Thursday, April 29, 2010

Slate Joins in on the Echo Chamber Fun

The folks over at Slate are taking a look at the Echo Chamber/Daily Me study that I blogged about a week ago, and want Slate readers to chime in to see if they're politically isolated as they read online or, as per the hypothesis put up in the study, that Internet news soaker-uppers are actually pretty balanced in their approach to viewing news that doesn't necessarily agree with their political stripe.

What's fun is that Slate has a little profile checker readers can use to test their news isolation. As I understand it, the closer the number is to zero, the more balanced an internet news consumer you are. But they point out the caveat that the study authors point out as well: Just because a person is reading news that is in opposition to their political views doesn't mean anyone can tell what they're doing with those opposition views. More than likely, just getting angry or nodding their heads saying: "Ayup, them fools on the other side of the spectrum are still durn fools."

I took their little profile quiz, and this is the result: As far as Internet news reading goes, I sag in the middle. Here's a list of sites Slate knows I frequent, followed by their "conservative" score:

Newsbusters, 81 percent
Slate, 49 percent 
Newsweek, 49
Time, 50 percent
USA Today, 60 percent
New York Times, 40 percent
CNN, 54 percent

It's easy to see that I sag in the middle -- or am a moderate, as I like to say it -- since most of the sites I visit are middle of the road. That Newsweek isn't closer to the NYT liberally is surprising, but at least it does show up with a slight liberal slant. In the aggregate, readership avg on these sites 55 conservative, 45 percent liberal, which gives me an isolation index of -2, or about 2 percentage points to the left. So though I am a moderate, per my news consumption, I lean ever slightly to the left.

Add one site into the mix, however -- The BBC, with a conservative index of 22 percent -- and my isolation index pops up to a startling -25, meaning if I read BBC news on a more consistent basis, I'd be considered more liberal.

That's on my work computer. At home, the story is slightly different:

NewsBusters, 81% conservative
NPR: National Public Radio, 28% conservative
Slate, 49% conservative
Newsweek, 49% conservative
Time, 50% conservative
ABC News, 60% conservative
USA Today, 60% conservative
CNN, 54% conservative
MSNBC, 57% conservative

At these sites, the readership is on average 54 percent conservative, 46 percent liberal, per Slate's little calculator. That puts my at home isolation index at -8, meaning that, on the bell curve of all readers, my news diet is 8 percentage points to the left. So an interesting comparison there. I obviously consume more news, with a wider variety of viewpoints, at work.

But that doesn't tell the whole story. I, like many internet users, get my news from a wider variety of sources than those the study or Slate is willing to track. I get some news from aggregators -- notably and, so a lot of that consumption doesn't show up unless I happen to hit one of the tracked sites. Nevertheless, this is a fascinating study that deserves attention now, and a follow-up on what readers do with the news they view, later. Yet another interesting PhD dissertation topic.

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