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New program funded to measure media impact

Martin Kaplan and Norman Lear in 2007 (Photo/Courtesy of Lear Center)

How do we measure the impact of media and journalism on the world around us? In what ways does news engage diverse audiences? And when do stories have the power to connect individuals and inspire change?

An ambitious new project aimed at measuring the social impact of media is being launched by The Norman Lear Center at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. The center’s Media Impact Project is supported by grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Announced on April 29, the $3.25 million in funding over the next two-and-a-half years will establish the Lear Center as a hub for best practices, innovation and thought leadership in media metrics.

Welcoming the support, USC Annenberg Dean Ernest L. Wilson III said, “We’re delighted that Gates and Knight have recognized the Lear Center as a leader, and the Annenberg School as a center of excellence, in measuring media engagement and impact.”

The collaboration will help media organizations, journalists and social change-makers build on the power of storytelling through data and impact measurement.

Despite advances in big data, surprisingly primitive metrics are still commonly used to assess audience engagement with content and its effects on individual perceptions and behaviors. Page views, TV ratings, “likes” and retweets alone don’t reveal how media influences people’s awareness or actions. This is a challenge for organizations that hope to connect audiences with important social issues and support long-term change.

To address this problem, the Lear Center aims to develop a deeper understanding of media’s influence on social trends and individual behavior. A team of researchers, including social and behavioral scientists, journalists, analytics experts and other specialists will collaborate to test and create new ways to measure the impact of media.

Content creators, distributors and media funders can ultimately apply these techniques to improve their work and strengthen engagement.

Lear Center Director Martin Kaplan will serve as the project’s principal investigator along with Lear Center managing director and director of research Johanna Blakley as co-principal investigator. Key contributors will include USC Annenberg School analytics expert Dana Chinn, as well as an open source tool analytic development team headed by Carl Kesselman, professor of industrial and systems engineering at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and a fellow at the Information Sciences Institute.

The Lear Center is also recruiting project leaders, technical experts and members of a distinguished advisory board from across disciplines. In addition, partners in the private and nonprofit sectors will help advance the field globally.

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