As more people get their news from social networks and the blogosphere, a new survey finds differing agendas and news coverage from social-media sites versus those from traditional press outlets.
Lance WhitneyContributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Technology has made it possible for more of us to not only read the news but also write it via blogs and social-media sites. But do stories on the blogosphere differ from those in traditional media, and if so, how?
To peek behind the world of new media versus old media, the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) spent about a year looking at the top news stories covered on blogs and social-media pages. It also kept tabs on seven months' worth of tweets on Twitter and a year's worth of news-related videos courtesy of YouTube.
The results of that study, released Sunday, found differences in the agendas and news coverage not just between social media and traditional media but among different social-media sites as well.
Based on the results, social media and the mainstream press clearly have different agendas, according to PEJ. Blogs shared the same lead story with traditional media in only 13 of the 49 weeks covered in the study. Twitter was even further outside the mainstream, with its lead story matching that of traditional press outlets in only 4 of the 29 weeks studied.
Social media often focuses on stories that don't get as much coverage or even interest in the mainstream. During the entire year that PEJ conducted its research, only one story--the "Climategate" affair--was hot news in the blogosphere and then caught fire among the traditional press.
Stories in the social media tend to have a short lifespan, picked up quickly and just as quickly dropped. On Twitter, only 5 percent of the top stories that PEJ found were still on top the following week. In the blogosphere, 13 percent of the stories stayed on top beyond the initial week. But in the mainstream press, 50 percent of the stories that were in the top five one week were still there the following week.
Though blogs may have a different agenda and slant than that of traditional media, they still rely heavily on the mainstream press as sources. PEJ found that more than 99 percent of the stories linked to in blogs came from newspapers and TV networks. And four news sources--the BBC, CNN, The New York Times, and The Washington Post--were responsible for 80 percent of those links.
Beyond seeing differences between mainstream and social media, PEJ also found that the three outlets covered--the blogosphere, Twitter, and YouTube--differ from each other in their agendas and personalities.
Bloggers tended to focus on stories that had an emotional or ideological impact, such as individual or group rights. These were often stories that could be personalized by other people and then shared on social-media sites. PEJ also found that although stories in the blogosphere were sometimes partisan, both liberal and conservative points of view seemed to make their voices heard equally.
In contrast, the major focus of Twitter is on technology, with politics having a much smaller voice. The goal of the tweet seems to be to pass along important and often breaking information that is assumed to be of value and interest to the entire Twitter community. Despite the site's focus on technology, PEJ noticed that the top story on Twitter last year concerned the protests over the Iranian election, an item that stayed on top for seven weeks in a row.
YouTube also has its only personality, different from other sites, according to PEJ. People don't necessarily add comments or provide further insight but do make their voices heard by watching and rating YouTube's millions of video clips. As a result, the site can generate common interest and curiosity and appeal to people across the world by not relying on the written word. Over the past year, a quarter of the most popular news videos were of non-U.S. events.
In its yearlong study, PEJ looked specifically at blogs and tweets that focused on the news interests of people using social media. As the tools and technology change, the relationship between old and new media will also evolve. PEJ said it will continue to study this area and share its findings in its weekly New Media Index.