The Twenty-Four-Hour News Cycle and You

We have all been personally victimized by the twenty-hour news cycle at one point or another; whether it is sitting in an airport and having to listen to outlandish theories spewed out by unqualified, attention-seeking newscasters to explain high profile court cases or sitting at home flipping through channels forced to hear a groundbreaking story about “Kimye’s” decision to purchase a black Range Rover rather than a white one.

The Pew Research Center recently conducted a survey of adults in the United States to analyze what channels average Americans are going to, to get their news at home. The data collected showed that while “local and network broadcast news maintained the largest audiences, it is national cable news that commands the most attention from its viewers” (Olmstead). This means while more people tune into their local and network broadcast news, the small few who tune into cable news are paying more attention to what information is being spewed at them than the local and network broadcast viewers. This reminds me of the classic collective action problem of the smaller groups of individuals being louder and more unified than larger groups of individuals. In terms of sheer numbers, local and network broadcast news take the cake. However when it comes to getting people to digest and potentially adopt the information newscasters spit out at them, cable news wins the gold.

Initially I was surprised by the results of this survey. I learned about how political scientists debunked the once-popular “minimal effects hypothesis” in my Intro to American Politics Class last semester. This led to a class discussion about the priming effects of the media and how the “infotainment” nature of cable news television has dire implications as it shapes the public’s conversation on what is happening around the world today. Learning this I suited up and hopped on the metaphorical slippery slope, assuming the average American was getting sucked into what CNN, Fox, or MSNBC were selling and slowly but surely he or she was turning into a mindless, robot of cable news leading to an apocalyptic final destruction of the United States.

While cable network news will always have the power to mold the types of questions people ask in the public discourse, there is something about local news that keeps the average American going back for more. This means the molding effect is not as widespread as one would like to believe. I can sleep easy knowing the average American is tuning into his or her local or network news channel and that apocalyptic destruction is not in the United States’ near future. So next time you are stuck in the airport with every single television blasting CNN, remember while you may be drawn into whatever provocative information Wolf Blitzer is saying in the Situation Room your local Channel 4 News Team is warmly waiting for you when you arrive back home.

Olmstead, K., Jurkowitz, M., Mitchell, A., & Enda, J., “How Americans Get TV News At Home.” Pew Research. October 11, 2013. Accessed March 25, 2014. http://www.journalism.org/2013/10/11/how-americans-get-tv-news-at-home/

A Closer Look at Facebook Friends

Motivational Speaker Jim Rohn said that “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”, but does this adage apply to online activity? Am I the average of my eight-hundred-some facebook friends?

Over the past few weeks I’ve been examining my facebook friends more closely than ever before. Sound a little creepy? Well, you’re not wrong. With the help and guidance of Meg Schwenzfeier I was able to download a huge amount of data about my facebook friends. This data included a lot of basic information like names, gender, ages and hometowns, but I was particularly interested in their profile pictures. Specifically I’m trying to spot trends related to the equal sign profile picture, which surfaced on March 26th 2013 thanks to a gay-rights advocacy group called the Human Rights Campaign.

In the process of examining those friends who adopted the profile picture, I’ve learned a lot about my group of facebook friends as a whole. At first, I was surprised at how many of the profile-picture adopters were female. But after looking at the clusters of friends in my network, from my friends from the all-girls camp I attended as a kid to the hundred-some girls in my sorority, I realized that my entire sample had a decidedly feminine bias, with a whopping 540 female friends and only 275 male friends.

However, the female-bias among my facebook friends is nothing compared to the age bias. Although facebook data (https://www.facebook.com/notes/facebook-data-science/showing-support-for-marriage-equality-on-facebook/10151430548593859_) suggests that the demographic most likely to change their profile picture was 30-somethings, the other stand-out was college towns. In fact, the county with the greatest rate of equal sign profile pictures was Ann Arbor, Michigan with a rate of 6.2%. So it’s not surprising that my facebook friends’ adoption rate stood at a little over the national average at 5.65%.

So am I the average of my facebook friends? As someone who adopted the equal sign profile picture, am I the average of that subset? On a superficial level, the data points to yes. My facebook friends are an overwhelmingly female, college-aged and liberal echo chamber. However, as I keep working with the data, I hope to find more nuances of which factors made my facebook friends more or less likely to adopt the profile picture.