The iommensely inflated news audience: Assessing bias in self-reported news exposure

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Many studies of media effects use self-reported news exposure as their key independent variable without establishing its validity. Motivated by anecdotal evidence that people's reports of their own media use can differ considerably from independent assessments, this study examines systematically the accuracy of survey-based self-reports of news exposure. I compare survey estimates to Nielsen estimates, which do not rely on self-reports. Results show severe overreporting of news exposure. Survey estimates of network news exposure follow trends in Nielsen ratings relatively well, but exaggerate exposure by a factor of 3 on average and as much as eightfold for some demographics. It follows that apparent media effects may arise not because of differences in exposure, but because of unknown differences in the accuracy of reporting exposure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)130-143
Number of pages14
JournalPublic Opinion Quarterly
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • General Social Sciences
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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