The more detailed online media monitoring statistics become, the greater sense of perspective we get about what people see as important.

We can never know which pages of a print publication someone reads and absorbs although we do know that cognitive dissonance theory suggests that we shouldn’t make too many assumptions about what they take out of the reading. But we can get a good handle on what online readers are absorbing — partly because the data is richer and partly because of the comment provided.

Media impact measurement has been an ongoing PR axe to be ground with ethical and effectiveness arguments being made about whether advertising dollar equivalents are appropriate measures and just how important media coverage is in many cases. Most of the clients I worked on wanted to stay out of the media rather than be in it, although marketing communications clients loved media exposure.

Chatting to an acquaintance from a PR company the other day he happened to mention a recent experience the consultancy had had with a client, Power Balance, distributors of a wristband that  AFL footballer Brendan Fevola, among others, wears.

The product has been controversial, mainly around whether it works or not. As an avowed rationalist deeply suspicious of all forms of old and new-age mysticism, I don’t believe it works but concede there may be some placebo effect.

But what made the story interesting were the online stats from The Age online midday report on the day the story was published. On that day (September 8 — the media coverage on which you may remember because of some events the previous day) it was the top online story with 31,763 page views or 5.6% of the page views to that time. The next story — at 28,640 page views — was the ongoing coverage of the federal election outcome under the headline “Federal election: Labor on a tightrope”. A murder trial, sport and assorted human-interest stories rated highly with only four stories among the top 15 being about politics.

Julia Gillard did make it to the top for video downloads over the whole the day but even then got only 13,434 page views, while Tony Abbott’s concession of defeat (well that’s how The Age described it on its website) got 2970 views.

There was also an online survey asking if people believed the Power Balance wristband worked or not. Only 13% of respondents said yes out of a total of almost 14,000 who responded. That means almost half those people who read the article were prompted to comment on it. By comparison Tony Abbott’s “concession” speech got about 20% of the numbers the Power Balance survey got. In another contrast, on September 7, The Age online poll on whether there should be another election gathered less than 11,000 votes.

What all this means is that on the day Australians were still reading about who had formed government and how Age online readers spent their time reading  about a new-age wonder and even participated in a survey about it.

Now it is possible that this just reflects Australians’ level of interest in politics. It might also be that in the 24/7 environment the final election outcome was now just old hat and that everybody had got all the information they possibly needed less than 24 hours before. But it does make one wonder whether our media outlets breathless reporting bears any relationship to what people are thinking, and what they might think, about the political events of the day.

Wars and the language problem: The author mentioned a couple of weeks ago the sort of language political conservatives (more and more a less and less appropriate term) used. The latest outburst from Tony Abbott on the charges against various soldiers, terming it a “stab in the back” is an indication.

So far as I’ve seen no one in the gallery mention the obvious source for the quote, although post-World War I history is perhaps very ancient history when one lives in a 24/7 news cycle (at the time of writing and before Charles Richardson’s  piece yesterday). And, on the subject of war, a Crikey reader chided me this week for pointing out that the neocons haven’t experienced war first hand. He said most of the population hadn’t either. But then most of the population haven’t been as quick to, or in a position to, send soldiers off to fight. That is the point, and the one most readers seemed to have got.

Peter Fray

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