If you actually listen to the full complement of news and information provided each day by National Public Radio and its local affiliates, you already know what Duke University researchers found when they did a “scientific” study of NPR’s Twitter followers.
If you can judge a media outlet by the listeners/readers who follow it on Twitter, then NPR is a little bit liberal – but just a little bit.
The Nation is a lot more liberal. And The Weekly Standard is a lot more conservative, the same study showed.
Of course, the researchers didn’t take into account the fact that folks of all political persuasions who are truly interested in knowing and understanding what’s going on in the nation and world read and listen to all sorts of media and commentators. So there are plenty of liberals following Ann Coulter on Twitter, and plenty of conservatives following Salon.
Nonetheless, the Duke study is getting a lot of attention this week in the blogosphere, so it’s worth sharing here for your consideration.
Here’s a bit of what Jeff Bercovici had to say about the study in his “Mixed Media” column at Forbes.com, and a link to the full column.
A lot of the debate over whether to eliminate federal funding for public radio is really a discussion about bias. Why should taxpayers foot the bill for something that’s a tool of liberals? say those who want to defund, like video espionage artist James O’Keefe. NPR’s journalism is as down-the-middle as it gets, counter defenders like “This American Life” host Ira Glass.
The latter may well be right, but the former aren’t totally off base, either: An analysis of NPR’s connections on Twitter shows it has the sort of network you’d expect to see from a left-of-center person or institution.
That conclusion comes from researchers at Duke University, who set out to see if they could use the social graph to accurately plot the ideological affiliations of political candidates. Using the voting networks of politicians to establish a liberal-to-conservative gradient, the researchers then analyzed the candidates’ Twitter networks — ie. who they followed and who followed them — and found the results described a curve that matched that of the voting records.
Next, the researchers looked at the Twitter networks of a variety of individuals and brands in the media business. The results were pretty much what you’d expect: A curve with right-wing people and outlets like Michelle Malkin and The Weekly Standard at one end, left wingers like Ezra Klein and The Nation at the other end, and BBC News and C-Span near the center point. The only surprises were how far to the left some mainstream entities, such as Katie Couric and the Washington Post, fell (although that would be no surprise at all to those who think the entire mainstream media is shot through with liberal bias).
Of course, the debate will continue over bias and federal funding for the media. And much of that is healthy, I suspect. But take a look at the Duke University “bias graph” and what it actually reveals. Most media outlets, as judged by Twitter followers, are pretty close to the middle – providing the perspectives of left, right and middle America.