#UKelection2010 – what Nic Newman has and has not shown

I was at the launch of Nic Newman’s #UKelection2010, mainstream media and the role of the internet yesterday, and want to (a) applaud Newman for what is a timely, highly interesting, and useful overview of the role of various internet tools by parties and media during the 2010 UK election and (b) highlight a point made by Steven Barnett during the Q&A session.

In the summary section of his report (p.4), Newman writes

Online news sites were the most important source of election news for 18–24 year olds, ahead of television and printed newspapers.

There are two important qualifications here, first, Newman has not actually shown this, and secondly, even if this was so, it says nothing about who produced the news people found online (legacy organizations, pure players, etc).

On the empirical point, as Steve Barnett pointed out and Newman acknowledged at the launch, while online news sites may be the most important source of election news for young people, we do not actually know that they are.

This becomes clear when one follows the footnote attached to the statement, “Survey of media habits of 18–24 year olds for this paper: full details and results in section 7.” Newman’s survey–and he makes this very clear at the very end of the report (p.45)–is not a statistically representative sample, and was recruited via email and Facebook, with people already online self-selecting as respondents.

Newman has shown that a wide range of internet tools were used by both parties, media organizations, and ordinary people for a wide variety of purposes during the 2010 UK elections, but he has not shown that Online news sites were the most important source of election news for anyone.

UPDATE: Just one example of people not reading the fine print, from the International Federation of Journalists note on the report:

Online news sites became the most important source of election news for the “facebook generation”, ahead of television and printed newspapers.

Maybe, but we don’t know.

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