The Balanced, the Unbalanced, Social Media and Talk Radio


A brand new study from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism offers  media buffs plenty to chew on. Entitled “How Blogs and Social Media Agendas Relate and Differ from the Traditional Press,” the study “gathered a year of data on the top news stories discussed and linked to on blogs and social media pages and seven months’ worth on Twitter. We also have analyzed a year of the most viewed news-related videos on YouTube.”

Here are some highlights:

Most broadly, the stories and issues that gain traction in social media differ substantially from those that lead in the mainstream press. But they also differ greatly from each other.  Of the 29 weeks that we tracked all three social platforms, blogs, Twitter and YouTube shared the same top story just once. That was the week of June 15-19, when the protests that followed the Iranian elections led on all three. (…)

And there is little evidence, at least at this point, of the traditional press then picking up on those stories in response. Across the entire year studied, just one particular story or event – 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, gaining more traction in traditional media.   (…)

While social media players espouse a different agenda than the mainstream media, blogs still heavily rely on the traditional press – and primarily just a few outlets within that – 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% of all links.

Plus:

…the study found more political balance in blogs online than in talk radio.

“Partisanship is strong, but unlike talk radio, the conversation here tends to draw a fairly even mix of conservative and liberal voices,” the report said. “The Tea Party protests, Sarah Palin and Obama’s poll numbers, for example, all drew a wide mix of conservative and liberal commentary.”

Speaking of balanced and unbalanced: the broadcasting industry analysts at Holland Cooke Media are asking, “Now do you believe me?” So, what brought that on?

One reader canceled his subscription to my monthly newsletter — with flourish, by misquoting me on-air – when I became Talk Radio’s whistle-blower last September. I wrote an op-ed piece for The Daily Kos: “Will Talk Radio’s Dog Whistle Spark New Violence?” (…)

Now comes an FBI report that threats-against-members-of-Congress are up 300% this year. One Texas man arrested for threatening a United States Senator’s life was provoked by radio talkers’ tired rant against reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine which the FCC chairman and President Obama have both repeatedly said isn’t coming back.

Besides citing the actions of “one Texas man’s” alleged threats, Holland Cooke doesn’t offer links to any of this news. I found information about that FBI report at Politico. It reveals that these threats were aimed at both Democratic and Republican politicians; the “300% increase” figure comes from Senate Sergeant at Arms Terrance Gainer, not the FBI (I don’t doubt Gainer, but he’s not “the FBI”); we aren’t told about the number of cases as opposed to the percentage increase year over year. Were there 1,000 threats last year and 3,000 in 2010? Or 10 threats vs 30 threats?

It matters.

We get a hint from Gainer:

We have about 12 open cases at any given time, but most of those are relatively low threat, meaning there’s no specificity to them,” Gainer said. “But if there’s a serious threat, we’re going to have a pretty stern response.”

Holland Cooke and The Daily Kos might want to consider the wacky possibility that more Americans are angry at politicians, not (just) because boogeymen Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck are supposedly inviting them to “pass the time by playing a little solitaire” — but because politicians themselves are doing and saying things these Americans (left and right) feel are threatening their way of life.

Oh, and that stuff about the Fairness Doctrine “not coming back”? If you say so.

PS: that “dog whistle” thing? Old and tired.

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