PhD Candidate at Northwestern University

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Fake News Analysis Published in Columbia Journalism Review

After the election, when concerns about "fake news" exploded, I decided to use online audience data to explore just how large the fake news audience is. The results were published this week by Columbia Journalism Review. The key findings are:

  • The fake news audience is tiny compared to the real news audience.
  • Fake news site visits frequently originate from Facebook.
  • The fake news site audience is not in an echo chamber. It's also exposed to real news.

Read the whole piece here (and check out the awesome visuals put together by CJR Senior Editor Christie Chisholm).

Researching Journalism in a Trump Presidency

I started grad school in 2013. At the time, when I told people I researched journalism, they responded with polite curiosity. I'd usually have to ask whoever I was talking to where they get their news and what they thought of those sources to prod them to see the subject as something that affects their lives. Unsurprisingly, all that's changed in the past year. Now when I tell people about my research, they shake their heads and wish me luck. 

I got into journalism for selfish reasons. I wanted an excuse to ask people questions, and write about them. When I realized the stability I expected journalism to provide no longer existed, I pursued academia because I thought it was another way to do what I wanted to be doing. I've never considered that my work might actually help people or institutions, because I find the idea incredibly presumptuous. But after one week of President Trump, it feels disingenuous, and a little cynical, to research the news as though I have no stake in what my final product accomplishes. And, like countless others, reading each day's headlines makes me feel so helpless in the face of so much awfulness. 

So now seems like the right time to be honest: I hope that the work I do helps journalism improve its credibility and its impact among an increasingly polarized and distrustful audience. I say that knowing full well that the problems facing journalism are many, the mechanisms by which journalism can change society for the better are ambiguous, and the chances of a researcher illuminating any of these in a meaningful way are slim. But at this moment, I'd rather come off as delusionally self-righteous than deliberately dismissive.

I've spent the past few years researching journalism's attempt to reinvent itself without a real dog in the fight. Now, more than ever, I'm rooting for its success.

ThoughtsJacob NelsonComment
New Article in JMCQ and Some Thoughts on Westworld

Over a year ago, I started working with Northwestern Professor Dan Lewis on an article about whether undergraduates are growing less or more civically engaged. He had compiled an impressive dataset that comprised surveys completed by undergrads throughout their college careers, looking at their offline and online civic engagement. He asked if I'd be interested in helping him make sense of the findings, and I was more than happy to do so.

That article ended up a finalist for AEJMC's Presidential Call, and was recently published by Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly (online first, in print sometime this year). It's the highest profile journal I've been published in so far, and I couldn't be happier about it.

It was also a great collaboration. In addition to working with Dan, I got to work with my good friend Ryan Lei. It was my first time co-authoring something with another student, and I'm glad to say not the last. Ryan and I are already working on another article about mobile news consumption, which I'll hopefully have an update about soon.

More importantly, over the holidays I saw Arrival and also watched all of the first season of Westworld. The former was a big disappointment, and the latter was awesome. In both cases, it comes down to the ability to stick the landing. Arrival's ending is terrible the same way Interstellar's ending is terrible. You can see the writers backing themselves into a corner, then struggling to get out of it. Westworld, on the other hand, gets better as it goes. It's thoughtfully assembled, meaning the twists surprise, but also ring true within the reality of the show. When I started watching it I thought I'd stick it out because of the terrific music and acting, but by the end of it I was totally invested in the story and thrilled by the ending.

Jacob NelsonComment
MediaShift! Berlin!

The last two weeks have had two pieces of great news and one piece of not so great news. First, the good: I got a paper accepted to the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR) conference in Berlin, and MediaShift was awesome enough to adapt my latest article into a post for their site.

The not so great news is I got my first article rejection. Even that ended up being weirdly pleasant, since every person I've mentioned it to has made me feel like I just joined a club in which most academics are members. That scene in Goodfellas where Henry gets arrested and all his gangster friends meet him at the courthouse to celebrate? It's been sort of like that.

Now I've got a few weeks to get a first pass at my prospectus done before I head to Japan for ICA. Not a bad way to start the summer.

News Audience Metrics Article Published in IJMM

My second academic article has been published, this time by the International Journal on Media Management. It uses comScore data to examine if a relationship exists between different measures of online news audiences. I wrote it with my advisor, James G. Webster. It's online now, and will be in print in May.

Here's the abstract: 

Audience ratings data have long occupied the attention of marketers and media managers. These are the “currencies” that support the operation of commercial media. Today, metrics can be derived from many large datasets, raising the possibility that new kinds of currencies might emerge. We argue that data on exposure are the most likely to support currencies, and that these might well go beyond traditional measures of audience size and composition. We explore the relationship between the most plausible contenders for audience currencies: size and engagement as measured by time spent. Contrary to the “Law of Double Jeopardy,” we find these metrics to be uncorrelated in an online environment, suggesting that each might have a role to play as a currency. We conclude with a discussion of how the political economy of audience measurement is likely to affect audience currencies in the age of big data.

Jacob Nelson1 Comment
2016: First Austin, then Japan
conf2016.jpg

This year is off to a great start. I found out last Friday that a paper my advisor and I are working on about the relationship between audience measures and online news sites was accepted to ICA, which means I'm heading to Japan in June to present it.

Then earlier this week I found out two other papers had been accepted to the World Association of Public Opinion Research (WAPOR) conference, which will be in Austin in May. I'm very excited for both.

Jacob NelsonComment
News Audiences Shift from Desktop to Mobile

The rise of mobile among digital news audiences has been swift and relentless, and in just the past half year has gone from being neck-and-neck with desktop audiences to nearly 50% greater.

An analysis I did of comScore data this summer reveals that the mobile news audience gone from being neck-and-neck with desktop audiences to nearly 50% greater. I wrote the results up for Digital Content Next, which published them this morning. The piece explores how mobile has surged ahead so quickly, and what the implications are for digital media economics. Check it out!

AEJMC, AoIR, etc.

A few things:

I'll be heading to San Francisco in August for this year's Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) conference to present a paper my advisor and I are working on about where people go for political news.

I'll also be presenting similar research in Phoenix in October when I head to the Association of Internet Researcher's (AoIR) annual conference.

Last, my advisor and I recently published a piece about measuring media audiences in Digital Content Next. The figure above goes along with it, and will make a lot more sense if you read it.

Jacob NelsonComment
Interview: Pitchfork Media's Finance VP

"Pitchfork happened at an incredibly important time where we were able to do something that few others were doing on the same scale and we were able to do it with relatively low overhead."

I interviewed Megan Davey, Pitchfork's VP of Finance, about the company's foray into music festivals and print products. Read the interview here.

Jacob NelsonComment
Interview: Clickhole, Onion Associate Editor Jamie Brew

 

Clickhole is The Onion's hilarious send up of viral content. I interviewed its associate editor about how a publication that specializes in parody finds its voice.

"There was a lot of concern this was going to have a short shelf life — it would do it’s thing, make fun of all this clickbait and then have nothing else to say. There was always a sense in the writer’s room that we needed to make this thing live longer than that."

Read the rest here.

Jacob NelsonComment
Interview: MoMA's Assistant Director of Learning and Arts Initiatives

I interviewed the Museum of Modern Art's Sheetal Prajapati for Northwestern's MSLCE blog: 

"A lot of my work is focused on working with artists short term and long term basis... The approach we’re taking at MoMA is unique nationally. There’s not another example of artists working with education departments long-term to do residency things for programming as opposed to art making or exhibiting."

Read the whole thing here.