Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
This thesis focuses on the impact of the consumption environment on consumer preferences and decision making in consuming online news. The two chapters explore the effects of variation in the consumption environment in two different ways: offline, via differences in environmental factors, and online, via news-delivery platform changes.
The first chapter addresses whether the offline news environment affects online news consumption choices, focusing on whether consumers are more influenced by their innate preferences or outside environments when choosing to consume news - do consumers trade off online and offline news consumption? We build and estimate a model extending the standard discrete choice framework that allows us to identify this relationship via recovery of a single structural parameter. This parameter interprets the relationship between inside goods (online news) and the outside option (offline environmental news options). To estimate our model, we take advantage of a large novel data set of a subset of US users from a major web browser. We exploit the migration patterns of users as our source of identifying variation. In particular, we analyze consumer browsing before and after a move to identify our model. This exercise leads to evidence of independence between online and offline news goods at the population level, suggesting minimal offline environmental influence. However, further investigation points to significant between-individual heterogeneity in the relationship between online and offline news, which we then show is partially explained by observable consumer characteristics via machine learning methods. We explore the implications of this heterogeneity and propose additional analysis to identify the potential mechanisms behind our findings.
In the second chapter, we examine a change in the Facebook algorithm and its impact on online news browsing. We ask the question whether social media increases or decreases online news consumption, specifically of opinion-oriented content. The key to our identification of this impact is a change in the Facebook news algorithm that occurred over the first few months of 2018. Facebook deprioritized content that a users' connections did not interact with, resulting in a large reduction in news consumption. We employ a matching design wherein we match treatment users who use Facebook - and thus are affected by changes in the Facebook algorithm - to those who do not use Facebook using characteristics of these users' browsing habits. When news content is reduced on Facebook, we see a drop in news browsing behavior for these users relative to their peers who do not use Facebook, suggesting that social media use does increase news consumption as users do not merely substitute to other media. However, we also observe that compared to control users, our treatment users experience an increase in opinion-oriented content browsing when their access to social media news is reduced. This runs counter to our original speculation that social media would be correlated with increased opinion-oriented media consumption. We hypothesize potential mechanisms for these effects and propose tests to distinguish them. Overall, we see evidence consistent with online consumption environments having impact on consumption decisions, with much less impact coming from offline consumption environments
Kurish, Michael, "Essays In Online News Consumption" (2022). Publicly Accessible Penn Dissertations. 5507.