Media analysts (and investors) are shitting bricks sideways over a new report that says that local news outlets receive less than one half of one percent of the average person's page views. (Hey, thanks you guys!) According to the report, "The big picture is that there is little evidence in this data that the Internet has expanded the number of local news outlets. And while the Internet adds only a pittance of new sources of local news, the surprisingly small audience for local news traffic helps explain the financial straits local news organizations now face." Whatever, shut up. The important thing here is that Portland was one of three markets (also Savannah and Cincinnati) that were chosen for extra-close surveillance, which means it's more than likely that between Sunday February 10 and Saturday March 5, Blogtown was unknowingly being studied. That means golden moments like Ezra's screed against the Oregonian's anti-house party stance and Denis' "Interview with the Poop-Seat Bus Driver!" were faithfully recorded, as well as over 25,000 of Steve's Justin Bieber posts. The results are pretty interesting if you're down for a little media wonking. And if you're a colleague who finds a quote like the one below a little too sobering, there's a reasoned critique of what the study really says here. Failing that, there's also a bottle of whiskey at my desk.
Cincinnati and (especially) Portland are the limiting cases in our study. If blogs add little in the way of local content in the cities where they are most successful, one would be hard pressed to argue that they make a substantial contribution to media diversity elsewhere. Thus, one full week of blog posts for the 11 Portland sites with 20+ subscribers were examined, from Sunday February 27th through Saturday March 5th, 2011. All together, these blogs produced approximately 27,400 words worth of content. That is slightly less than 4,000 words a day, small enough to be printed on a single page of a full size daily newspaper.
UPDATE: Okay fine, I guess they weren't watching us. Sarah Mirk got all "hell no" about the study and confronted its author, Matt Hindman, with the assertion that, for one thing, there are WAY MORE than 4,000 words on this blog over the course of a week, averages be damned. Hit the cut for his response and a list of the websites that were being watched.
Hi Sarah, Hope all is well in Portland, of which I have fond memories—I went to college at Willamette, and spent plenty of time there. The headline of the blog posting made me laugh [Thank you.—Ed.]. Sure, I'd be happy to provide the list (see below). The qualitative work, including the mini study-within-a-study of Portland, was mostly designed to be a reality check on the broader empirical analysis using comScore data. Still, as the report notes, an in-depth study of local blogs per se would entail different techniques and a broader survey, probably similar in design to the one on political blogs in my book.
I should also say that the Portland Mercury blogs were omitted even though they showed up highly in the search results and Google Reader subscriptions, because the FCC mandate was specifically to look at local news and information sources that were NOT affiliated with existing media outlets. Blogs that hadn't been updated in the past two weeks (as of early March) were also omitted. That eliminated many—and it seems to be a systemic problem. (For example, check out http://baynewsnetwork.org/, where most of the local blogs listed are actually defunct.) Sites that didn't create any of their own content were left out too (i.e. PortlandNews.net, which is an automated feed to other organizations' stories that include the term Portland—including stories about Portland ME, Portland TX, etc.).
It's also worth noting that, increasingly, Google has started personalizing search results based on location and personal information. This is a difficult methodological problem, since it means that two people using the search string may not see the same site of results to the same query string. And that seems to be doubly true as you look deep into the results pages. It's not clear how this might affect the sites found, though the potential exists—particularly if you had clicked on a site in the past off of a Google results page, thus telling Google that the site should be ranked more highly in your future searches.
Here are the local blogs in order of Google Reader RSS subscribers (as of 3/2011). Posts are also from Google Reader's reported numbers (also as of early March).
All of the sites with 20 or more subscribers were included in the content analysis, which was pulled from the RSS feeds.
One continuing area of study for me is how much traffic varies to Web sites over time—particularly the fact that the smaller a site is, the greater the proportional variance (i.e. + or - 50 % traffic in a month vs. + or - 10%). This pattern has big implications for local and hyperlocal news. So I'd be interested in your results. Take care, Matt
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