Why Mainstream Media Is Not Dead – Except for the London Times

You know how many news blogs there are?  No, neither do I, but there are probably millions, including this one.  But don’t start thinking that the mainstream media are doomed, because 80% of all of links on blogs came from only four mainstream media sources, that’s right only four – the BBC, CNN, The New York Times and the Washington Post. This,  according to another study by the venerable Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. And, they say, 99% of links in blog posts have legacy news outlets as their original source.  Yet, the way that I looked at the study, it seems that there is plenty of room for both, we don’t really use social media in place of main stream news.  Because, here’s what the study showed:

  • Social media and the mainstream press clearly embrace different agendas. Blogs shared the same lead story with traditional media in just 13 of the 49 weeks studied. Twitter was even less likely to share the traditional media agenda – the lead story matched that of the mainstream press in just four weeks of the 29 weeks studied. On YouTube, the top stories overlapped with traditional media eight out of 49 weeks.
  • The stories that gain traction in social media do so quickly, often within hours of initial reports, and leave quickly as well. Just 5% of the top five stories on Twitter remained among the top stories the following week. …
  • Politics, so much a focus of cable and radio talk programming, has found a place in blogs and on YouTube. On blogs, 17% of the top five linked-to stories in a given week were about U.S. government or politics, often accompanied by emphatic personal analysis or evaluations… On Twitter, however, technology stories were linked to far more than anything else, accounting for 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….
  • Twitter, by contrast, was less tied to traditional media. Here half (50%) of the links were to legacy outlets; 40% went to web-only news sources such as Mashable and CNET. The remaining 10% went to wire stories or non-news sources on the Web such as a blog known as “Green Briefs,” which summarized daily developments during the June protests in Iran.
  • The most popular news videos on YouTube, meanwhile, stood out for having a broader international mix. A quarter, 26%, of the top 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.

So, mainstream media is important to the news media to give them stories; just so, new media are essential to mainstream media, because the links draw people back to the source.  So it was with incredulity that I read in paidContentUK that The Times and the Sunday Times of the UK, now two separate entities in the online world, both of which are about to re-launch as paid sites, will not allow their articles to appear in search engines.  On one hand, this makes a weird kind of sense.  If the papers are asking subscribers to pay for articles, then they should have exclusive access to those articles. On the other hand, limiting readership to people who pay for print, which is essentially what the Times is doing, is disregarding the way most people find articles, it would disregard the whole link culture as defined by Pew, above, and in the end, limiting the audience that it could have. Thank you, Rupert Murdoch.

And here’s what the Times is ignoring.  Recent figures released by comScore from the Newspaper National Network show online newspaper sites in the top 25 media markets garnered 2 billion page views, “reaching 83.7 million unique visitors in April — up 10% from March, 12% from February, and 15% from January , 2010”. And newspaper sites beat out CNN, AOL News and the Huffington Post as sources.

Meanwhile, commenting on news stories has become an ingrained habit, as social media consumption grows.  minOnline reported on a survey by Gather.com which showed how different demographics consume and send out news.  Different age groups may use different media, e-mail, Facebook,. Twitter as a way of relaying interesting pieces of news, but it’s something that every age group does. Gather.com’s survey found that more than a third of their respondents  go to search engines to find “multiple perspectives on a story”.  Furthermore, the study “confirm publishers fears” that readers are more interested in the story than the source.  “80% say they click on news stories from sources they don’t recognize. The search-driven information economy has effectively leveled the brand playing field and challenged the brand equity many publishers spent decades building.”

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One Response to “Why Mainstream Media Is Not Dead – Except for the London Times”

  1. Lydia Burdick Says:

    Hi Elizabeth,

    Just found your blog, and it looks very interesting! I just subscribed.

    Congrats!! Hope all is very well with you.

    Lydia

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