New Media, Old Media: How Blogs and Social Media Agendas Relate and Differ from the Traditional Press
Monday, May 24 — Stories and issues that gain momentum in social media differ markedly from those covered most by the mainstream media, according to a year-long study by Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. Blogs shared the same lead story with traditional media in just 13 of the 49 weeks studied; Twitter's top subject matched that of the mainstream press in only 4 of the 29 weeks. On You Tube, the top stories overlapped in 8 out of 49 weeks.
But the three social media platforms also differed from each other. Of the 29 weeks tracked, blogs, Twitter and YouTube shared the same top story just once—the week of June 15-19, 2009, when the protests that followed the Iranian elections led on all three.
- Bloggers gravitated toward stories that elicited emotion, concerned individual or group rights or triggered ideological passion. And unlike in other types of media, there is a pretty even mix of conservative and liberal voices.
- On Twitter, the mission is primarily about passing along important—often breaking—information in a way that assumes shared values within the Twitter community. Technology is a major focus, but the one story that trumped all other in 2009 was the protests following the Iranian election. It was the top linked-to story seven weeks in a row.
- YouTube users engage not through comments but through selection and sharing. Partly as a result, the most watched videos have a strong sense of serendipity. The "Hey you've got to see this," mentality rings strong.
Across all three social platforms, however, attention spans are brief. On blogs, 53% of the lead stories in a given week stay on the list no more than three days. On Twitter that is true of 72% of lead stories, and more than half (52%) are on the list for just 24 hours.
"As social media sites and tools continue to evolve, so too will the interplay among new and traditional outlets and citizens' relationship to the news," says Amy Mitchell, Deputy Director of the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism.
These are some conclusions drawn from one of the first empirical assessments of the relationships between social media and the more traditional press. PEJ examined the news linked to on millions of blogs and social media pages tracked by Icerocket and Technorati from January 19, 2009, through January 15, 2010, and the videos on YouTube's news channel for the same period. Twitter was measured by tracking news stories linked to within tweets as monitored by Tweetmeme from June 15, 2009, through January 15, 2010.
Among the report's other findings:
- Bloggers rely heavily on MSM. While social media embrace a different news agenda than the mainstream media, blogs still heavily rely on the traditional press—and primarily a few outlets—for their information. More than 99% of the stories linked to in blogs came from legacy outlets such as newspapers and broadcast networks. And just four—the BBC, CNN, the New York Times and the Washington Post—accounted for fully 80%.
- Twitter is less tied to traditional press. On Twitter, half (50%) of the links were to legacy outlets; 40% to web-only sources and 10% to wire or non-news outlets such as "Green Briefs" which summarized the daily developments during the June protests in Iran.
- YouTube offers more international mix. A quarter, 26%, of the most watched news videos were of non-U.S. events, primarily those with a strong visual appeal such as raw footage of Pope Benedict XVI getting knocked over during Mass on Christmas Eve or a clip of a veteran Brazilian news anchor getting caught insulting some janitors without realizing his microphone was still live. Celebrity and media-focused videos were also given significant prominence.
- Politics has found a place in blogs and on YouTube. On blogs, 17% of the 5 most linked-to stories in a given week were about U.S. government or politics, often accompanied by emphatic personal analysis or evaluations. These topics were even more prevalent among news videos on YouTube, where they accounted for 21% of all top stories. On Twitter, however, technology stories were linked to far more than anything else, 43% of the top-five stories in a given week and 41% of the lead items. By contrast, technology filled 1% of the newshole in the mainstream press during the same period.
- Mainstream Press doesn't follow new media's agenda. Social Media often hone in on stories that get less attention in the "MSM," but there is little evidence of the traditional press then picking up that story in response. Across the entire year studied, just one story—the controversy over emails relating to global research that came to be known as "Climate-gate"—became a major item in the blogosphere and then, a week later, gained more traction in traditional media.