Since the advent of the digital age, many journalism researchers and professionals have voiced their alarm about the implications of an increasingly saturated media environment for news audiences and political participation. Specifically, they worry that in a world of seemingly endless media choice, audiences will primarily turn to news that most aligns with their political preferences. This theory, commonly referred to as partisan selective exposure, underlies fears of ‘filter bubbles,’ ‘echo chambers’, and, most recently, ‘fake news’. Within the United States, many assume that as citizens burrow deeper into niche news sources, they will grow further extreme in their views, exacerbating an already polarized political landscape. Yet there is little evidence to support the view that news audiences actually behave in this way. On the contrary, studies of online audience behavior have typically concluded that news audiences tend to congregate among a small number of familiar news brands. In this chapter, I review the research literature on partisan selective exposure, and its perseverance in the face of a growing number of studies that have consistently challenged its existence. In light of the resiliency of this theory, I argue that fears about news consumption often reveal more about how journalism stakeholders and researchers perceive news audiences than they do actual audience behavior. This is important, as these assumptions not only shape our understanding of journalism’s problems, but the attempts to solve them as well. I conclude with a call for more audience-focused journalism research to better recognize the challenges facing the profession.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Social Sciences(all)