Vaccari 2016), the online consumption behaviour of lower SES individ-
uals might fundamentally suggest a connection between INE and sociability,
entertainment and passing-time, as Boczkowski, Mitchelstein, and Matassi (2018) point
out. In fact, those users who prefer getting news trough social networking sites are
more likely to be incidentally exposed news users, which emphasize the centrality of
social media platforms in incidental exposure, as found in previous studies (Ardèvol-
Abreu, Diehl, and Gil de Zúñiga 2017; Gil de Zúñiga, Weeks, and Ardèvol-Abreu 2017).
Therefore, despite the fact that lower SES individuals are more likely to by accidental
news consumers, at the same time, this phenomenon might allow them to get knowledge
about public aﬀairs and politics and become engaged in such issues as a result. To this
regard, and according to previous studies (Morris and Morris 2017), INE might diminish
political inequalities among citizens, although higher SES citizens still have better access
to the Internet, technological skills and equipment to access news.
The eﬀects of incidental exposure appear to be stronger on those users that trust social
media platforms and therefore those who trust SNSs for getting news are more likely to be
incidentally exposed news users. Trust and conﬁdence amongst citizens in traditional mass
media is continuously decreasing (Turcotte et al. 2017). This lack of trust in mainstream
media could explain the increased demand for news from non-traditional sources
(Allcott and Gentzkow 2017), such as social media platforms. In a context of ambient jour-
nalism, as Hermida (2010) suggests, citizen may perceive they do not need to actively seek
news because they will be exposed to news and remain well-informed through their peers
and social networks (Gil de Zúñiga, Weeks, and Ardèvol-Abreu 2017). Our ﬁndings thus
address the key role of social media trust in shaping the online consumption behaviour
of individuals and thus the likelihood of encountering news incidentally.
In conclusion, this article presents interesting insights to explain the prevalence of inci-
dental exposure to news among citizens. Speciﬁcally, instead of focusing on the eﬀects of
INE on diﬀerent political outcomes as most research have done, this article looks at the
potential relation between readers’media uses, preferences and trust. The study provides
relevant theoretical implications and reconciles both literatures, arguing that the potential
explanatory power of incidental exposure in the current news environment cannot be fully
understood if news consumption patterns, preferences and perceptions about media are
not fully considered.
Limitations and Future Studies
Several limitations of the current analysis are noteworthy. First, it is worth noting that with
respect to incidentally exposed news users the American context is diﬀerent to other
countries. There are particular factors, such as internet penetration, adoption of social net-
working sites, news consumption patterns and many other socio-economic factors that
make incidental news exposure more prevalent than in other demoi (Morris and Morris
2017). Second, the cross-sectional nature of the survey data does not allow to identify
with certainty the direction of the causal patterns underlying the correlations found.
Therefore, the analysis cannot rule out the possibility that the causal orders are reversed.
JOURNALISM PRACTICE 13
More robust causal claims would be warranted by longitudinal or experimental rather than
cross-sectional survey data and more work is needed to disentangle the causal mechan-
isms behind the correlations presented here. Thus, the relationships theorized in this
papers should be interpreted with caution. Future research may adopt a longitudinal
design to draw causal inferences with greater conﬁdence.
Furthermore, all variables were measured using a single item, which prohibits reliability
assessments. As with any survey, this study also relied on self-reported measures of online
behaviour, which required subjective self-deﬁnitions of online exposure, intentionally or
incidentally. Therefore, future studies should validate a scale on INE. In addition, despite
the fact that all the variables were measured following the standard procedure
implemented by the Pew Research Centre, this study cannot provide any reliability nor val-
No potential conﬂict of interest was reported by the author.
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