Bitly’s innovative real-time interactive media map has been chugging along for some time now. The data scientists at Bitly Labs have chosen 40 media properties and given us a data-driven, real-time picture of the news we digest, and a mesmerizing look into our regional viewing habits.
Although the media samples aren’t comprehensive, they do represent a significant slice of the media we consume as a nation. If you want to compare cities and states where people favor satirical sites like The Onion for news, or perhaps Al Jazeera, this media map can help fill in some of the details.
The map isn’t based on the overall numbers a particular media outlet pulls in, but rather its disproportionate popularity, compared with the rest of the country. According to Brian Eoff, Bitly’s head scientist, this has created “some push back” from certain media outlets over Bitly’s chosen method of presenting the data, especially since the company “didn’t go for raw popularity.” The Guardian, in Eoff’s example, was happy because it “won” New York, while the New York Times was less happy because — according to disproportionate media attention — it didn’t “win” New York, even though it outstripped The Guardian in raw numbers.
What this means in layman’s terms is that while Texans don’t turn to Al Jazeera nearly as much as they turn to Fox News, for example, they do look to Al Jazeera in disproportionate numbers when compared to other states. And, as it turns out, this is actually the case.
By charting our media habits with comparative, disproportionate traffic, rather than raw viewing numbers, Bitly has given anyone who cares to take note a wonderful tool for looking at a live visualization of media data that is constantly updating.
The popularity of Fox News in the Deep South, and in other red states, has been confirmed. (We can say that’s a “no-brainer” now, thanks to good data.) As I’ve already touched upon, the Qatari-based Al Jazeera Network is oddly popular in Texas, and in Virginia. PBS and NPR do very well in the Pacific Northwest (Oregon and Washington State), which makes sense when you consider the liberal leanings of the heavily populated coasts in both of those states. The BBC, in relation to the rest of the country, does great business in California.
Quite a few states, like Colorado, Minnesota and Montana, show a strong (and slightly disturbing) preference for The Onion as a news choice. Perhaps folks in those regions are so fed up with partisan news bombardments that they’ve now turned to pure fiction instead. Texans love National Geographic, while the citizens of Ohio go for Wired. The British newspaper The Guardian also pulls in some decent numbers in Florida and Texas — which most people would probably agree are two profoundly un-British states.
In this age of tailored digital news, delivered to hyper-targeted audiences, it’s nice to get some insight into what our neighbors are reading and watching. Bitly is planning on adding a few more media properties down the road, like The Daily Mail and Upworthy, which should give us an even better understanding about how, when and where we get our information.
Eoff believes that “the rise of the superstar journalist,” such as Ezra Klein, Glenn Greenwald and Nate Silver, will most likely influence future media trends. These high-wattage journalists, rather than work for large media companies like they would have done in the past, are now “going off and starting their own media properties.”
By paying attention to what others are reading, and then reaching across our comfort zones for information — even if some of that information doesn’t always jibe with our personal or political beliefs — we’ll be better informed. And we’ll have a much stronger grasp of news events when compared to people who choose to wallow in isolated media niches.