Date of Award

2020

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Communication

First Advisor

Sandra Sandra González-Bailón

Abstract

A significant body of literature has emerged in recent years to understand large scale patterns of audience behavior in the context of news consumption and exposure to political information. A majority of these studies, however, have often ignored the global South, including India, the world’s largest democracy. As a result, we know very little about how Indians consume news, and the implications this may have for the political process. This dissertation aims to fill this gap by making two major contributions. The first contribution is empirical: the dissertation offers novel empirical evidence of the structure of online news audiences in India by analyzing large scale web-browsing data. The second contribution is methodological: to explain the observed patterns, the dissertation proposes a conceptual framework that synthesizes existing theoretical frameworks in the context of news consumption. Overall, this dissertation proposes an analytical approach to understanding news consumption that contributes comparative evidence and helps in cumulative theory-building.

The analyses discussed here show strong evidence that the online Indian news consumption landscape is segregated along linguistic lines. However, national outlets in the English language are responsible for unifying a culturally diverse digital population and reducing audience fragmentation. This is in stark contrast to the overwhelming popularity that vernacular news outlets have in India, offline. I also find that digital-born outlets have not succeeded in contesting the hegemony of legacy media – a finding that runs counter to many optimistic claims about the rise of digital media outlets in India. I show that legacy media and English media have gradually become more popular over time, at the cost of digital-born media and vernacular media, respectively. Finally, I find interesting differences in audience migration patterns: vernacular audiences migrating to national media significantly prefer legacy outlets to digital-born outlets. Vernacular audiences migrating to international media, show no such preference.

The dissertation also discusses the socio-political implications of these findings and charts the way forward for future research on India, as well as news consumption research, more generally, from a comparative perspective.

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Available to all on Saturday, September 09, 2023

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