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Center Will Offer New Tools for Measuring the Impact of Media Beyond Numbers


LOS ANGELES - What is the difference?

If your question is like that one, more practical than philosophical, the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism may soon have an answer.

With $3.25 million in initial financing from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the college’s Norman Lear Center is about to create what it is calling a "global hub" for those who would measure the actual impact of media - journalistic, cinematic, social and otherwise.

"The metrics that have been used for this have been astonishingly primitive," said Martin Kaplan on a phone call last week.

Mr. Kaplan, the director of the Lear Center, will join its director of research, Johanna Blakley, as a principal "investigator" for the new enterprise. He spoke last week about the futility of counting page-views, "likes," and retweets when trying to figure out whether an opinion piece, a documentary film or a television show actually moved anyone.

"Those measure how many people saw something," he said. "That’s not the same as an outcome."

More than a decade ago, the Lear Center first engaged with measurement issues when it tried to track the impact of an episode of "The Bold and the Beautiful" about a character who was H.I.V. positive. The center monitored H.I.V.-related queries to the Centers for Disease Control immediately after the show. "We saw this huge spike in calls," Mr. Kaplan said.

The new university program, he said, is meant to be a clearinghouse for information from researchers around the world, and an incubator for new ways to measure what matters.

The idea, he added, is to provide tools on an "open-source" basis, putting socially minded nonprofit groups on a more equal footing with corporate advertisers, who use sophisticated, but expensive, measurements.


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Information in this article was accurate in April 28, 2013. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.