Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Eating Your Media Broccoli

"Audiences are liars, and the media organizations who listen to them without measuring them are dupes," Derek Thompson tells us, writing for The Atlantic. "We" say we want national, local, and economic news and we don't care about celebrities... but what gets read? Stories about the "World Cup and a midwest tornado...stories about YouTube games and taxes...pieces about gluten and postpartum depression."

Unlike newspapers, news websites have the stats to prove what we read (or at least, which pages we visit and share). And there's a pretty big mismatch going on between the survey results (shown in the chart) and reality.

I think if I were surveyed with this list of news categories:

I would rank these types of stories like this, based on what I know I read in the newspaper:

  • Local (not crime, though)
  • Politics / National / Economy (I have a hard time sorting these three into an order, since they seem like the same category to me)
  • Health
  • Science
  • Arts
  • International
  • Fun/Weird
  • Entertainment/Celebrity
  • Sports
The graph doesn't include topics like language, family, kids, gardening -- maybe those go in the Fun/Weird category and I should move it up above International, in that case. They also don't include technology and "life in the age of the interweb"-type stories, which seem pretty common. I don't think that fits under science, as I think of it. In fact, I'd probably combine science and health as a topic, and put in one for Lifestyle.

So I guess I eat my media broccoli, for the most part. As the writer puts it:
The culprit isn't Millennials, or Facebook, or analytics software like Chartbeat. The problem is our brains. The more attention-starved we feel, the more we thirst for stimuli that are familiar. We like ice cream when we're sad, old songs when we're tired, and easy listicles when we're busy and ego-depleted. The Internet shorthand for this fact is "cat pictures." Psychologists prefer the term fluency. Fluency isn't how we think: It's how we feel while we're thinking. We prefer thoughts that come easily: Faces that are symmetrical, colors that are clear, and sentences with parallelisms. In this light, there are two problems with hard news: It's hard and it's new. (Parallelism!)

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