A new study by Cornell researchers shows that traditional (old-media) news outlets lead the blogosphere by 2.5 hours when it comes to breaking news. It's a sign that the old guard should chill out about blogs and how they're destroying the news world.
The Cornell research took an innovative new approach to studying the news cycle. Instead of examining a few case-study pieces of news and extrapolating the behavior of the different media outlets from these limited cases, it used a powerful algorithmic search. 1.6 million mainstream media and blog Web sites were analyzed in real-time, and to see how news propagated through them all specific phrases were sampled from each site and compared to see how they appeared elsewhere—kind of a text-based fingerprint.
By comparing where these fingerprint phrases, or memes, first surfaced, and then watching for them to pop up elsewhere online, the Cornell team has uncovered how news propagates online. To see how this works, check out Barack Obama's "lipstick on a pig" sound bite's rise to newsworthiness in the graph above—it was the most prominent fingerprint phrase, or meme, found during the study. The main result is that it's still the traditional news portals who tend to break the news. Blogs followed up the stories an average of 2.5 hours later.
That's actually no surprise—blogs don't have hundreds of journalists embedded in hotspots around the globe, and don't get special invites to government press interviews. That's just the professional blogs—the millions of amateur blogs tend to be run by a single person, and they often follow the major ones in a kind of "me too!" information propagation wave.
And this is where the study gets interesting, as I suspect that these hoards of secondary blogs are diluting the average speed of the blogosphere's response to news. Big blogs, with professional bloggers who keep their fingers on the pulse of news tend to react pretty swiftly in my experience...but you don't have to trust my word—you can simply keep Googling to see how this particular piece of info spreads across the net. The study is also one in the eye for old-guard media moguls like Rupert Murdoch, who keep complaining about the blog's erosion of the old media's powerbase and how it'll have to react by charging for online content. It's a chant that's recently been taken up by European news publishers, who are making noises about laws against news aggregator sites which are supposedly stealing their business. This study instead suggests that tough news is now often broken online rather than in print or on TV, it's still in the hands of the same people. And the two-hour delay between the source and the following blogs is actually a lifetime in a news room.
But there's another interesting statistic revealed by the study: In 3.5% of the cases news broke on blogs first, before later being picked up by the news sites. Thanks to innovations like Twitter, and an increasingly professional blogosphere, it's this stat that CNN, the BBC and their ilk need to keep an eye on. As time passes it's only going to rise.