Identifying Media Consumption Communities in New York City

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There are three main unifying factors that turn a group of people into a community: communities of practice, such as religious groups; communities of interest, such as sports fans; and communities of place, such as neighborhoods. One important aspect of media effects research is understanding media’s influence on community building. The rise of social and instant media has led to an increase in scholarship around the growth and reach of online communities of practice and interest. But there has been little analysis on identifying potential geographic media consumption communities. Are there communities within urban areas that prefer to consume news through certain media platforms? And if they exist, can we identify them?

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Building and analyzing issue-focused social networks on Twitter

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For media makers with aspirations of social change, we at HI have established a number of best practices for assessing impact. An important first step is to know yourself: set concrete goals for change along with realistic time frames for accomplishing them. The next step is to know your audience: identify the audiences that you hope to reach, as well as those most likely to be receptive to your message, and who can help facilitate your objectives.

Let’s consider a hypothetical film about the American healthcare system (see our previous case study). Although this issue affects all Americans, those already interested in and engaged with the issue are a more likely audience, not to mention potential influencers. How do we find such individuals? They may comment in one or many forums—on social media sites, in newspapers or the blogosphere, on television. As a first pass, we can look to a public forum that comprises overlapping interest networks in which healthcare is actively discussed: Twitter.

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Theory and the unseen forces of impact

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For documentaries that tackle social issues, financial bottom lines may not be the best indicators of impact. Social issue documentaries have other benchmarks of success: filmmakers want to know if their film reached its audience, changed the way people think about an issue, or inspired change in the real world. Our experience working with filmmakers has illuminated the unique challenges of measuring the impact of social issue documentaries. We see the need to clarify what “impact” might look like—without boxing in filmmakers by using overly-specific methods or definitions that don’t apply to a wide range of projects and goals.

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Measuring shifts in national discourse: a case study

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In a fundamental sense, impact implies a change in the state of a system. In order to measure the impact of a media project, then, we might compare the state of a system before the project’s release with its state after, and note any differences. In practice, however, impact assessment is much more complicated; establishing a singular cause for social change is notoriously difficult. Fortunately, new sources of data and analytical techniques allow us to observe forces of social change at larger scales and higher resolutions than ever before.

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