Parsing Election Day Media - How the Midterms Message Varied by Platform
The media serve several functions when it comes to coverage of election results, whether it is the mainstream press engaged in reporting news or citizens using technology to share and participate in it. The most basic function is to report the vote. Another more complex task is to assign some meaning to those results, to fashion a narrative that resets the political landscape and leans forward toward the next election cycle.
A new study finds that no single unifying 2010 election-day message reverberated through the news ecosystem—even with results as decisive as those on Nov. 2.
These are among the findings of a new report by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism of election coverage on four distinct media platforms, produced in conjunction with social media analysis technology from Crimson Hexagon.
A basic narrative of historic Republican gains and the voters’ rebuke to Democrats certainly gained traction in the press. To some extent, however, that GOP romp theme was balanced by projections about future politics and policy debates, a focus on the electoral process itself, and grassroots calls to action.
To some degree, different sectors performed differing functions: Newspapers, particularly on their front pages, offered synthesis and unified verdicts (GOP triumph). Television leaned more toward speculation and differing narratives (coming from talking heads). Blogs offered more ideologically oriented commentary and scrutiny of the process, while Twitter functioned largely as a clarion call to citizen activism and participation.
The findings also offer significant evidence that social media aren’t necessarily derivative of and dependent on the mainstream media. In this case, bloggers and Twitterers clearly went their own way, focusing on elements of the election that were largely missing in the mainstream narrative.
To do the study PEJ used three different methods to analyze four different media: newspapers, television, blogs, and Twitter. For newspapers, researchers looked at front page headlines from November 3rd, 2010 archived on “Today’s Front Pages” section of the Newseum website. For television, researchers conducted keyword frequency search using a software called Snapstream that recorded the three major cable news networks between 6 p.m. November 2 and 2 a.m. on November 3 and the three major commercial broadcast networks between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m. Finally, for blogs and Twitter PEJ used another technology provided by the social analytics firm Crimson Hexagon. The technology analyzes online media by identifying statistical patterns in the words used to express opinions on different topics. For this analysis PEJ looked at blog posts and Twitter on November 2nd and November 3rd. For a full methodology of the study click here.