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Small Independent News Outlets have Outsized Impact

Small Independent News Outlets have Outsized Impact

Small Independent News Outlets have Outsized Impact By Jo Ellen Kaiser at The Media Consortium   Google, Facebook and Twitter were hauled in front of Congress last week to explain how Russian bots were able to spread fake news on their platforms.  The concern—and a very real one–is that these bots and fake news sites had a significant impact on the 2016 election. Fighting fake news, however, is not the only or best way to ensure that our content ecosystem prioritizes real news.This week, a groundbreaking article in Science proves that a better way to secure a media system that works for democracy is to strengthen independent news outlets. The five-year long study published this week in Science, directed by Harvard Professor Gary King, shows that even small independent news outlets can have a dramatic effect on the content of national conversation. King, along with his now former graduate students Ben Schneer and Ariel White, found that if just three outlets write about a particular major national policy topic – such as jobs, the environment or immigration – discussion of that topic across social media rose by as much as 62.7 percent of a day’s volume, distributed over the week. Over 60 percent of the participating outlets were members of the Media Consortium, the organization I direct. Making Contact participated in the Science study, along with Truthout, In These Times, Bitch Media, The Progressive and others. Individually, none of them is a New York Times or CNN. In fact, too often, philanthropic foundations refuse to support these outlets because they are “too small” and “don’t have enough impact.” What this Science study proves is that when independent news outlets work together to co-publish stories on the same topic in the same week, they can have a mighty effect. We expected independents would have a big impact on national conversations, for several reasons. First, independents have strong and loyal followers who are eager to talk about the content they read and view at their favorite outlets. When Bitch, Feministing and Truthout together publish stories on reproductive health, they have a social reach of over a million followers. But independent media followers are not just thumbs-up people. They not only comment and repost on social, they donate to these organizations and attend events in real life. These are people who want to participate in national conversations about topics they care about, from immigration to climate change to school reform. So it makes sense that they would push those conversations on social. Second, studies coming out over the past five years have demonstrated that collective efforts make a bigger impact than stand-alone...

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