Friday, October 14

Passing On Success: U.S. Wins Gold; U.S. Media Snoozed

Scanning the major media headlines this week, one might assume that the United States is dead in the water. The economy is a train wreck. The national debt is out of control. The space program is all but shelved.

You have to turn all the way to the sports section to see a different story, page two for some publications. The United States team won the gold medal at the world gymnastics championships on Tuesday. It is the team's first world title since a 2007 meet in Stuttgart. And, the team did it after losing one of their top members.

Twenty years ago, this would have have been front page news for days and weeks. This year, it took hours before  many news outlets even knew they ought to be covering it. Some ran it as a sports headline only. And a few more, despite the story staring them in the face, spun a negative headline.

Slate: The United States women's gymnastics team keeps winning gold, but at what cost to the athletes?

Seriously? Electronic outlets were even worse. On America Online, for example, it featured 23 headlines. Not one of them mentioned the U.S. win. Neither did any of the 36 headlines on Yahoo. The Huffington Post ran a story, but it was nowhere near the front page with several dozen others featured instead. In fact, the publication is too busy taking on evil corporate types who make a living off people who don't get fair wages — the irony.

What ran instead? Stories like the Corrupt History Of The Corporate Person, More Bad News For Anthony Weiner, and my personal favorite, Selena Gomez Rocks Glitter Short Shorts On The Carpet.

News Flash: U.S. Women Win World Title At 2011 World Championships.

These women represent some of the brightest, most focused, and dedicated athletes in the world. They represent physical preparedness and, especially important in gymnastics, the mental aptitude to win.

You can learn more about the gold win on the USA Gymnastics site. The men's team didn't do bad either. They brought home the bronze. Some media outlets covered it as a negative, but it's the first team medal for the men's team in eight years. They will certainly be contenders at the next Olympics.

I understand some of it, especially for media outlets in a digital space. According to Alexa, Yahoo's top regional traffic rank is in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Iran, and Nigeria. For The Huffington Post, it's the United States, along with Canada, Pakistan, and South Korea. And anymore, about 30 percent of AOL visitors live in the United Kingdom, Germany, Egypt, and Indonesia. There's nothing wrong with any of it.

In fact, along with the U.S., CNN is heavily viewed in Canada, Nigeria, and Mexico. Fox's top three include Argentina, United States, and Thailand. MSN is popular in Columbia, Mexico, and Belgium. (Please note: this does not mean that U.S. media isn't read by Americans. They rank high here too.)

Again, there is nothing wrong with any of it. You cannot secure a top Alexa rank with one country dominating visits. In fact, this oddball occurrence is one of the reasons the infamous 300,000 rank on Alexa test (for blogger outreach programs) is one of the biggest lies in social media and public relations circles. You have to look deeper if you are trying to reach a specific audience or region.

But that PR point is best saved for another time. The point for this post is that digital outlets are global outlets, and do not necessarily represent American interests, even if they cover American news. This is equally relevant for other countries too. You have to look beyond global rank, and even that is not perfect.

Two Possible Takeaways From The U.S. Gold Win Missed By Media. 

The United States media is becoming packed with Debbie Downers because negative headlines attract more eyeballs than positive headlines. (Ironically, blogs generally perform better with positive slants.) 

This isn't new. But what might be new is that the media isn't looking very hard for good news. And sometimes, it ignores it because a healthy percentage of their readers don't want to read about American success stories. (Much like Americans, in general, don't want to read about Iranian success stories.) 

Then again, maybe it is unique to this country. The United Kingdom's media outlets didn't underplay their star performers. Their women's team finished fifth and their media outlets covered it front and center, much faster and much more positively. Good for them. I think that is great.

But it does makes me wonder. What is the psychological impact of a country that punishes itself daily?
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