Stumbling and sharing : smartphones and serendipty in online news encounters
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At a time when more and more Americans are getting news on their smartphones, this study seeks to find out whether there is a corresponding increase in how often they randomly encounter and share news stories as they go about their daily online activities. It also explores whether they are doing so more than tablet or PC users. Incidental exposure to news in a digital environment is seen as valuable way for people to learn about interesting issues they hadn't previously thought about. It had been anticipated that a combination of uses and gratifications theory and news-habit formation theory would be predictive of enhanced serendipity among smartphone users as they bump into more news stories than people using other devices. It was further hypothesized that smartphone users would be more likely to share incidentally encountered news stories than PC users, and possibly tablet users, in part because of the ease with which stories can be forwarded and the fact that smartphones are easily accessible virtually all the time. However, the research, based on a secondary analysis of a 2015 national survey on mobile media news consumption sponsored by the Reynolds Journalism Institute, showed otherwise. While a statistical difference was found between smartphone users and computer users with regard to the frequency of their stumbling on news stories of interest to them, it was the opposite of what had been hypothesized, i.e., computer users were more likely to stumble upon news stories than smartphone users, even though a positive correlation was found between smartphone usage and news stumbling. This noteworthy finding alone should stimulate additional research.