In the quaint old days when you had to turn a dial to change channels, Americans depended on the nightly news to make sense of the political landscape. But if that was your primary source of information this election cycle, you got shortchanged on information about the issues.
The three traditional major television networks of course are not the only source of news.
So now let’s look at news on the internet, and specifically news distributed on Facebook. According to CrowdTangle, a social analytics platform acquired just last week by Facebook, here are the top news sites by interaction, meaning likes, shares, and comments. Fox News was the most popular in the last month of the race, partly because of its size, but not entirely.
Now let’s account for scale. This chart looks at the number of interactions with the organizations’ posts on Facebook, divided by the size of their pages. It normalizes the data for the volume of posts.
Overall, readers on the right were the most engaged. Those on the extreme right were extremely engaged. Here you can see them flocking to Breitbart, a politically conservative website that is considered a dog whistle for the alt-right. Close behind is Buzzfeed, which has been producing some quality journalism but also has the advantage of LOLcats.
What happened to everyone else?
We were curious if the news organizations with less engagement were less prone to publishing stories that readers were interested in. So we looked at Pew Research Center polling on voter issues, and matched it up against The Electome’s findings as to how much coverage was devoted to each issue, and by what kind of news site. The Electome is a tool from the MIT media lab that uses machine learning, natural language processing, and network analysis. It collected data from Twitter, but it also scraped articles.
The news sites that are characterized here as being on the left are The New York Times, The Washington Post, Propublica, NPR (website), Politico, and Slate. Mashable, Fusion, Buzzfeed, Vox, and Vice represent the millennial sites. The Blaze, Breitbart, Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, New York Post, and Newsmax represent the right. They are aggregated to create volume to offset gaps in the data.
Terrorism and foreign affairs
Here’s what the Pew polling told us:
And here is what The Electome found:
The news coverage was out there
Sites characterized as appealing more to left or centrist readers were producing coverage on policy issues. The articles were written. But their readership wasn’t engaging with the information—not to the degree that readers of the right-wing media outlets were.
Meanwhile, Trump just named Stephen Bannon, the head of Breitbart, as his chief strategist, on equal footing with his White House chief of staff. From here on out, the media’s role of holding truth to power is to become more important than ever. So will being an informed reader.