News brand attribution in distributed environments: Do people know where they get their news?

Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

United Kingdom

Category Medium reach

Media associated with this project

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The digital media environment is increasingly characterized by distributed discovery, where media users find content produced by news media via platforms like search engines and social media. Here, we measure whether online news users correctly attribute stories they have accessed to the brands that have produced them. We call this “news brand attribution.” Based on a unique combination of passive tracking followed by surveys served to a panel of users after they had accessed news by identifiable means (direct, search, social) and controlling for demographic and media consumption variables, we find that users are far more likely to correctly attribute a story to a news brand if they accessed it directly rather than via search or social. We discuss the implications of our findings for the business of journalism, for our understanding of source cues in an increasingly distributed media environment and the potential of the novel research design developed.


an innovative research design based on the combination of passive tracking and online surveys. The research design has two phases. In the first, the Web use of a panel of individuals is tracked passively. In the second, the same panel’s individuals are surveyed about their news use. The first phase acts as a ground truth against which the survey data are compared. This allows us to record what news stories are consumed by panelists survey responses against these data.

Reach of Media Related to the Research

national media digital

Type of Media Related to the Research

Desktop internet