Top news vs. top chatter

The Pew Research Center’s New Media Index for the last week of January shows the blogosphere was more interested in a film shot by chimpanzees than President Obama’s State of the Union Address. On the flip side, it shows the State of the Union Address as the top story covered by the mainstream media. The report also shows that the iPad announcement was the number one news topic discussed on Twitter.

Unfortunately, mainstream media sources are likely to use this kind of report without any kind of analysis or context, and folks who blog and tweet are going to get painted as some kind of out-of-touch geeks again.

While I respect the Pew Center’s Excellence in Journalism project and I often find their research valuable, I can’t always agree with the evaluations of their data.

To run an apples-to-apples comparison of top subjects between mainstream media, blogs and Twitter doesn’t make sense. Those of us involved heavily in social media and blogs often think the world is running alongside us, keeping up with the latest in this new form of communication. The reality is very different though. Sure, Facebook’s numbers are through the roof and Twitter is still growing exponentially — but in the grand scheme of things, those involved in social media are still the minority in this world. Meanwhile, the mainstream press is just that: mainstream. That means folks who have never used social media or who are clueless to its power and attraction are still getting the bulk of their information from newspapers and TV. And, the news industry still adheres to keeping the masses informed with the most basic of information with the widest appeal. The State of the Union address certainly fits that bill more than Apple’s latest gadget or the next blockbuster from a band of chimps.

The blogosphere and Twittersphere are sharing news but they aren’t the primary sources of news. That’s because the users often are commenting on things both serious and sublime, important and insignificant. That means that comparing leading topics is difficult. There’s a difference between top news and top chatter.