Press, Social Media Used for Different Topics

May 24, 2010

The American public uses the traditional press and different social media platforms to obtain information about different topics, according to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Twitter Leads in Tech
Pew tracked usage of the YouTube social media platform, blogs, and the traditional press from January 19, 2009 – January 15, 2010. Twitter usage was tracked from June 15, 2009 – January 15, 2010. Most significantly, Pew found that 43% of the lead news stories shared on Twitter fell into the technology category. This was only true for 8% of the lead news stories on blogs, and 1% of the lead news stories on YouTube and in the traditional press.

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No other media platform reported a percentage of its lead news stories being dedicated to a particular category anywhere close to the 43% of technology stories that led on Twitter. The next-highest leading news story category percentage, 26%, was reported by YouTube in the non-US foreign events category. Although only 13% of Twitter’s lead news stories fell into this category, it is worth noting that during summer 2009, the Iranian election protests were the leading news story on Twitter for seven straight weeks.

Another 21% of the lead news stories on YouTube were in the politics/government category. This was also the leading news story category for both the traditional press (17%) and blogs (15%).

Blogs, Traditional Press Lead in Economy
Where blogs and the traditional press clearly led YouTube and Twitter was the economy category. Ten percent of the leading news stories in the traditional press and 7% of the leading news stories on blogs were in the economy category, compared to just 1% of the leading news stories on both Twitter and YouTube. Traditional press and blogs also held a smaller lead in the health and medicine category (11% and 7%, compared to 4% and 6%, respectively).

Other Findings

  • 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. This was true of 13% of the top stories on blogs and 9% on YouTube. In the mainstream press, on the other hand, fully 50% of the top five stories one week remained a top story a week later.
  • Politics 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 US government or politics, often accompanied by emphatic personal analysis or evaluations. These topics were even more prevalent among news videos on YouTube, where they accounted for 21% of all top stories. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 2009 protests in Iran.
  • The most popular news videos on YouTube, meanwhile, stood out for having a broader international mix. Twenty-six percent 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.

Americans Get News on Multiple Platforms
The overwhelming majority of Americans (92%) use multiple platforms to get news on a typical day, according to previous data from the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Americans get their news from a combination of on- and offline sources, including national TV, local TV, the internet, local newspapers, radio, and national newspapers. Six in ten Americans (59%) get news from a combination of online and offline sources on a typical day, and the internet is now the third most popular news platform, behind local television news and national television news.

Forty-six percent of Americans say they get news from four to six media platforms on a typical day. Just 7% get their news from a single media platform on a typical day.

About the Data: The study examined the blogosphere and social media by tracking the news linked to on millions of blogs and social media pages tracked by Icerocket and Technorati from Jan.19, 2009, through Jan. 15, 2010. It also tracked the videos on YouTube’s news channel for the same period. It measured Twitter by tracking news stories linked to within tweets as monitored by Tweetmeme from June 15, 2009, through January 15, 2010.

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