One of the criticisms of the mainstream media is that it consistently reflects an East Coast bias, especially the northeast corridor from Boston to New York to Washington, DC. A new study from the Pew Foundation’s Project for Excellence in Journalism finds that blogs and Twitter are serving as news amplification tools, but what they’re amplifying is largely the traditional East Coast press. However, they are applying different filters to this information, and changing the news agenda for millions of people in the process.
More than 99% of the stories linked in blogs came from legacy news outlets such as newspapers and broadcast networks, with 80% of the links going to just four — the BBC, CNN, the New York Times, and the Washington Post.
Despite this, blogs shared the lead story with traditional media in just 13 of the 49 weeks studied, while Twitter shared the traditional news media agenda in just 4 weeks of the 29 weeks in which Twitter was studied. But despite a different agenda being propagated in social media, it may be that mainstream media continues to mimic itself instead of taking a clue from its audience, which is increasingly getting news tips from social sources like blogs and Twitter:
. . . social media tend to hone in on stories that get much less attention in the mainstream press. And there is little evidence, at least at this point, of the traditional press then picking up on those stories in response.
Two stories — “Climategate” for blogs and the Iranian green revolution for Twitter — did leap from the social media agenda into the mainstream press during the time period studied.
Interestingly, Web-only sites made up less than 1% of the links in the blogosphere, pointing to a lack of original content. But with traditional or legacy outlets moving aggressively into online publishing, it’s not surprising that they are consuming the vast majority of talent and attention.
The United States dominates the worldwide blogosphere, with 75% of links returning to US-based media outlets (49% newspapers and magazines, 26% broadcast, with 1% each for Web-only and wire services). Yet the BBC is in there slugging, generating 23% of links. The Guardian ran a distant second in this regard, with only 1% of the links returning to it.
Despite this apparent US focus, blogs, Twitter, and YouTube all covered foreign events more than the traditional press. This is part of how things are filtered differently in social media.
Debates in the blogosphere are also largely driven by East Coast legacy media outlets, with the Washington Post and the New York Times generating 73% of the opinion columns bloggers linked to.
Text rules, with 83% of links resolving to text-based stories compared to 17% that resolved to multimedia items.
Twitter is also heavily US-biased, but also more geeky than blogs, with 43% of its content revolving around technology issues.
Science does better on blogs, with 10% of articles talking about science, but the coverage is usually of “news of the weird” type items, not hard science discussions. Health and medicine, in the meantime, gets more attention in the traditional press than through social media outlets, something that probably speaks to the traditional press’ need to cater to certain advertising demographics with such lifestyle coverage.
Overall, it’s a report worth reviewing — it’s well-written, succinct, and the data tables are compelling. And in the evolving world of information dissemination, this won’t be the last time we hear about this interaction between news sources and news filters.