Their “elite/legacy” cluster was the largest, including about 30% of the journalists covered in the study, with The Washington Post, NBC News, NPR and The New York Times among the major newsrooms represented.
A congressional journalism cluster included another 20%. The other clusters centered around CNN, television producers, local political news, regulatory journalists, foreign affairs, long-form/enterprise reporting and social issues.
In leading the study, Usher said she wanted to “describe the contours of what political journalism in Washington looks like and of the process of making news unfold.” Another goal was to better understand how journalists connect to and learn from each other and establish conventional knowledge.
Twitter seemed an ideal way to do that, given its unique role among journalists as a virtual water cooler, Usher said. “Most of the time, what happens on Twitter does not reflect the real world. But in the case of political journalism and political elites, generally speaking, what happens on Twitter is reality.” It’s an online reflection of their offline lives and work, she said, and plays a significant role in agenda-setting.
“So this was a particularly potent way of looking, at scale, at how ideas are exchanged, how people are making sense of things,” Usher said.
The “at scale” part is where Ng comes in. Usher’s research has focused more on qualitative research, primarily about elite U.S. newsrooms and how new technology impacts how journalists work. Ng, however, specializes in big data and computational social science. She saw particular power in applying those tools to journalists’ interactions on Twitter.
“With more than 2,000 journalists in this study, we could not observe each of them individually in real life. So we used their digital life as a way to understand how they interact with their peers,” Ng said.