Newspaper editors choose which topics to group the news under – and then assign a certain number of stories under each topic. But how does that compare to the topics that social media users tend to consume and share, and the frequency of that consumption? Research from a recent article in Journalism Studies reveals that social media users and newspaper editors often have quite different ideas about which news topics are the most important.
The study, conducted by Duke University academic Marco Toledo Bastos, looked at content from the New York Times and the Guardian over a two-week period in October 2012. Bastos found 19 broad section headings (including world news, sports, opinion, etc) and then looked at the distribution of stories among those headings — and how that compared to what was shared on social media.
To sum up the findings: “The results show that social media users express a preference for a subset of content and information that is at odds with the decisions of newspaper editors regarding which topic to emphasize,” said Bastos.
What were the major differences? Social media users preferred sharing opinion pieces, as well as national, local and world news. Newspaper editors tended to emphasize sports, the economy, entertainment and celebrity stories instead.
For example, newspaper articles on sports and the economy largely failed to resonate with social audiences:
- just one quarter of sport pieces published by the New York Times showed up on Facebook or Twitter
- only half of sports pieces from the Guardian made it to Twitter, and one third to Facebook
- articles on the economy from both newspapers were barely represented on social media
Out of the social channels studied, Twitter most accurately matched the distribution of news in both papers; other social media reflected more specialist interests. According to Bastos, his research provided “a good indication that Twitter reproduces the diversity of topics covered by newspapers.”
How did the social media presence of both newspapers compare? For the Guardian, which offers free news online, social sharing was much higher: 86% of Guardian articles surfaced on Facebook, and 96% on Twitter over the course of the study. The New York Times saw vastly lower numbers in terms of social shares, with 40% of articles showing up on Facebook, and 36% on Twitter.
Technology is changing how we consume and share the news. Social media can help editors (and publishers) learn which stories resonate with the public — and which are most likely to be shared.
The full study “Shares, Pins, and Tweets: News readership from daily papers to social media” by Marco Toledo Bastos is published in Journalism Studies by Routledge, Taylor & Francis.