News

Edgerly takes an in-depth look at patterns of media consumption

Assistant Professor Stephanie Edgerly has long been interested in all things media-related. But what has always been of particular curiosity to Edgerly are the ways in which audiences consume news—and more specifically, the ways in which they combine different media platforms while doing so. 

“I think we hear a lot about people tuning into certain media outlets, like Fox News for instance, and the effects of that,” Edgerly said. “But for me, the bigger questions have always been, are you just tuning into Fox News? Or is it that you’re combining FOX with conservative talk radio and blogs, and getting this pattern of news choices that promote certain types of attitudes or certain types of behaviors?”

In her research paper, titled “Red Media, Blue Media, and Purple Media: News Repertoires in the Colorful Media Landscape,” Edgerly looked at patterns of news consumption that were both medium-centric and ideology-driven.

The study had been a long time in the works, according to Edgerly, who started collecting data for the topic in 2008 as a graduate student. The completed paper was published this March in the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media.

Answering these bigger questions has long been Edgerly’s focus. An avid consumer of a diverse range of news sources, she studied journalism and mass communication as a graduate student and completed her Ph.D. in Mass Communication and Media Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Edgerly teaches journalism and IMC courses at both the undergraduate and graduate level.

“I really had to push to get a detailed account of the types of news that people are consuming,” Edgerly said. “I didn’t want to survey with one general question, or one general question about TV news. Instead, we were able to have separate questions about Fox versus MSNBC versus CNN, and include a lot of flavors of news to really explicate these different types of patterns.”

These patterns, Edgerly found, could largely be categorized into six main types of news repertoires—what she calls news avoiders, online only, TV and print, liberal news and online, conservative only and, finally, news omnivores.

For Edgerly, this last category was the most surprising.

“We found that there’s a group of news omnivores who are consuming all types of news, and that includes conservative news and also liberal news,” Edgerly said. “To me that just reaffirms the fact that we have to look at news audiences in more detail, and that it's not quite as simple as saying some people just want red media and some people just want blue media.”

In the journalism classes that she teaches, Edgerly often draws on the study to remind students to take special pains when identifying and writing for particular audiences.

“It’s not enough to just think about age, race, income, gender—you need to start peeling back some layers now and look at attitudes about media bias, or political party identification, and how these might start to tell a more interesting story that really describe an audience behavior rather than just the basic demographics,” Edgerly said.