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Unread Influence

Minnesota politics crossed a threshold when Michael Brodkorb was elected Vice Chair of the state Republican Party.  His name was well known to many people as a blogger for Minnesota Democrats Exposed (MDE), a site that has a name that pretty much speaks to its content.  To many, this signals an endorsement of blogging as a way to advance in politics.  Yet if you look closely at the political blogs here in Minnesota, you can see that the influence MDE enjoys is masked by an amazing fact – hardly anyone reads it or, for that matter, most of the other Minnesota political blogs.

We can get at least some idea of a website’s traffic from data provided by Alexa, a division of amazon.com.  They take data on site visits by people who have installed their toolbar and extrapolate it out to give a hint of traffic.  It’s not perfect, but it’s what we have.  Relative rankings versus all sites on the ‘net are going to be at least close.

I used the data they provide on “Reach”, or the percent of all website visits all over the ‘net in the last 3 months, to compare to my own stats to get an estimate of any site’s unique visits per month.  It’s far from perfect, but it’s certainly ballpark.  I went through all the important media sites I could think of to get a view of not just the political blogs but all the outlets that influence people’s lives.  It’s far from a comprehensive list, but you can look up your own faves and plug them in.

The caveats are many:  I could not include some important blogs such as MPR’s excellent News Cut because it is part of the MPR site, not on its own.  These are counts of “unique visits” which may include 1 to many pages before the reader clicks off into the gloaming, and are not page counts.  Similarly, one person who reads the same blog 4 times a month is counted 4 times, once per visit.  I have to say it again – the estimates of unique visits per month are only ballpark estimates, extrapolated from my own experience.

With all that in mind, here are some key media outlets in Minnesota, sorted by rank over the whole ‘net with their reach (% of all visits to sites), estimated thousand unique visits per month, and if they have a paper copy their listed circulation from the Minnesota Newspapers Directory.

est. visits/mon Paper
Media Outlet Rank Reach, % (unique) (k) Circ (k)
StarTribune 2,919 0.033200 1,532 400 (Daily)
PioneerPlanet 17,263 0.007840 362 200 (Daily)
CityPages 23,651 0.005340 246 112 (Weekly)
Powerline 37,664 0.004350 201
MinnPost 40,455 0.003190 147
St. Cloud Times 51,499 0.001920 89 30 (Daily)
Grand Forks Herald 68,715 0.001970 91 32 (Daily)
Duluth News-Tribune 74,915 0.001670 77 42 (Daily)
Rochester Post-Bulletin 96,330 0.001430 66 44 (Daily)
Minnesota Independent 140,351 0.001080 50
TC Daily Planet 147,842 0.000990 46
Mankato Free Press 197,029 0.000620 29 22 (Daily)
Barataria 245,247 0.000260 12
Bemidji Pioneer 268,537 0.000400 18 11 (Daily)
Politics in Minnesota 371,599 0.000340 16
Hindsight (MN 2020) 450,007 0.000170 7.8
Minnesota Dem Exposed 470,556 0.000150 6.9
Dump Bachman 805,765 0.000150 6.9
Shot in the Dark 1,199,179 0.000098 4.5
MN Progressive Project 1,258,550 0.000088 4.1
MN Publius 1,347,902 0.000081 3.7
Anti-Strib 1,709,368 0.000062 2.9
Across Great Divide 1,858,960 0.000060 2.8
Moderate Left 1,961,664 0.000051 2.4

Some of these sites are very professional and are doing quite well.  MinnPost, for example, is an online only news source that is now the fifth most visited in the state.  Personal projects and politics-only outlets are, on average, not doing as well.

MDE appears quite far down the list, with about 7,000 unique visits per month.  That’s less than half the unique visits racked up by the Bemidji Pioneer, which also prints 11,000 paper copies every day.  It’s a seventh of the traffic at Minnesota Independent and a tiny fraction of the traffic at the StarTribune. In a state of 4.9 million people, it’s safe to say that less than 0.1% of the population reads the site. If the Grand Forks Herald issues a stinging editorial on some topic, far more people will read it than if it appears on a blog – including this one.

Why do political blogs generate so much buzz in the media and the Republican Party if so few people read them?

Understanding the outsized influence or at least buzz generated by sites like MDE requires us to get into the motivation in the hearts of the other media outlets that report and repeat the message.  Motive is never a good thing to speculate, so caveat lector.  But we see a consistent pattern of media outlets injecting internet based tidbits into stories where they do not belong, sometimes destroying the unity.  There is a coolness factor associated with the internet that seems to be intoxicating.

Political blogs, in general, seem to fare well when they do a lot more than throw bombs or express opinions.  In fact, the list above seems to rank pretty well as Volume times Relevance, meaning that a site with a lot of stories or stories that mean something to people does well, and those with both do very well.

Sites that attract a lot of attention in the media often do so because they say outrageous things.  That may get you press, but it doesn’t get you readers.  If the local media would take a strong half-step back from all this for a moment, it would be obvious that overheated attacks are something like fairies – they would become invisible if everyone stopped believing in them.

More importantly, as President Obama tackles a very long list of items that need immediate attention, the diversions created by some bloggers take press away from the real work that needs our full attention.  The left, in particular, has a very strong vested interest in turning down the heat and concentrating on what’s important.  It’s not only good politics, it appears to be good for generating blog visits.  Isn’t that what it’s all about?

12 thoughts on “Unread Influence

  1. I always wondered why blogs never had counters up anymore. Now I know! Bet people are going to be real mad at you for telling their dirty little secret!

  2. I don’t think people will be mad at me, but if they are it’s not my fault. I think that low readership is a poorly kept secret among the bloggers already. Any backlash, of course, might be a chance to spike readership for Barataria so it’s not worth worrying about. It’s not like anyone is making any money at this.

  3. You’ve cast a narrow net. You’ve limited yourself to local political coverage. Some of the most influencial blogs with the highest readerships are at the national level (e.g. Huffington Post). Yes, I know I should “Think global, act local.” But I don’t buy that those interested in politics spend much time checking up on city council meetings or even our own nationally-minded governor’s actions.

  4. An excellent point, as usual, Bruce. Just for giggles I looked up the stats on HuffPo to compare to the other Big Dawgs. It’s about 1/3 the traffic of the NY Times, but about the same as the Washington Post. That’s impressive.

    Perhaps the real issue that I missed is that we aren’t focusing on local/state politics as much as national. Then again, I think the measure of Volume * Relevance is a score where HuffPo does indeed do very well. I’ll think about it some more, and thanks for making me do that!

  5. Good essay deserving of wider coverage. At times I get tired of Minnpost with the readers being so partisan. I also liked Bruce’s comment. Have either of you two wondered why the St. Paul School Board consists entirely of at large members? For discussion I wonder if some territory(s) i.e. eastside/phalen, highland, como may introduce more accountability, diversity, accessability? Mpls. is increasing their number of board members from 7 to 9 and having a mix of at large and territory members. Mpls schools can bcome quite political with northside vs. southside, closings near minnehaha, and neglect of the northeast.

  6. Thanks, Dan – readership was up a bit. :-)

    I don’t know why we went with an all at-large school board, but at the time (the 60s?) we had an at-large city council. It may have just been how things were done at the time the Independent School District was created, stripping the power away from the Mayor.

  7. Thanks – I’m not sure about the history, but I’ve heard a few things.

    Incidentally, we could get even more into these site numbers than they probably deserve and really get at how many people are affected by a site.

    If you have, say, 14k unique visits in a month and you post 14 entries, on average, it’s reasonable that you had at least 14k/14 = 1,000 people who visited. If each person read exactly once and left, that’s the number of people it takes. Call this ReaderMin.

    The maximum is, of course, 14k people each visiting once and then boggeying off. Call this ReaderMax.

    The geometric mean between the two is the excel formula exp((ln(14000)+ln(1000)/2)), which comes out at about 3500 people. That’s how many people I think see Barataria in a month.

    Keep in mind that this includes all the people that stray in who are looking for info on Barataria, Louisiana. It also includes the searches for Daniel Burnham of “Make no small plans” that get something semi-relevant (more than you might think). But I think it’s about right.

    If we got an article count per month for all these sites, we could estimate the number of people they touch that way. It’s a lot of work, tho.

  8. OK, I did some of them. Well, what I was a pretty slack job of estimating the number of articles per month (I was NOT going to count all the articles at the Strib!) and applied the formula that I gave above. Sadly, I can’t get an appropriate use of significant figures out of MS Excel, so this looks like these are exact number. They aren’t.

    But here is my guess as to how many individual people actually see any of these outlets in a month:

    StarTribune 44234
    PioneerPlanet 16182
    CityPages 15588
    Powerline 12698
    MinnPost 10974
    St. Cloud Times 6266
    Grand Forks Herald 6777
    Duluth News-Tribune 6293
    Rochester Post-Bulletin 6025
    Minnesota Independent 5254
    TC Daily Planet 4171
    Mankato Free Press 4047
    Barataria 3207
    Bemidji Pioneer 1846
    Politics in Minnesota 2026
    Hindsight (MN 2020) 1241
    Minnesota Dem Exposed 774
    Dump Bachman 979

    This is only a guess, but I do think it’s safe to say that less than 1k people likely see MDE. More than 5k read MNIndy and about 11k see MinnPost.

  9. Pingback: Lighter than Air « Barataria – the work of Erik Hare

  10. Pingback: Influence | Barataria – The work of Erik Hare

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