I’m a bit poll happy lately, but before you get an itchy clicky finger, some background:
I recently re-tweeted this with my skeptic’s comment upfront:
To which social media consultant Shel Israel responded*:
Here’s where I’m going to depend on your honor to answer the poll question NOW, before reading to the end of this post.
Quit your whimpering about my lack of criteria or context. What is your first reaction?
At NYU, I get scolded with some regularity by my profs for not “defining my terms.” For example, I’ll throw around the word “propaganda” like pepper on my scrambled eggs. Surely we all know what propaganda is? Okay, so when I put it this way, it seems pretty stupid. Of course you need to explain what you mean by such loaded, history laden words. I blame my impatience to get to the center of the Tootsie Roll Pop. I digress.
To be fair, defining terms using only 140 characters on Twitter is tough. Yet, mainstream media (MSM) is, as we love to say in academia, “problematic.” I had not thought about this until Shel’s reply. My gut reaction to National Geographic is a long row of yellow bindings on my grandparents’ bookshelf, not the stuff of the masses and breaking news. I’d say National Geographic has a branding problem, at least with the Gen Xers. My baby sister, a 20-year-old Gen Y, likely agrees with me, although I should know better than to assume this. (Cate?)
Resisting the urge to devise a snarky twoosh (I’m a product of my generation. I snark, therefore I am.), I decided to a. poll my friends, then b. look up some online circulations to help me define MSM a little better. You’d think, working in marketing all these years, I’d have a ballpark number in mind, but most flacks and Humanities grad students are afraid of numbers. Oh, to be a quant jock.
My first stop: National Geographic. I quickly found their online stats, but not so for the print. No matter, online was my main concern. According to the site, they have 14.32 M unique global visitors. Whoa. Looks like Shel might be right. How does that compare to say, The Washington Post? Foul! Wait, you say, that’s an international daily newspaper, and not a fair comparison. Calm down, I just wanted to compare NG to something I thought was indisputably mainstream.
Plus, words like daily, weekly, monthly seem so dated in a real-time news world.
The Washington Post has 16.7 M unique visitors in a three-month average! I’m still in disbelief. How can NG’s monthly be that close to WaPo’s three-month average? With some trouble and registration, I found a case study at Omniture, the company providing the NG analytics. No real detail there. We’ll have to take their word for it.
Intrigued, I looked up my favorite business magazine. Perhaps a niche pub would compare nicely with what in my mind was still a niche “science” pub. My trip to Fast Company yielded nada on the online front–only print numbers. Same for my favorite brain food, The New Yorker. What are these companies thinking by not including online stats on their online media kit in an easily accessible place? I digress. Stymied, I clicked to Newsweek.com. Here was the real test, the ultimate mainstream magazine. Guess what? Newsweek clocks in at 5.1 unique visitors per month (?-tough to tell the time frame), well BELOW that of National Geographic. I officially stand corrected. Thanks, Shel.
(I realize there are many other criteria for shaping a definition of MSM, but in my mind, raw numbers of people, i.e. “the masses” pops up as the first question.)
*I’m still such a kid when it comes to social media. Whenever a Jeff Jarvis or Shel Israel Internet celebrity type responds to me, I freak out. Don’t they know I’m a nobody? I hope I never lose my sense of wonder at the power of the Internet to connect people and ideas in such a populist manner. Yes, yes, computers will be the end of us. I’ve watched BSG. But still, after working with rock stars at a venue for years, I became a bit jaded. Thus far, I’m still screaming over technology. Here’s to the interface, your router and great software.