Greta Thunberg vs the Wallabies: how you measure media matters

By anyone’s definition, the week starting 22 September 2019 was a big news week.

PM Scott Morrison was making headlines from the US, as was climate activist Greta Thunberg when she addressed the UN.

Greta Thunberg outside Swedish parliament. Photo: Anders Hellberg

Photo: Anders Hellberg

Meanwhile US Democrats announced a plan to impeach Donald Trump, and the British Supreme Court ruled Boris Johnson broke the law by proroguing parliament.

It was AFL grand final week in Melbourne, Emmys week in Los Angeles and the Rugby World Cup (RWC) had just begun in Japan.

So how would you define the ‘biggest’ news story of that week?

A conventional method would be to count the number of media items mentioning each issue on radio, TV, print and online.

Here is a count of selected stories from that week to illustrate our point.

But was the Brownlow medal bigger than Trump’s potential impeachment? Could the Rugby World Cup really be bigger than Greta Thunberg?

Not by any traditional journalistic measure, that’s for sure, which shows why prominence is crucial to understanding share of voice.

Here’s the same chart, but counting only stories that appeared within the 10 lead positions on the homepages of the nation’s biggest news websites.

Notice how drastically the RWC and Emmys fall compared to the first chart.

Online is tricky, though. Some stories might lead a website for four hours, others might slot in for five minutes before being bumped out.

If you add a time element to the above chart, it becomes even more useful.

Here is the number of hours these stories spent inside those 10 lead positions on the same group of websites.

To me, combining placement and time is a much more accurate reflection of what news media were talking about that week, with Thunberg a clear winner, ahead of Trump’s impeachment at number two. (The Trump impeachment news also broke a day later, so had less time to accrue items).

The beauty of comparing via this time measure is that it is also a defined, finite resource. So we can confidently say Greta Thunberg took up 4.1 per cent of the available media oxygen in the top 10 slots that week. In turn, this allows comparisons of stories between different weeks.

So what does this mean for companies trying to accurately capture their share of voice in market?

Whether it be brand mentions against a competitor, or share of voice within a key topic, you really need to be considering the prominence of the mentions involved.

That can be the prominence of:

(a) the publication or broadcast - the Australian Financial Review vs the Ballarat Courier.

(b) the story within that media - where did it appear? How much time or space did it take up?

(c) your mentions within the story - were you in the first 200 words or the last sentence?

There is no ‘right’ way to score these criteria. It will depend on your business objectives. If you are selling real estate in Ballarat, the local Courier is probably a better target publication than the AFR.

Similarly, you might be looking for coverage in a specific section - eg business - rather than seeking to be on the front page.

After all, as everyone knows, it’s rare to see a good news story on the front page.

Conal Hanna is a former journalist and editor and is now Media and Partnerships Lead at Streem.

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