The traditional media have more influence on public opinion than the digital media
Photo: Flickr/Cristiano Betta
Ainhoa Sorrosal
The exception are young audiences who also give a lot of credence to the online media

Spanish people read the online editions of different communication media to keep themselves informed of political current affairs but, in general terms, the traditional media have more impact as opinion leaders than the new digital media. However, for younger readers, the new online media are gaining weight and influence as credible opinion generators.

These are some of the conclusions put forward by the UOC's Silvia Maj-Vzquez, PhD in her thesis Digital news in Spain: features and effects of online production and consumption, after analysing the habits of 30,000 Spanish users. The researcher has used unpublished data and network analysis techniques from the domains of physics and mathematics to understand the complex behaviours of Internet news audiences and the impact on the public agenda.

"We see that public opinion is not fragmented. People who read news online identify the same issues as most important for improving society. This research provides empirical evidence that proves this, contradicting those who argue that the proliferation of online media leads to the fragmentation of society", warns Maj-Vzquez.


The weight of the brand

The study concludes that the conventional media that have an online edition have a better reputation than the new digital media. That is, they are recognized more readily as authoritative information sources. "This shows the importance of the newspaper brands' legacy within the Web", Maj-Vzquez explains.

Briefly, Maj-Vzquez' thesis shows that while the purely online media have had a considerable impact as regards the internal dynamics of news production and how journalists work, they have not eroded the central position of the traditional media in the distribution of information. "Only a very small number of new media or purely digital media – Pblico, Eldiario – hold top positions in the list of most authoritative information sources", says the researcher, who then qualifies her statement: "The exception is the younger segment of the population. Among young people, new digital media clearly play a salient role".


Promiscuous consumers

The research confirms that, as a sector, the Spanish communication media are highly fragmented. The media are unwilling to cite each other and, contrary to journalistic criteria, they give priority to business interests and strategies.

However, audience behaviour does not align with business strategy, jumping from one medium to another. "People consume more communication media than before Internet", the author says, and she adds: "After analysing the habits of 30,000 Spanish users, we can say that how the media organize the news does not have as much effect on consumption as one might think. The reader seeks to satisfy his or her news diet, going from one media to another. This wasn't done when there was no Internet".


Consensus on the important issues

The political information consumer's promiscuity combines with the authoritativeness of the traditional media. Consequently, according to the research, there is still consensus on the main issues included in the public agenda. "In other words, even though there are more media and the news diets are more varied, there is still a broad consensus as to the issues on which public debate should focus. And these issues are determined by the traditional media's agenda", the researcher explains.

To reach this conclusion, 725 people were surveyed, of which 340 were monitored for almost two months, tracking their real daily news consumption.


Publication in specialized newspapers

The doctoral thesis submitted by Silvia Maj-Vzquez, who is now a researcher at Oxford University's Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, forms part of the UOC's Opinionet project. This project is managed by Professor Ana Sofia Cardenal from the UOC's Faculty of Law and Political Science and the GADE research group, who also supervised Maj-Vzquez' thesis. Sandra Gonzlez-Bailn, the Catalan professor from the University of Pennsylvania, also took part in this study.

The thesis's first chapter has already been accepted for publication in one of the top two international academic journals in the field of communication: Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. Maj-Vzquez is now applying the same methodology to study the behaviour of Twitter news audiences during the recent elections in France and the United Kingdom.



Slvia Maj-Vzquez

PhD at UOC and researcher at Oxford University's Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

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