Pew’s Wonderful New Survey on the News (And Its Huge Blind Spot)

Posted by: in Communication Strategy on October 5, 2012

Pew Research Center on Getting News Online

If you are in communications, you need to stop immediately and read Pew’s new, extensive annual report about how Americans get their news, which has almost every fact about current news consumption habits you can imagine. Want to know which outlets are preferred by those who say they want fair and balanced news? Pew has the answer (Colbert). How about the most knowledgeable? Ditto (Maddow). Same with how many people are getting news from radio (33 percent) or from a online source (39 percent).

The key takeaway from the report, as many were quick to point out, is that there has been a huge spike in the consumption of news in a digital format, and an even more enormous spike in the consumption of news on mobile devices.

As extensive as the Pew data is, it has an enormous blind spot when it comes to online: it talks in depth about where we go for content and how we consume that content but spends very little time explaining where that online content actually comes from. With traditional media, knowing how you get your news says a lot about the actual information you consume: newspaper readers get newspaper stories; radio listeners get local news, talk radio or NPR; TV viewers choose from a finite set of news programming types.

But Pew doesn’t know what people who get their news online are receiving. Is it New York Times stories? Tweets from CNN? Web video of last night’s Daily Show? It’s a black box. Yes: we’re all consuming more news on our smartphones. But what does that mean? What kind of news are we consuming? There are ways of knowing with more precision, but you don’t get that from the Pew report.

(In Pew’s defense, it does ask people where they go for news online. But the top two answers are “Yahoo” and “Google,” neither of which actually creates much of the news consumed on their sites. And the details on what news we’re gobbling down on social networks is even more opaque.)

It doesn’t have to be that way. There are powerful tools and experienced analysts who can sift through staggering amounts of data and give increasingly precise answers about where people get their news, and WCG has doubled down on both those tools and those analysts. So over the course of this month, I’ll be working with Andy Boothe, a software developer, social media analyst and incredible thinker here to look at thousands of pieces of social media to determine exactly what’s driving news (and what we, as communicators, can do to maximize our opportunities in that world).

I’ll share what we learned when that analysis is complete. Stay tuned.

By: Brian Reid

Brian Reid is a managing director at W2O Group, where he oversees influencer relations. He is a former journalist who believes content really is king.

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