Monday, May 31, 2004
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Which blogs are read by the media?
Nothing spurs forward progress in research like competition. First Henry Copeland has his blog survey. Now I read that Eszter Hargittai is starting her own project on blogs and the media, and she's looking for a "way of finding prominent political blogs." Which means that now is as good a time as any to post the results of the survey of media professionals' favorite blogs!!
Between September 2003 and January 2004, Henry Farrell and I received responses to five survey questions about blogs, the media, and politics. Beyond my initial post, the survey was widely linked around the blogosphere, including Instapundit, CalPundit, OxBlog, Crooked Timber, the Volokh Conspiracy, James Joyner, Jim Romenesko, Boing Boing, Scripting News, Howard Bashman, Andrew Sullivan (OK, that was me when I was guest-blogging), and National Review Online. The result was 140 proper responses from media professionals, i.e., those that made their living working for a media outlet (or freelancing for more than one). 33 of these responses were from what I'm characterizing as "elite" media outlets -- defined as general interest intermiediaries of national standing for those interested in politics.* More informally -- these are the outlets read by the movers and shakers in the political sphere. Examples of this latter category include the Economist, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Time, Newsweek, CBS, CNN, ABC, AP, Reuters, and Bloomberg.**
Participants were asked to list "the three blogs you read most frequently." The result was a total of 391 total responses and 89 elite responses (some respondents provided fewer than three blogs).
What were the ten most popular blogs among all responses? In order:
The lineup looks slightly different when looking only at the elite responses:
Now, let's make the obvious caveat -- the responses are obviously going to be affected by which blogs linked to the survey questions. Neither Atrios nor Josh Marshall, for example, advertised the survey at all (they were asked), so their results are likely to be biased downwards. People were e-mailing me their responses, and I have no doubt that the only reason I'm on the list is that some journalists were just being polite. Also, since the survey took place in the fall, newly emerging blogs like Daily Kos are probably more read now by media professionals than they were last September. This is certainly true of Wonkette, which didn't exist last September.
That said, two counterpoints are worthy of note. First, while there is likely some rightward political bias, the magnitude of the bias might not be that significant. Several high profile left-leaning blogs did link to the survey (Kevin Drum was nice enough to link twice). Second, it is striking that if you do a Nexis search of the names listed above during the same time duration, you wind up with very similar relative numbers in terms of media mentions. So if the numbers are out of whack, they're not that out of whack.
Which leads to a provocative possibility -- Eric Alterman may have a point. In What Liberal Media?: The Truth About Bias and the News, Alterman argued that claims of liberal media bias are vastly overblown. Looking at the Top 10 lists, it's hard to deny the prominence of rightward-leaning blogs on the list. Marshall and Atrios are there, but they're a bit lower on the list than either Blogstreet's Most Influential Blogs or The Truth Laid Bear's Blogosphere Ecosystem have them. The elite responses are somewhat more liberal than the overall responses, but the difference is not terribly great. At a minimum, the media professionals that consume blogs seem to have far more centrist tastes than is often proclaimed by those on the right.
Before Alterman starts jumping up and down, however, bear in mind that there's another possible selection bias in the responses. If media professionals who seek out blogs to read are those who find mainstream media reporting unsatisfactory because it's skewed to the left, then these responses are not necessarily indicative of the political preferences of the larger media ecosystem. This came through in several of the responses. It's equally possible that liberal journalists are practicing The Godather, Part II dictum of, "keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer" -- i.e., reading blogs they disagree with politically because they want to know the counterarguments to their beliefs. This came through in a lot of the surveys as well -- and, of course, it comes through in the recent Pew survey of the media as well.
A lot to chew on -- want to play around with the raw data? You can access the Excel spreadsheet here -- all names, official positions, and other biographical information have been excised from the data set.
Finally, a big thank you to Crescat Sententia's Amanda Butler, who provided invaluable assistance in collecting and collating the data while displaying the utmost discretion.
UPDATE: Kevin Drum and Glenn Reynolds both have useful links on the relationship between the mediasphere and the blogosphere. This American Journalism Review article by Rachel Smolkin is particularly interesting. And Laura at Apartment 11D is working on her own project about how blogs affect political participation. Meanwhile, John Hawkins has a post on which blogs conservatives like to read.
* If you look at the raw data, you might notice that responses from the same publication were divided into elite and non-elite categories. In thise cases, it was because the non-elite respondent was a freelancer.
** A few more specialized publications are included in the elite category because they specialize in politics -- Roll Call, the Hotline, and Foreign Affairs fall under this category.posted by Dan on 05.31.04 at 10:08 AM
Very interesting. I was one of those who responded (and I'm pleased to see I merit "elite" status!) Not to nitpick, but why is the BBC not elite and Salon is, exactly?
A more substantive point is that you didn't mention the issue of selection bias. Nearly every one of your readers will have responded to the survey becuase they saw it on a blog, which means your responses are going to indicate more blog-friendliness than really exists in the media. It's like doing a phone poll and asking respondents "Do you like taking phone polls?" You're going to record a 100% "yes" rate among respondents...
Another note - there's another reason why the survey may not confirm Alterman's hypothesis. Many people, myself included, love to read things that give me a not-unpleasant spike of righteous indignation. Liberals may read conservative blogs to get this kick (and vice-versa, naturally).posted by: a respondent on 05.31.04 at 10:08 AM [permalink]
Respondent -- I defined "elite" media outlets as those "general interest intermiediaries of national standing" This is a judgment call, obviously, but I didn't include the BBC because it's not as visible in the US (this was the same reason I didn't include Voice ofAmerica).
I actually did mention selection bias -- but there are multiple forms of it, and I didn't mention the form you suggest. However, I wasn't testing whether blogs are generally popular with the media, but rather which blogs are popular among the universe of blogs. There I think I'm on reasonably solid ground.posted by: Dan Drezner on 05.31.04 at 10:08 AM [permalink]
I think you are right, but I think blogs with more entertainment like wonkette or This Bill Clinton Book Spoof will have more impact and eventually more readership. I was thinking, why would it be important what blogs are read by the media. Your readership makes more impact. Again going back to Wonkette. I think her blog being read by Washingtonian staffers does have an impact. Does influence agendas.posted by: Bill Clinton on 05.31.04 at 10:08 AM [permalink]
I have a different take.
Sullivan, Reynolds and Kaus are independent thinkers. Folks read because they are getting a thoughtful individual's take, and one in which supposed political co-travelers easily can come under fire.
(Instapundit also gets points for thoroughness, Kaus for placement.)
TPM, Kos, Atrios are echo-chamber crap. The Corner has some debate due to its collective nature, but too often that debate is: Are you a political R or an ideological one? There's nothing on those sites that you can't get from either a party briefing or an off-the-record chat with a party wonk.posted by: bonden on 05.31.04 at 10:08 AM [permalink]
I find your take on the 100% of people responding to a phone poll a little off. I hate taking phone polls but I often do just to get my voice on the ticket. If it's not anything seriously political I'll just screw with the telemarketer for fun.
"If you're not voting for candidate A or B, whom will you be voting for?"
/scrawlville.composted by: Gabe Posey on 05.31.04 at 10:08 AM [permalink]
Insightful, Bonden. A quick translation: those I agree with are "thoughtful individual[s]" and everyone else is "echo-chamber crap."
ABposted by: Angry Bear on 05.31.04 at 10:08 AM [permalink]
AB, you are correct that I was strong on the Kos crowd. But then again, I was only going from the list. If you want me to call a right-wing 'blog "echo-chamber crap," tee up Little Green Footballs or something. I'll swing. Or give me Kevin Drum, and I won't.
I read TPM and my mind says "partisan D interests." I read The Corner and my mind says "partisan R interests." Others have their clear, clear biases -- Sullivan, Reynolds and Kaus all have plainly-staked ideological hobby horses -- but they are driven by ideas more than parties.posted by: bonden on 05.31.04 at 10:08 AM [permalink]
I think your analysis is probably off. Given the recent Pew surveys and media behavior, a leftward bias is only too evident.
A simpler explanation is that the "elites" are reading these blogs because they are thoughtful, fair and give reasoned arguments for the "other side." As Sun Tzu said, "Know thy enemy."posted by: Fresh Air on 05.31.04 at 10:08 AM [permalink]
Nice note, and very interesting stuff. I've had some gut sense of this relationship for a while, but it's nice to see someone gather data to establish what's really going on.
However, I'd add this. Google treats blogs *very* well. If you Google a particular subject, you are just as likely to get blogs as you are to get encyclopedic entries or authoritative sources. This is great when blogs (like mine, I hope) provide links to those sources. But it's not so good if the blog just provides a rant. In any case, the effect on the media works like this: reporter gets assignment on new subject; reporter Googles subject; reporter finds blogs; reporter uses blogs to find entry points for stories. Judging by the number of media inquiries I've gotten lately on stuff like Abu Ghraib and private military contracting, it happens a fair amount.
What this means for the survey is that it might not count everything that matters. The survey seems to look at regular readership. It makes sense that the big blogs are the regularly read ones. But the survey doesn't really look at the effect of blogs on the way reporters gather information, or the way that blogs affect stories.
Sounds like a good project for a grad student in the field...posted by: Phil Carter on 05.31.04 at 10:08 AM [permalink]
I care only for results. The liberal media bias is currently outrageous. for instance, please note the way the Ernest Hollings flap is being handled. It’s barely got any attention whatsoever. There is doubt that if this US senator were a close ally of President Bush---his barely subtle anti-Semitism would dominate the headlines. Today’s media elite editors subscribe to this unwritten rule: a story is only important if it can be slanted to harm George W. Bush.
It is indeed possible that a number of journalists are beginning to read views which contradict the elite liberal gospel. But I’m worried about the here and now. How long will it take before even a few of them are converted away from the cause of radical leftism? Nope, the real telling evidence is the far more important Pew study. 34% percent of journalists describe themselves as liberal while another 54% self identify as holding a “moderate” perspective. What is a moderate journalist? This is an individual who merely intensely dislikes the President. A liberal is someone who is candidly a Paul Krugman clone.posted by: David Thomson on 05.31.04 at 10:08 AM [permalink]
What elite media do the top bloggers read ?posted by: mark safranski on 05.31.04 at 10:08 AM [permalink]
I monitor, er, read TalkLeft, Captain Kevin Drum, and Hit & Run. I used to monitor/read Hatrios and Lil' Mattie before I had problems with the moderators. I occasionally agree with H & R, but I mostly disagree with all of them.
Just because someone reads a left blog doesn't make them left, and likewise with the correct side.
I note that the mainstream journos read... mainstream blogs. Let me know when The Lonewacko Blog makes their list.posted by: The Lonewacko Blog on 05.31.04 at 10:08 AM [permalink]
If the elite media are actually reading opposing points of view that will redound to the right's benefit. Most standard journalism outfits speak predominantly to each other. I do detect a sea-change among the few, but not the many.posted by: David Hampshire on 05.31.04 at 10:08 AM [permalink]
Dan, I know you didn't mention this in your analysis, but I think an interesting story along the lines of "what liberal media?" is the emerging Judy Miller fiasco @ the NY Times. Several peices all seem to indicate that the Times sloppy journalism partly stemmed from Times editors trying to bend over way backwards to provide "balanced coverage". And look where that led us. So, while we are talking about media bias, I'd be curious to know what you think the slant of major news organizations are? (i.e. Fox, Wash Times, WSJ, NY Times, Wash Post, etc..). I'd guess that maybe the only real liberal media org there would be perhaps the Wash Post. Obviously Fox, The Wash. Times and WSJ lean heavily right.posted by: Jor on 05.31.04 at 10:08 AM [permalink]
Interesting, and no surprises in the top three. As a hack myself, I'd imagine both Sullivan and Kaus are regarded as having journalistic street cred by their peers, which would be a significant factor. Instapundit is linked to perhaps not because of his libertarian bent but his daily plethora of interesting links to stuff you might not have seen while copytasting the usual grist.
I started reading blogs as a kind of outcrop from news monitoring in the first place, because they tended to provide overlooked news and views from the metaphorical spike that keeps the daily news agenda pretty similar across the mainstream.
It is significant, for example, that I have seen more coverage of the Darfur atrocities as a result of tireless bloggers and their links than the mainstream has seen fit to provide. That should not be the case, but, sadly, such is the way of the world at the moment.
Thanks for the data, dd.
I think elite media members are curious as to what readers think of them as they have tin ears. They may not admit to looking for blog comments about them but probably do so to perhaps defend themselves. They cannot readily comment upon criticism as that would only encourage counter-comments, but I am sure they (or their staffs) are looking. I can just smell their ears burning.posted by: Shag from Brookline on 05.31.04 at 10:08 AM [permalink]
If the "liberal media" is reading the conservative blogs than is that an indication that they are getting both sides of view of issues and writing them up the way they view as correct and balanced?
It seems that most of the argument that the media is liberal has been focused on the fact that they are concentrated in places like NY and DC which are significantly to the left of middle America. The elite media reading blogs should be a good way to counteract that bias.
So I wonder, what is the current justification for viewing the media as having an inherent liberal bias?posted by: Rich on 05.31.04 at 10:08 AM [permalink]
>A quick translation: those I agree >with are "thoughtful individual[s]" >and everyone else is "echo-chamber
Not really. DailyKOs won't allow people to make comments who don't agree with the party line. In fact...the software at DailyKOS is designed for approved members to "vote" on whether each comment is "worthy" or not to continue to be shown. So it is an echo chamber. Now it is true that Sullivan and Reynolds don't even have a comment section...which is what KOS should do....except that KOS depends on his leftist echo chamber format. Understand that there is NO WAY that an opposing viewpoint can seep into the KOS echo chamber.
I do read DailyKOS to get an idea on how the Moonbats are going to spin any event.
Alterman's argument is poorly reasoned. Having studied polls for years in an academic setting, I can tell you that self-selection is the number one problem by far in surveys that rely on voluntary participation.
No major left-wing blogs mentioned the survey, therefore, that automatically will skew the results rightward. Next you have the fact that most reporters would never bother taking the damn survey at all. The only ones who might do so are those who are very absorbed in the blogging world. Since there are more right-wing blogs on the net, it stands to reason that people who read blogs a lot would be reading right-wing blogs.
posted by: Hank's Hill on 05.31.04 at 10:08 AM [permalink]
One more thing: the number of journo types who responded is extremely small and ought not to be considered as a reliable demographically or numerically.
Keep this in mind, folks. This poll is about as reliable as any other online poll. Its primary value is amusement and not analysis.posted by: Hank's Hill on 05.31.04 at 10:08 AM [permalink]
>So I wonder, what is the current >justification for viewing the media as >having an inherent liberal bias?
The justification for claiming liberal bias is, of course, the manner in which the media reports. If you get zero reporting on how much the Iraqis love their newfound freedom...and a thousand reports on Abu Graib...then you know that the media wants to hurt the war effort so they can get rid of a conservative president.
On the other hand...there are indications that the Abu Graib "scandal" has made it no longer a badge of honor for Sunni "insurgents" to go to American prisons in Iraq...and the insurgency has died down quite a bit since. Young Arab men don't want to be tainted by the idea that they were forced to conduct homosexual acts in the custody of Americans...so tough young Sunni males will choose to cooperate with Americans...and thereby hold on to their honor in a more reliable fashion (future insurgents who go to prison and get released will be seen as having become gay). Plus...Americans look good for having argued among themselves about the "scandal". Our media did the war effort a service by showing this. The American media did a similar service to the WW2 effort by getting Patton removed from command in Italy because he slapped a soldier in a hospital (the Nazis .
So...maybe our media reported on Abu Graib in order to *help* the war effort...making them less *liberal* (liberal is defined as being against American interests overseas).
My opinion: the media reported on Abu Graib in order to *hurt* the war effort (and get more soldiers killed) because they are more concerned about getting a conservative president removed from office than they are about democracy and human decency. It turned out that this treasonous media only inadvertantly helped the war effort as a result.
posted by: Jennifer Peterson on 05.31.04 at 10:08 AM [permalink]
By the way: I started to say something about how the Nazis were so shocked that the Americans would remove their best general from his command in WW2 (Patton in Italy for slapping a soldier)...that they chose to disbelieve the whole affair as a way for the Americans to trick Germany into believing that Patton was NOT going to lead an invasion of Pas de Calais in France in June 1944. In the end...the Americans tricked Germany into believing that it was all a trick.
Coming forward to the present day...we have no way of knowing whether the media reporting on Iraq hasn't been against American interests or not. At high levels...all the negative reporting could end up having had incredibly positive effects...even though I still believe that the rank and file reporters are often jerks who have wanted to see more dead Americans and a failure for democracy in the Middle East as a way of gaining points for their sick ideological points of view.
new to this blog, U of C grad student. and, ahem, not really a conservative at all. but very interested in what conservative bloggers & readers are saying...
thanks Prof Drezner, for running an open comments section. contrary to what some of you may have heard, it's actually pretty easy for a reasoned, thoughtful conservative to comment on the boards at many of the most popular liberal sites. potty-mouths do get kicked off fast, but serious debate is welcomed. it took me a while to find the conservative equivalent.
and then someone 'outed' him for 'inappropriately' commenting on a liberal board. his boss promptly told him, "if we catch you there again, you're fired."
just one of many anecdotes i can share about why some of us are with alterman: there is no liberal bias in the media anymore, if there ever truly was.posted by: ursa corwin on 05.31.04 at 10:08 AM [permalink]
Interesting survey but I can't take it seriously. I just left one of those `elite' media outlets after four years on two continents. The senior editors are overwhelmingly liberal in their outlook. A mid-level editor was asked why he was suddenly producing a raft of pro-Kerry features. He replied with a nod upward that he doesn't make the decisions. This company is considered one of the most conservative of the ones you mentioned. And the bias isn't restricted to the news staff. Once, when the chairman visited our office in London and told us about his visit to Congress, he inserted a crack about Bush's stupidity. It got a lot of laughs and caused a British colleague to pipe up that he was encouraged to see that the chairman shared ''our'' beliefs. But it was an uncomfortable moment for the chairman, for he had exposed, however briefly, the great lie.posted by: chip on 05.31.04 at 10:08 AM [permalink]
Jennifer -- the Kos post-rating system doesn't filter out opposing viewpoints, it filters out trolls. There is a difference.posted by: Erik Siegrist on 05.31.04 at 10:08 AM [permalink]
Erik, Jenifer is a good little member of The Party. You'll never convince her of that. Even copying and pasting threads of heated give-and-take between Kossacks and Kos won't convince her of it.
These are people who literally believe that there are three options in the world: you can agree with me 100%, or you are an incorrigible moron, or you are Eeeeville.
Self-doubt, objectivity, and empathy don't exist in their moral universe.posted by: bellatrys on 05.31.04 at 10:08 AM [permalink]
As a traditional conservative, and definetely not a neo-con, I look for good news on Iraq everywhere, including the rightwing press and blogsites, and even the righties don't report it! So don't complain, please, until you can point to sites that report Iraq successes in depth and breadth. Otherwise the complainers about 'liberal media' just sound like whiners who want someone else to do their work (which corresponds to my view of the bushies, who I regard as lazy people who are unwilling to do the hard work of governing and just want to use ideology as a shortcut so they don't have to think.)
I worked as a reporter for more than a decade. I did not see people going out of their way to put a liberal spin on the news at all. During the time I was a reporter in the South, the conservatism of newspapers there was quite apparent. The worst thing employees could do was mention unionizing. Anyone who said the 'U' word was out on his ear within days. Women reporters and minorities were treated as wallpaper largely. The best beats were nearly always assigned to white males. Babbitry was common, with the abuses of big business ignored. I believe that American journalists are largely typical middle-class Americans. The notion that there is some farm in Lefty Land that grows journalists is ludicrous.
Jennifer Peterson is asking that opinion replace facts in news stories. The facts are that the abuses in Abu Ghraib are real and significant. Furthermore, the Bush administration is mired in a mess of its own creation -- the occupation. The responsibility of the press is to report the facts about the occupation and the prisons, not to appeal to the far Right sensibilities of Peterson. (Or Leftist sensibilities, either.) She is right to read mainly blogs if it is opinion she wants, since most blogs consist of just that. But, the news out of Iraq is not good. If the press were to spin the facts the way she wants it to, it would no longer be reporting news.
If I return to journalism, what I write in articles and what I post to my blog will be quite different. The articles will consist of facts, as well as they can be determined. Opinion and analysis of those facts are what will appear on the blog. Too many people fail to grasp the difference between fact and opinion in the blogosphere.
So many other people have pointed out why Drezner's survey is not reliable that I'm just going to ditto them. It puzzles me that he hasn't admitted the limitations of his methodology.posted by: Mac Diva on 05.31.04 at 10:08 AM [permalink]
Jor, I work at The Wall Street Journal, and I challenge you to demonstrate how our news pages (as opposed to the editorial pages) lean to the right. Obviously you can take my insider view with a grain of salt, but I find our news coverage to be quite scrupulously middle-of-the-road.posted by: John on 05.31.04 at 10:08 AM [permalink]
Just thought I would throw in something that I think is indicative of the so-called 'liberal media'. I don't think it is as much the reporters as it is the editors, and their superiors.
I often like to read articles posted on the web as soon as they are first released, and then refresh once in a while and see how they transform.
Today I was watching the evolution of an AP story posted on Yahoo News, which was talking about the Iraqi delegation at the United Nations. When I first opened the article the headline touted that the Iraqis requested a continued US troop presence, and the meat of the story was about how the interim Iraqi government wants US troops to stay. It included quotes from Iyad Allawi in his national address to the Iraqi people, about how they should stop attacking coalition soldiers, and that the coalition troops were 'offering the blood of their sons' to provide security, despite continued attacks on them meant to drive them out.
Within about 20 minutes, the same story at the same link was highly transformed. The headline was then more along the lines of 'Iraqis demand more sovereignty', and the meat of the article was mostly about Iraqi disillusionment with American promises, and interviews with members of the Mehdi Army. There were a couple of lines buried in the article about the Iraqi request of continued coalition troop presence, but it was quite obviously no longer the focus of the article. There was no longer any mention of Allawi's national address.
Now, this article is no longer a top story on Yahoo News. It has been replaced by these:
I don't pretend to have any inside knowledge into how journalists operate. My closest encounter with the media was building a fictitious news facility for a movie prop. And I am not so sure that it is as much a liberal slant, as it is a slant towards controversy, which seems to be universally accepted as the key to high ratings. I don't recall there being a shortage of stories critical of President Clinton while he was in office. I'm not too sure a liberal slant can be blamed for the incessant reporting on the Monica Lewinsky story.
And I can understand why the story about US soldiers getting killed would make the top of the list. But perhaps one of the other respondants can explain to me why the significant story of the Iraqi UN delegation requesting a continued US troop presence, has been replaced by a story about Bush being late to his meeting with the Pope... and soybean rust. And especially why a story like that would be so transformed over time.
Best Regardsposted by: Gerald Fishel on 05.31.04 at 10:08 AM [permalink]
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