Be honest. When given the choice between clicking on a story about Syria or Miley Cyrus in 2013, which did you choose?
Several news organizations, using new analytic tools, set out to find the answer.
The alleged chemical attacks on Syrian civilians and rebels were reported to have occurred on Aug. 21, a mere four days before MTV’s popular Video Music Awards aired live on Aug. 25. Thanks to analytics, media critics were able to analyze the type of news that attracted online readers.
In this case, more clicks went towards Cyrus’s twerks than to the conflict in Syria.
Outbrain is a tool that analyzes traffic data for 100,000 publishers based on stories by topic, such as “Miley Cyrus.”
New York Magazine’s article stated, “The day after the VMAs, Miley Cyrus stories accounted for 12 percent of total U.S. page views, while Syria stories accounted for 1 percent.” However, the magazine used Outbrain to report that overall, news sources such as CNN, Fox News, ESPN, and other leading publications, actually published 2.4 articles on Syria for every one article on Cyrus.
Another news outlet — Buzzfeed — used another tool to calculate interest in Cyrus versus Syria: Facebook Insights.
Facebook’s Keyword Insights tool measures how many Facebook posts and users mention a specific word, such as “Syria,” over a designated period of time.
Buzzfeed’s article, “Are People Talking More About Miley Cyrus or Syria? ” compared how much Facebook users were talking about Cyrus over Syria. Cyrus, according to Buzzfeed, was mentioned three times more than Syria the day after the awards, and the majority of Cyrus talkers were under the age of 35. As Cyrus’s twerks died down, the numbers became nearly the same on Facebook just five days later, after Obama’s speech addressing the events in Syria, Buzzfeed said.
The intense initial interest in Cyrus may have been short lived, at least in the U.S.
Overall in 2013, Cyrus was the seventh most talked about topic on Facebook around the globe, but didn’t make it in the top 10 topics for the U.S. according to Salon.com. Syria, on the other hand, was the fourth most talked about topic among U.S. users in 2013 on Facebook.
This all raises the question: How much should news organizations rely on analytics when making coverage decisions?