Picking Fights Where None Existed
Maverick's new ad- Leadership not platitudes

Notice, Ignoring, and Impact

Yesterday, Carl Prine, writing as Action Hero Sock Puppet, made a number of comments regarding MSM carrying the torture room story in an effort to once again attack Blackfive. I've generally stopped responding to much of anything Carl writes, both because I believe it to be futile and because I find his fixation/mancrush/whatever-it-is on Blackfive (with splash on the rest of us) to be genuinely disturbing.

Futile, as the tactics used are those of a lawyer set on winning at all costs, rather than on establishing truth or participating in reasoned discourse: attack, when counterattacked with evidence, go to the periphery and attack minor points in an effort to raise doubt (not even reasonable doubt, just doubt) that can then be used to attack an otherwise unassailable bit of evidence/position. At best, it is a game for him and the time I spend playing his game is time I am not writing new entries or even trying to get to the backlog of stories and such from my embeds. I think I know where you would rather me spend my time.

That said, the comments have brought out a bit of the professor in me, so you can blame Carl for the suffering that is about to ensue. Suffer then, and learn some basics on measuring media.

For many moons, the holy grail for journalists, public relations, and advertisers was print coverage. For some it still is, but... Journalists wanted clips showing their relative talents and total placement for such was how legends were born. Public relations people wanted their clients to get favorable coverage or to turn bad publicity into good. Advertisers wanted to see non-paid favorable coverage of their business/products in print as that ties into the so-called "Rule of Three" and helped create positive associations in the minds of consumers.

The way this placement was measured was primarily column inches. To find out how much coverage you had, you literally measured how many inches and how many columns to come up with a total. The problem is, there is no such thing as a standard column. Paper A may use three columns across, while Paper B uses six, and Magazine C uses two. If you go into media research text books and articles, you will find several methodologies for creating a standard -- but there really isn't a standard standard of which I am aware. Myself, I always like the pragmatic use of square inches. Yes, I am simplifying this a bit, as this isn't a JM 100 course, and I am also not going to go into size of type and other factors that serious researchers will look at.

Along came broadcast media, and the measure for them was length of segment. A 30-second to 1-minute story is average (or was), two minutes indicates a more substantial story, and five minutes (almost unheard of before cable) was serious business. On the whole, you can still use this for most broadcast newscasts, though anecdotal evidence seems to show cable operations slowly moving away from this format.

So, it's the column inches and time that determine media impact? Not exactly. Position and repetition come into play as well. For example, 200 inches in section Z, page 24 do not have the same impact as 200 inches anywhere in the sports section or the front section. For pure gold, you want your inches on the front page and above the fold, no matter who you are. For broadcast media, timing substitutes for position. Fifteen minutes at 0200 hours is not the same as even 30 seconds in prime time. Also, you want to see how long a story/etc. stays in rotation. Where a story falls in a one hour or thirty minute news cycle also plays into impact. Stories that lead or come early have more impact and are much more likely to be seen/heard by the audience. There are different segments within a given 30-minute or 60-minute arc that are considered better than other segments. Marketing, advertising, and PR people spend a lot of time going over data to determine prime placement and impact. Repetition means just that: How often does a story repeat over a day/week/etc.? More repetition, more impact.

But wait, there's more. Audience and audience demographics also have to be factored in. Having the entire front page of the Georgia Mining News (made up for the example impaired) is not equivalent to having the entire front page of the Washington Times (not made up). Numbers have to be examined, as do the demographics for those numbers. As in, what type people read/listen/view each outlet? If the viewership/readership is primarily four-year-olds, or those trapped as a captive audience in airports or such, it really isn't going to have the same impact as an outlet that gathers corporate or governmental decision makers. It really depends on what audience you are trying to reach -- and a lot of money is spent each year trying to quantify exactly who comprises the viewership/readership of any given outlet.

Outlets take part in and/or pay for audits they hope will show maximum readers/viewers, especially in the most highly desirable demographics. Advertisers, marketing people, and even PR types spend money to buy a variety of independent reports so as to have good/better/best information so that they can target the right outlets at the right time to reach the right people for the right price. That there are games played on this is a given.

Print publications may make reference to secondary (or tertiary, etc.) readership from copies being left at coffee shops, passed around, etc. Problem is, no one has yet found a good and reliable way to quantify this effect. There are difference between total paid circulation, total circulation, or even total printed. Broadcast media can have a similar category in terms of multiple people being within listening/viewing distance; and, some outlets can claim the majority (or even the entirety) of traffic through a facility (such as an airport, for example) in a given time period when said outlet has an effective monopoly on broadcasting within said facility. Given smart phones, laptops and wi-fi, and other outlets and distractions, those who actually pay even a small bit of attention to a television in such a location is likely to be small.

Some good basic figures that pertain to journalism and journalism outlets can be found at The State of the News Media, and previous year's editions can be found there as well. There are other sites out there, but that is left as an exercise for the students.

Some general trends are that newspapers are not having a good time of it, both in terms of ciruculation and demographics. Newspaper readers tend to be older and increasingly less influential in terms of buying power and decision making. National papers have had quite a rough time of it of late: just look at what has happened to the LA Times in terms of readers and revenues, and a review of the NY Times stock prices (and other data) does not give a pretty picture. Smaller local papers still have a good bit of influence, but only in a limited area and the demographics there are not in a great trend.

Broadcasting is undergoing a bit of a shakeup as well, as the media specialization curve (media tends to trend from general to highly specialized, in a nutshell) hits full stride courtesy of cable and satellite feeds. Instead of the Big 3, you have the pretty good 300 (exaggeration, only slightly) as people focus in on more highly specialized programming such as multiple flavors of the History Channel, etc.

The Internet seems to have set new records in regards the media specialization curve as almost every aspect (WWW sites, blogs, etc.) went specialized with extreme rapidity. The number of people getting news from the internet, be it online media sites such as newspapers or television channels or from blogs or even from other sources, is growing in size and continuing to increase in influence.

Both broadcasting and the net "suffer" from small audiences on an individual program/outlet basis; but, this appears to be a function of people going for more specialized programming rather than any other cause. After all, you no longer have just three choices for a captive audience. The total audience is still very large, just picky.

So, did the torture story go unnoticed? No. Personally, I suspect that it was a slow news day and the terrorist bombing of the recruiting station factored in. Did it get pretty much ignored? Well, that is subjective but based on the few outlets and lack of repetition, I would say yes. Did it get the same level of play as the puppy abuse story? Not even close in terms of legs (repeating, folding into other stories, etc.), placement, and total audience. Some are still milking the puppy abuse story (and I agree with the final line there).

Now you have my thoughts, and probably more on media coverage and impact analysis than you ever wanted. Anyone other than Carl who wants to get into specifics and such, well, I am for hire. Otherwise, I plan to get back to posting that I want to do...