Today, Jon Kleinberg, Jure Leskovec, and Lars Backstrom probably experienced every serious scholar’s fondest wish and worst nightmare — their path-breaking article, “Meme-tracking and the Dynamics of the News Cycle,” [pdf] was written up in the New York Times. The Times article was pretty good, as these things go, but I imagine that the authors are now in the process, as Scott Rosenberg put it, of watching their nuanced and complex scholarship become a meme itself … a “the news media leads the blogs by 2.5 hours in reporting news” meme.
The best thing to do is read the report itself, though the Rosenberg post is a great summary with some cogent criticisms, and the New York Times article is, all and all, a good summary. Rather than rehashing the discussion sor far, I want to talk a little bit about some of my own findings which I think complicate the Cornell research.
This May, I presented my own research on news diffusion and the new news cycle at the International Communications Association (ICA) conference in Chicago. The research comes out of my dissertation fieldwork, and I’m quite proud of it. It’s also as different from the Leskovec et. al. research as it is possible to be when you’re addressing the same subject matter. The paper is also, as luck wold have it, in peer-review hell, which means that (as far as I’m concerned) while its publishable and public, put the powers that be haven’t decided that yet.
But after reading the paper, the New York Times article, and some caveats about the paper, I wanted to weigh in with a summary my own findings, which I feel stand toe to toe with the “Meme-Tacking” paper — even though you may not think so, because there were no computers involved.
I so I want to talk a little bit about what I did and what I found, and then talk a bit about quantitative and qualitative research.
What I Looked At
My case study was the first (to the best of my knowledge) academic study to analyze the diffusion of a single news story from the moment it was reported to the moment that it died, from within the newsroom itself in the context of the new media ecosystem. In other words, I followed the diffusion of the fairly small story of the Francisville Four, a few left-leaning Philadelphia homeowners who were illegally evicted from their home after posting “anti-surveillance” fliers in their neighborhood.
What did I find? Several things, all of which I think add complexity to the Cornell study.