2009/03/11

The sad case of the WaPo media critic

And then we have the very sad case of the WaPo media critic Howard Kurtz not understanding a really basic, fundamental issue concerning the media. Radio ratings technology is stuck back in the 1960s, with really outdated methods and technology. There's simply no way to accurately measure a radio hosts' audience. This problem could be solved with enough money, but there's no motivation for anyone to spend that money as advertisers really aren't all that concerned with exact audience figures and no one else really cares very much at all.
So when Kurtz claimed that Rush Limbaugh's ratings had doubled since January, he really wasn't basing that claim on anything more than guesswork. Neither Limbaugh nor the Limbaugh-backer who provided the original guesstimate would go on record to say that the claim that Kurtz quoted was anything more than a wild guess.
The suggestion has been made that Limbaugh's audience is probably comparable to that of Rachel Maddow's show on MSNBC. That would make sense as that would be consistent with "Bell Curve" theory, which holds that the audience for the extremes on the political spectrum would be about the same. That's not to say that the hosts are at all alike. Maddow is a cheerful, polite, humorous and well-spoken host. It appears that Limbaugh similarly appeals to the base of his party.
The traditional media sticks with the figure of 20 million for Limbaugh's audience because Limbaugh put that figure out many years ago and no one has spent the money necessary to authoritatively say otherwise. Maddow and Keith Olbermann both get about 1.4 million viewers for an average show. So instead of Limbaugh's audience jumping from 20 million to 40 million as Kurtz suggests, it's more likely to have jumped from 1.4 million to something short of 3 million. Of course, the very high probability is that it only jumped to 1.6 or 1.7 million.
Sadly Kurtz, who again is a media critic, is still defending his original estimate. So I guess we need a media critic to keep an eye on the media critic.

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