When the Information Preferences
of the Media and the Public Diverge

Pablo J. Boczkowski and Eugenia Mitchelstein
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The gap across countries

How close are the media and the public in different countries?

Percentage of public-affairs topics in the most newsworthy and most viewed stories on The Times (UK), The Guardian (UK), El Mundo (Spain), El País (Spain), Reforma (Mexico)El Universal (Mexico)Der Tagesspiegel (Germany), Die Welt (Germany), Folha de S. Paulo (Brazil), La Nación (Argentina), Clarín (Argentina), Chicago Tribune (USA), CNN (USA), Seattle PI (USA), and Yahoo News (USA).

Percentage of public-affairs topics in the most newsworthy and most viewed stories on conservative and liberal/centrist sites.

Percentage of public-affairs topics in the most newsworthy and most viewed stories on sites from Western Europe, Latin America and United States.

  • MOST NEWSWORTHY
  • MOST VIEWED BY CONSUMERS
  • NEWS GAP (IN PERCENTAGE POINTS)

The Gap and The Elections

How close are the media and the public during election and non-election years?

Percentage of public-affairs topics in the most newsworthy and most viewed stories on CNN, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Percentage of public-affairs topics in the most newsworthy and most viewed stories on ABC, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Percentage of public-affairs topics in the most newsworthy and most viewed stories on CBS, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Percentage of public-affairs topics in the most newsworthy and most viewed stories on WP, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Percentage of public-affairs topics in the most newsworthy and most viewed stories on USA Today, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Percentage of public-affairs topics in the most newsworthy and most viewed stories on ABC, CBS, CNN, USA Today, and Washington Post, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Percentage of public-affairs topics in the most newsworthy and most viewed stories, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Percentage of public-affairs topics in the most newsworthy and most viewed stories on ABC, CBS, CNN, USA Today, and Washington Post, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

  • MOST NEWSWORTHY
  • MOST VIEWED BY CONSUMERS
  • NEWS GAP (IN PERCENTAGE POINTS)
Click on media to see individual timeline

About The Book

The sites of major media organizations—CNN, USA Today, the Guardian, and others—provide the public with much of the online news they consume. But although a large proportion of the top stories these sites disseminate cover politics, international relations, and economics, users of these sites show a preference (as evidenced by the most viewed stories) for news about sports, crime, entertainment, and weather. In this book, Pablo Boczkowski and Eugenia Mitchelstein examine this gap and consider the implications for the media industry and democratic life in the digital age.

Drawing on analyses of more than 50,000 stories posted on twenty news sites in seven countries in North and South America and Western Europe, Boczkowski and Mitchelstein find that the gap in news preferences exists regardless of ideological orientation or national media culture. They show that it narrows in times of heightened political activity (including presidential elections or government crises) as readers feel compelled to inform themselves about public affairs but remains wide during times of normal political activity. Boczkowski and Mitchelstein also find that the gap is not affected by innovations in Web-native forms of storytelling such as blogs and user-generated content on mainstream news sites. Keeping the account of the news gap up to date, in the book’s coda they extend the analysis through the 2012 U.S. presidential election. Drawing upon these findings, the authors explore the news gap’s troubling consequences for the matrix that connects communication, technology, and politics in the digital age.

“By analyzing news as a dynamic system, Boczkowski and Mitchelstein can analyze the gap between the preferences of producers and consumers of news, show why that matters for a democratic nation, and discuss how we might address the risks associated with that gap.”
—Clay Shirky, Associate Professor, New York University

“Boczkowski and Mitchelstein use a fascinating methodology to explore a digital-content divide they argue mirrors profoundly different preferences between news creators and news users. The News Gap looks at enduring questions in important new ways. It will surely spark terrific arguments about what stories journalists should tell—and how they should tell them—in an age where audience analytics reign.”
—Joseph Turow, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania

“Boczkowski and Mitchelstein fill an important gap in our knowledge of how news markets really work. Through analyses spanning twenty news sites in seven countries, they elegantly and effectively describe the discrepancies between the stories news sites feature prominently and the stories consumers actually choose to read, comment on, and share.”
—James T. Hamilton, Professor of Communication, Stanford University

About The Authors

Pablo J. Boczkowski is Professor and Director of the Program in Media, Technology and Society at Northwestern University. He obtained his Ph.D. in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Cornell University in 2001, under the direction of Trevor Pinch. Prior to joining Northwestern in 2005 he was Cecil and Ida Green Career Development Assistant Professor of Organization Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management. His research program examines the transition from print to digital media, with a focus on the organizational and occupational dynamics of contemporary journalism and increasingly examined by adopting a comparative lens. He is the author of Digitizing the News: Innovation in Online Newspapers (MIT Press, 2004); News at Work: Imitation in an Age of Information Abundance (University of Chicago Press, 2010); The News Gap: When the Information Preferences of the Media and the Public Diverge (MIT Press, November 2013; co-authored with Eugenia Mitchelstein); Media Technologies: Essays on Communication, Materiality and Society (MIT Press, forthcoming in February 2014; co-edited with Tarleton Gillespie and Kirsten Foot); and over twenty journal articles and fifty conference presentations. His current major project, undertaken jointly with his doctoral students Eugenia Mitchelstein and Ignacio Siles, is an ethnographic study of the demise of print newspapers in Chicago, Paris, and Buenos Aires, as a window into larger dynamics of institutional decay.

Despite many heartbreaking seasons he’s still a loyal cuervo, like his compatriot Francisco.

Eugenia Mitchelstein is a PhD candidate in the Program in Media, Technology and Society at Northwestern University and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Social Sciences at Universidad de San Andrés. Her research program examines the interaction between new media, political communication and civic engagement, and her dissertation analyzes information acquisition and political participation before, during, and after the 2011 presidential campaign in Argentina. She is the author of The News Gap: When the Information Preferences of the Media and the Public Diverge (MIT Press, November 2013; joint with Pablo Boczkowski). Her current major project, undertaken jointly with Pablo Boczkowski and Ignacio Siles, is an ethnographic study of the demise of print newspapers in Chicago, Paris, and Buenos Aires, as a window into larger dynamics of institutional decay.

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