[Posted by Karl]
On Tuesday, the Pew Research Center posted an analysis comparing the annual results from its weekly News Interest Index and the News Coverage Index compiled by Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ):
This year, the media’s top stories generally reflected the public’s top interests: the economic crisis, the new administration and the health care debate were the most covered news stories. But there were number of occasions when news coverage exceeded the public’s interest and vice versa.
For example, the media was more interested than the public in the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy, Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court, Sen. Arlen Specter’s switch to the Democratic Party and the release of Sarah Palin’s book.
While Pew compiled the establishment media’s top 15 stories from PEJ’s News Coverage Index, it failed to compile a similar list from PEJ’s New Media Index, which used services including Icerocket and Technorati to track interest in stories by the percentage of news links appearing in blog posts.
Had they done so, the list of the 15 bloggiest stories of 2009 would have looked like this:
1. Economic crisis/AIG bonuses (Mar 16-20) 65%
2. Obama Inauguration (Jan 19-23) 63%
3. Iran post-election unrest (Jun 15-19) 63%
4. Economy/Financial bailouts (Mar 23-27) 62%
5. ClimateGate (Dec 7-11) 52%
6. “What Happened to Global Warming?” (Oct 12-16) 50%
7. Stimulus passes (Feb 9-13) 50%
8. E-mail Phishing Scam (Oct 5-9) 45%
9. Senate passes health insurance bill (Dec 21-25) 44%
10. Navy SEALS charged with punching terrorist (Nov 23-27) 40%
11. Stimulus contents (Feb 2-6) 39%
12. Ted Kennedy dies (Aug 24-28) 38.7%
13. Obama slips in polls (Jul 20-24) 36%
14. Interrogation memos released (Apr 20-24) 36%
15. Prop 8 upheld (May 25-29) 35%
Initially, I should note that the blogosphere cannot be expected to be more than roughly compared with the establishment media. The traditional media can be limited in the time and space they devote to a topic, and feel much more of a responsibility to serve a spectrum of topics within those limits. Conversely, blogs still tend to be a niche media, and position themselves as an alternative to editorial judgments of the establishment.
Thus, it is not surprising that the list tends to reinforce the general image of the blogosphere as more focused on hot-button issues like global warming, enhanced interrogation and same-sex marriage than the establishment media. In some cases, the blogosphere mirrored establishment media interest in stories that did not engage the public (Iran, Ted Kennedy’s death). In other cases, the blogosphere shared the public’s relative lack of interest (the Sotomayor nomination, the death of Michael Jackson). And in the case of healthcare reform, the blogosphere tended to lag behind both the public and establishment media.
Of course, neither the blogosphere nor the establishment media are charged with simply mirroring the public’s interests of the moment, so the import of these differences is debatable. However, it is worth noting that neither the blogosphere nor the establishment media matched the sustained public interest in the economy (and to a lesser degree, public interest in Iraq and Afghanistan). Given the centrality of peace and prosperity to American life and politics, perhaps the new media should join the old in taking a look in the mirror.