Economist can’t handle the facts (about RT)

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Economist can’t handle the facts (about RT)
Most economists are good with numbers. It is, after all, a prerequisite skill for the profession. Thus, it's somewhat ironic that a publication called “The Economist” would be so inept with figures.

However, it's likely the numerical errors in their latest RT hit piece are more the result of a determination to prove a desired point rather than it being down to an actual mathematical deficiency amongst staff. 

To bring you up to speed, just a few days ago, a reporter from the Economist reached out to the RT press office with a few questions. This of course is very much in line with basic journalistic practices of fact-checking and due diligence. Answers were readily provided, in good faith.

However, of all the – independently verifiable – facts and figures provided by RT to the journalist, not a single one, nor even a fragment of a comment, was actually included in the article that appeared in today’s issue of the magazine.

Instead, the Economist writes that “RT has a clever way with numbers. Its ““audience” of 550m refers to the number of people who can access its channel, not those who actually watch it. RT has never released the latter figure…”

First of all, can we please pause and reflect for a minute on the sheer inanity of passing off a 5-year-old report as something reflecting the current state of affairs, including audience? Particularly in the world of media, where revolutionary changes take place in a much shorter time span.

Anyhow, while we’d love to take credit for our cunning practices in this regard, we don’t need to, because we have facts on our side. And the fact is, very clearly stated on RT’s “About” page, in plain English, the network’s TV channels are “available to 700 million people.”“AVAILABLE.” It’s been up there for years.

Also, contrary to the Economist’s claim, RT has repeatedly provided exact figures for its actual TV audience. According to a November 2015 report from Ipsos - a leading audience research firm - which conducted a survey of TV news consumption in 38 countries, 70 million people watch RT TV channels every week.

Of that number, 36 million people watch RT weekly in 10 European countries, and is among the top 5 pan-regional news channels. RT is also among the top-5 most watched international TV news channels in the US, with a viewership of 8 million per week. These aren’t numbers that RT dreamed up, but the results of an independent study by a top-3 global market research company. Contact information for verification is also readily available.

As a matter of fact, RT provided this exact data to the Economist! Not that the Economist would bother admitting this, because, to apply a popular saying, they wouldn’t want these facts to get in a way of their RT story. It’s much easier to lie about RT “never releasing the latter figure.”

Perhaps they’re really are ignorant about the world of audience research and ratings, because they follow up the aforementioned fake with the following: “a 2015 survey of the top 94 cable channels in America by Nielsen, a research firm, found that RT did not even make it into the rankings.” Here’s Nielsen 101: you have to pay to play. Or rather, you have to pay to be measured and included in the Nielsen rankings. RT chooses not to. So using the above statement to make a point about RT’s US audience makes as much sense as walking into a vegetarian shop, not finding any beefsteaks, and concluding that all the cows have gone extinct.

What about RT’s success on YouTube? Well, the Economist says not to worry about RT’s 4+ BILLION views (#1 among TV news networks) on YouTube because on the platform, RT “inflates its viewership with YouTube disaster videos.”

If the Economist had been paying attention to the Washington Post this past week, they might have noted that things aren’t quite as they wish them to be: for example, RT’s YouTube video of Trump’s victory speech received 3.7 million views, it’s live election coverage attracted 1.3 million views in on RT and RT America, and Putin’s statement on Trump’s victory got 2.4 million. And this is just a sliver of RT’s political video hits.

Since the Economist has a thing for ‘numbers’, let’s draw a small comparison. Trump’s victory speech on CNN’s YouTube Channel received about 495,000 views, BBC’s – a mere 33,500, and CBC News’ –about 1.3 million. So maybe the Economist can tell us if 3.7 million is a larger number?

Don’t want to watch Trump? Fair enough. Here are 10 RT political virals the YouTube MSM can only dream of.

What about RT’s website, what kind of scheme would the Economist try to deploy to minimize RT success there? Here, the magazine simply ignores the publicly available (and provided in an email to the publication) stats about RT’s website visits, which, at 119 million monthly (SimilarWeb, December 2016) places it well ahead of the likes of Al Jazeera, DW, Euronews, France24 and BBG (VOA + RFE/RL and other platforms).

Overall, the Economist article gives off the impression that its journalists didn’t bother to read the answers to their own questions, or sacrificed the facts in a maniacal commitment to its anti-RT diatribe. Facts really can be inconvenient that way.

Influence is a rather subjective concept that can be difficult to measure. Schizophrenic coverage of Russia, which has been plaguing the mainstream media for the last year, tries to position RT simultaneously as weak and as a threat to all humanity. Media-political establishments urge their stakeholders and audiences to not overestimate RT’s influence (hello, Economist), while emphasizing the need to spend ever more millions to counter it.

The Economist is of course entitled to its own opinion about RT's influence. But when that opinion is built entirely around the size of RT’s audience, the Economist isn’t entitled to its own facts.