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Online News Exposure in Spain

The third presenter in this Future of Journalism 2017 session is Jaume Suau, focussing on agenda-setting in the digital public sphere and exploring especially the role of Spanish citizens as online participants. Spanish users are highly active in engaging with political and social contexts, and this is focussed largely on commenting and sharing news (especially on Facebook and WhatsApp) rather than producing content. News media have failed to harness these energies fully so far.

Such audience participation is changing traditional hegemonies in journalism. Old and new media coexist in the news environment, and complement and influence wach other. Audience roles are changing, and new participatory formats are emerging; media consumption therefore also changes: while audiences may still selectively seek out particular media sources based on their pre-existing political positioning, they may now be exposed to a wider range of news than they had been offline – or they may exist in 'echo chambers' and 'filter bubbles'.

The present study surveyed some 6,600 registered users of Spanish online news media; 66% of respondents were male, and the vast majority of them were aged 35 or above (and this is also a reflection of who still registers a mainstream media account). 42% of them never or rarely used social media.

Notably, 43% registered with both ideologically aligned and non-aligned sites; on social media, access to news was largely via like-minded media, but oppositional media still featured to a notable degree, too. Those who are more active on social media were more likely to access, comment, and share news from media with whose political stance they disagreed.

Friends figured especially strongly as sources of news dissemination on Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram; Twitter was more important for both friends and news outlets as sources. News accessed on Twitter was also more politically diverse. This lays the groundwork for a substantial volume of accidental exposure to news from sources that do not align with the user's own political position, but the degree of pluralism in the news received thus depends strongly also on the ideological pluralism of one's friends.