Civic engagement in a mobile landscape : testing the roles of duration and frequency in learning from news

Molyneux, Logan Ken
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Consuming the news is often seen as preparing a person to participate in a democracy by giving them the information they need to make choices and provide input. This relationship has varied depending on the ways in which news is delivered, with different news platforms delivering different results in terms of learning from the news. As society changes and people's news consumption habits shift toward mobile, it is necessary to re-examine this relationship in a mobile age. This dissertation conducts surveys of two samples of U.S. adults one year apart in order to examine civic engagement in a mobile news landscape. Study 1, given to a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults in 2014, tests the Mobile News Dependency Model. The model predicts that reliance on mobile devices for news consumption will lead people to consume news in shorter, inattentive sessions, which should have detrimental effects on news knowledge and therefore civic engagement. Study 2, given in 2015 to a different sample of U.S. adults, refines the tests conducted in Study 1 using updated measures to identify those who snack on the news and compare them with those who get news in larger portions. Results show that news sessions on smartphone are indeed shorter than on other platforms, and that smartphone news use is associated with snacking on the news. But those who get news from smartphones are not significantly less knowledgeable and are in fact slightly more civically engaged than those who do not. Links between smartphone news use and short sessions or snacking are supported, but the overall Mobile News Dependency Model is not supported. The overall relationship between mobile news use and civic engagement appears to take a different path than the one specified. Finally, results show that most people consume news on multiple platforms, perhaps normalizing the effects of any one platform on knowledge. Implications for news consumers, news producers, and democracy in a mobile age are discussed.