Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Shape Of the News Cycle

Yesterday, I wrote yet another post on Meme-tracking and the Dynamics of the News Cycle, in which I mused that the paper's findings didn't really allow to to ascertain how often the MSM "scooped" the blogosphere, and vice-versa. Zach Seward from the Nieman Journalism Lab, who has written extensively on this study, showed up in the comments and wrote:

One of the crucial things about this study is what you identify at the end of your post: We're not really talking about shoe-leather reporting on the part of anyone, blogs or mainstream media. These memes are almost entirely quotes from the candidates that were delivered in public and "discovered" by no one. Some news outlets merely took notice of them first.

He expanded on this in a J-Lab post, also from yesterday:

It’s tempting to view this chart [see above] from left to right — as in, who scooped whom — but remember that nearly all of these memes originated from public statements by the candidates, so it might be a question of which news outlets engaged in the most group think (to use Jay Rosen’s favored term for political reporting). When I spoke to Jon Kleinberg, an author of the study, he offered several interpretations, including what he described as a “two-step flow of influence.” Sites like Hot Air and TPM identify phrases of potential importance, while CNN, ABC, and Politico, in turn, transform the message into a meme. Then the AP conveys the conventional wisdom.

To paraphrase in more humble language then:

1) A phrase appears in some MSM publication/outlet.

2) It is commented upon/evaluated in the blogosphere--becomes a meme, as it were.

3) The MSM uses this commentary to guide its own coverage of the issues instantiated by the phrase/meme--ie. uses it as a means of evaluating the mood Der Volk, as it were, with blogs assumed to be representative of the mass psychology of the nation.

Not terribly noble sounding, and I am still trying to figure out how the less common contra pattern--where blogs peak before the MSM--fits into the picture.

But fascinating stuff.


Ti-Guy said...

But fascinating stuff.

As fascinating as watching a sound level meter. ;)

Everyone's editorial decisions are informed/determined by the structures and patterns they perceive across the media.

In a complex system, however, there is no proportionality of cause and effect. Insignificant events can have a huge effect on the entire system whereas momentous events can have no effect at all. Momentous events (such as those precipitating the 'memes' under examination here) are easily noticed; it's the small events that need to be watched for and reported on.

Although the participants and the tools change, the fundamentals of how information circulates doesn't. It just speeds up, for good and (mostly) bad. This kind of analysis doesn't really tell us anything new.

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