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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.

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Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.


8 Thoughts on "Blogs, Twitter, and YouTube: Just Amplifiers of Traditional Media, or a New Set of Filters?"

This speaks to the idea I was getting at in yesterday’s comment. If 99% of the links in blogs go to traditional media outlets, and at the same time, blogs are killing off traditional media outlets, what does that mean for the future of blogging? If newspapers and old media are dinosaurs in their death throes, and they all go away, what will blogs use for content?

It reminds me of Clay Shirky’s comments about how revolutions tend to break things much faster than new things can come along to replace them. Are we headed for a dark period of media breakage?

Perhaps not, if traditional media picks up on the filtering and gets a bit more savvy. Also, blogs drive traffic to deeper parts of traditional media because of the different filtering. Remember, it’s not that news isn’t still interesting, it’s that commoditized news and print ad models are in trouble. Blogs de-commoditize news to some extent by refiltering/recontextualizing it, adding relevance. Can news organizations get back to the halcyon days of generating income from both inefficient information subscriptions and wasteful advertising distribution?

To see how a great news organization is handling this, try looking at NPR or the BBC. Both are moving from different starting points, but doing quite well. The funding of news certainly will need to change, and the charity/donation model isn’t a bad one. Even the Huffington Post has used it, I believe.

I think efficiency is a key. NPR as one example, has always had to make do on a different set of economic circumstances than a big corporate owned network news division like that at NBC. As such, the traditional media has a huge amount of fat in their chain that, one way or another, is going to be cut out. What will be interesting to see is 1) can media be generated in an efficient enough manner that allows for the lower amounts of revenue online advertising provides, 2) will traditional media companies be able to shift to new efficiencies quickly enough to survive, and 3) will a new media company be able to continue and grow without creating their own set of inefficiencies that bog them down.

I’m not sure I understand from the metholdology pages that this compared like with like. And that the use of the concepts like ‘coverage’ and ‘lead story’ as applied to old media – where Editorial decision making/filtering is applied – can be applied universally to new media.

Some blogs act as newspapers with an Editorial line, but others are just individuals. Can they collectively be counted in the way that old media might be? (Though come to think of it, local papers like the Derby Evening Telegraph of my chidhood, almost invariably led with different stories from the national Guardian, Times etc). Is readership (or circulation – not that these likely harmonize) accounted for or just the number of headlines?

Twitter is a stream of multiconsciousness. I can’t immediately tell whether this study used the number of tweets or the number of tweeters they measured on any one topic, or, ideally, some clever interplay of both these measures. How about the number of followers of these tweeters/tweeter (an equivalently inaccurate measure to circulation perhaps?)

A few zealous tweeters banging away on a topic could give misleading peaks. Likewise lots of people passing a single comment might not really indicate deep interest in that topic but could lead to high counts.

The point made that new media might reflect readers’ interests whereas old media reflects editorial/commercial interest is perhaps valid; but does this really measure that?

It just strikes me we’re often using old media measures to analyse new media. And perhaps they just aren’t comparable in this way. And indeed perhaps applying such measures inappropriately is part of the barrier to our sector embracing new media.

But analysing methodology sections was never my strong point so maybe I missed the point.

For their methodology, they measured the links used during a particular day to generate the top story. So, which links did blogs and Twitter use? Both number of tweets and number of Tweeters could drive this, as could the number of blog posts and the number of blogs. “Blogs” were things we think of traditionally as blogs, not newspapers and magazines running blog software.

The study doesn’t cover whether commercial interests interfere with traditional journalism coverage — that’s an informed opinion of mine.

I think you’re right — as new media generates new measurements, old media measurements will seem less relevant. But, for now, we’re in a transition. Kind of like the days when it was a “horseless carriage” and not yet a “car.”

Though amusingly we still use ‘horsepower’ as a metric for a car’s power.

(Not sure what argument that backs up other than old habits die hard.)

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