College of LAS « Illinois

Communication

Getting News from the Internet Is Not All Bad

Many Internet news consumers are getting a broad cross-section of news, not just celebrity gossip and sports.

Tewksbury

The Internet is changing the way people get their news, but there’s little proof that it is fragmenting or polarizing the news audience the way many assume, says David Tewksbury, a U of I professor and head of the Department of Communication.

“Many things that we thought were going to be really horrible have not yet happened,” he says.

Five years ago he was among those worried that the wide-open Internet would encourage people to put on “intellectual blinders.”

Tewksbury feared that people would personalize their news habits and pay attention only to what they cared about, ignoring other news, especially about government and public affairs. He thought they would be shaped by highly segmented and opinionated news sources.

He’s less pessimistic today. His latest research, with former Illinois doctoral student Jason Rittenberg, suggests that maybe half of online news consumers are very selective in what they follow, with more than half of those focused on sports. But the other half are seeking out a broad cross-section of news, which is better than what he and other researchers believed and feared, and in keeping with how people read newspapers.

“We don’t have a lot of evidence that public affairs knowledge is going down because of audience fragmentation,” Tewksbury says. “Many people know quite a bit about what’s going on. They are attending to news in a relatively uniform fashion. It’s not as if everyone has suddenly become more ignorant than they used to be.”

Summer 2012