The latest News Corp-ABC stoush reveals the core components of reliable media analysis

The very public debate over research published by the Institute of Public Affairs contains important lessons for comms and PR professionals, writes Streem's insights and reporting lead Asha Oberoi. 

The past fortnight has seen the relatively benign world of media analysis thrust into the spotlight after the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) published research into mentions of ‘News Corp’ or ‘Murdoch’ on the ABC.

The research sparked multiple stories in News Corp’s The Australian, one in The Guardian, coverage on ABC’s Media Watch, and a public slanging-match over the quality of the data. While disagreements between the ABC and News Corp are nothing new, there are multiple lessons in this episode for communications and PR professionals who increasingly rely on media data in their daily work.

Most companies now take a data-led approach to refining their earned media strategies, which is why ensuring the integrity of the data is paramount to setting the right strategic course. Experienced analysts who work in this field have a definite advantage in knowing the common pitfalls and being able to interpret data quickly and accurately.

In this case, the IPA apologised when it was found that about 200 of the reported 1,700 mentions contained false-positive mentions, such as for the Murdoch Institute instead of Rupert Murdoch.

False-positives are a common failing within analysis which is why the use of Boolean operators such as “AND”, “OR” and in particular “NOT” (eg NOT “Murdoch Institute”) is essential to capturing accurate results. Getting search queries right often takes time but it’s invariably time well spent.

The wider debate about the merits of the IPA data has focused on duplication and the fact that it included syndication across the ABC’s wide range of regional stations. This approach, the ABC stated, was “not statistically valid”.

There is nothing wrong with counting total media mentions – it’s a measure used by communications and PR professionals in Australia every day. After all, everyone loves a big number, especially when presenting to the boss. But it all comes down to clearly articulating what it is you’re showing.

There’s no question syndication has a massive impact on media volumes. If, for example, an article is published on any Australian Community Media regional website, it is generally syndicated to more than 100 sister publications – even if it doesn’t get used prominently on more than one site.

When you’re looking at media volume data, be it from your media monitoring provider or a PR agency you’ve engaged, there are a number of questions you should always be asking in order to fully understand the media volume figures you are being presented.

  1. What search queries were used to obtain these figures?

  2. What sources were included in the analysis?

  3. Does it show media mentions or the number of media items?

  4. How is syndication being treated? Is it included or removed?

  5. Did these numbers undergo any quality control? If so, what percentage of items?

Keep in mind that volume metrics alone never tell the whole story, without analysis of the prominence of the coverage, sentiment, key topics or comparisons to competitors.

Media analysis might appear to be a numbers game, but the majority of hard work happens outside the spreadsheet, from the moment you set the initial search queries to adequately labelling the final charts, and most importantly being able to articulate credible insights from your research.

Asha Oberoi is the insights and reporting lead at Streem.


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