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New Media Index maps the shift in taste

yeswecan042009_optBY ELIZABETH BIRGE
NEW JERSEY NEWSROOM

The news in the third week of March was that both the mainstream media and bloggers agreed on what the most important news story was.

That’s a little like saying, you and the state of New Jersey agreed on how much you should pay in property taxes.

Outrage over the $165 million in bonuses paid by AIG topped the list for both groups, something that has happened only twice since the PEW Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism started keeping track in January.

The New Media Index (NMI), as the report is called, is compiled by the PEW staff that reviews and analyzes the most linked-to stories of the week based on information from tracking sites. They then compare the list to a similar one generated for the mainstream media.

On most weeks there are often startling differences between the two. During the second week of March, for example, 30 percent of bloggers linked to a story about the decline in the number of people who claimed an affiliation with an organized religion making it the No. 1 story for the week. Traditional media devoted 35 percent of its news hole to economic news, on the other hand, and religion didn’t make the top five stories.

“The young people in their 20s and 30s have been socialized into media, they have authority over their media experience,” said Dannagal Young, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Delaware.

They’ve grown up with computers, and VCRs, have embraced social networks like Facebook and video-sharing sites like YouTube, said Young.

So instead of settling down in front of a television set at 6 p.m. to watch the news as it’s determined by the networks, or shaking open a newspaper and looking for the one story they’re interested in, they “go on Google News and type in AIG and read about AIG from 75 sources,” she said.

The disparity between what appears on the two lists is due in part to some of the characteristics of the new media culture, agreed Amy Mitchell, deputy director of the NMI.

“One of which is the degree to which the consumers decide the agenda and the control of any individual over what’s going to really become the big news of the day or hour or week,” said Mitchell. “We saw this during the (presidential) campaign with YouTube.”

Several times during the campaign, particularly in President Barack Obama’s case, videos produced by supporters who didn’t work for him were placed on YouTube. The videos – such as the “Yes We Can” video made by singer Will-I-Am, and another entitled Obama Girl quickly made their way into the mainstream media where they generated news stories, sending more viewers back to the video.

“It’s pretty clear that moving forward in the new media culture each participant has less control over what’s gong to be the big story because there are so many other factors,” she said. “Consumers have a lot of say.”

Indeed, this may be why there was a spike about religion on the blogs during the week of March 9, said Matthew Hale, assistant professor at Seton Hall University.

“It seems to me a lot of blogs are in a sense preaching to the converted, “ he said.  “The majority of blogs have a more specific and more focused point of view (than the mainstream media) and so they’re talking to a slice of the audience.”

A second difference between traditional and blogging index, he said, is that bloggers in one category – such as religion - look at what bloggers in a similar category are writing about and then add to the subject on their own site.

“It’s pack blogging with a specific focus to it,” he said. “

The significance of the new index, he said, is it tells viewers where people get their news. The significance of why Pew felt compelled to compile such an index?

“Pew looks at where people gets news and more and more people are saying that blogs and Web pages are where they’re getting news,” he said. “If it’s a trend that continues someday the question will be ‘Do we still need the traditional news coverage?’ I hope it never comes to that, but who knows? That’s what may be coming.”

 

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