Over on Journalism.org, the site for Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, you can find weekly indexes for various types of media that track the trends of topics in News Coverage, New (Social) Media, Campaigns, and Talk Shows.
Their indexes are designed to provide news consumers, journalists and researchers with hard data about what stories and topics the media are covering, the trajectories of that media narrative, and the differences among news platforms. The PEJ presents this data through many methods. With News Coverage, percentages are based on a topic’s “newshole,” or the space devoted to each subject in print and online and time on radio and TV. For New Media, PEJ measures the topics that are of most interest to bloggers by compiling the quantitative information on news articles linked to by bloggers, and analyzes the results.
The New Media Index is a weekly report that captures the leading commentary of blogs and social media sites focused on news and compares those subjects to that of the mainstream press.
PEJ’s New Media Index is a companion to its weekly News Coverage Index. Blogs and other new media are an important part of creating today’s news information narrative and in shaping the way Americans interact with the news. The expansion of online blogs and other social media sites has allowed news-consumers and others outside the mainstream press to have more of a role in agenda setting, dissemination and interpretation. PEJ aims to find out what subjects in the national news the online sites focus on, and how that compared with the narrative in the traditional press.
For anyone even vaguely concerned with the effects of social and mass media on their everyday reality, this resource is an extremely valuable tool. PEJ presents their results in clear language, breaking down the information and using simple graphics to make the data even easier to understand.
For instance, take a look at their compiled data for topics covered by bloggers for March 28 through April 1, 2011:
Many bloggers took issue with the 5-4 ruling by which the Supreme Court overturned a jury verdict that awarded $14 million to John Thompson, a man who had been on death row for murder. Thompson was later declared innocent thanks to a blood test that did not surface during the trial, and he subsequently sued then New Orleans District Attorney Harry Connick, Sr. (father of the singer) for damages. The story was also picked up by the website Gawker, increasing its popularity online.
PEJ also compiles the data offered by Tweetmeme under the category “news” to study the trending topics on Twitter:
Three of the top five articles are technology related and show a definite focus of twitter users on social media itself. “Twitter Elite” was a Mashable article about a Yahoo Research study, which concluded 50% of the tweets consumed come from only .05% of all Twitter users.
Obviously, this sort of measure doesn’t account for public opinion, only the importance of the topic itself. Articles could be linked to either voice disgust or agree with its content. Still, it’s worth further study by anyone interested in the abundance of related disciplines within the humanities and social sciences.