Data Wars?

The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple writes about CNN disputing something Pew did in regards to web traffic data…

The sub-headline on the 2015 Pew Research Center study (State of the News Media) is a morale-killer for the folks at CNN.com: “Fox News Is a Leader Online.” Under that section, Pew noted that in January 2015, FoxNews.com bested CNN.com in unique visitors:

Web traffic data taken from a sample month, January 2015, shows FoxNews.com leading the other two major cable news brands, according to data from the analytics firm comScore, with a total of about 55 million unique visitors. In the same month, CNN.com drew around 50 million unique visitors. MSNBC.com drew far fewer visitors (about 7 million) than the other two…

CNN doesn’t agree with the methodology and has asked Pew for a correction. Matt Dornic, a CNN spokesman, notes that Pew drew conclusions from one month of data for what’s otherwise a report featuring annual statistics. That’s not the only concern. In a fit of Web-metric geekery, Dornic argues that the data in the report:

Uses a custom entity, [E] Foxnews.com, for Fox News against raw site-level property metrics, [S] for CNN.com. This is not an apples-to-apples comparison since a custom entity may contain a collection of other URLs that remain hidden. As it turns out, we learned from our inquiry to comScore that Fox News’ custom entity is also comprised of a variety off-site traffic assignment letters (TALs) and, as such, is not truly the audience of foxnews.com but instead is assigned traffic from other sites that is reallocated back to Fox News even though the visitor did not consume said content on foxnews.com.

The figure for CNN.com used by Pew also fails to account for the company’s apps, he says. “The data significantly misrepresents CNN’s digital audience,” he writes.

Basically, CNN is saying FNC’s data lead in the Pew survey comes from the equivalent of ballot box stuffing. It’s an interesting concept but if CNN is going to make the charge, it needs to show exactly how much traffic is being reallocated. For example, if removing the alleged reallocated traffic from the results doesn’t give CNN the lead again then it doesn’t matter whether Foxnews.com gets reallocated traffic or not…it would still be #1.

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