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Brooks Wilson's Economics Blog: It’s the Horse Race

Monday, January 30, 2012

It’s the Horse Race

George Mason University’s Center for Media and Public Affairs announced a study covering 118 stories by NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox on the Republican primaries between January 1 and January 10 (“Study: TV News Bashes Romney, Boosts Horse Race”).  I found the experimental methodology interesting and a finding a depressing.

The press release covers their methodology which is designed to create a statistical control and an examination process that can be replicated.
The Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA) is a nonpartisan research and educational organization which conducts scientific studies of The Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA) employs content analysis to study news coverage. "Content analysis" is a social scientific method for producing an objective and systematic description of communicative material. In order to be scientific, such analysis requires explicit rules and procedures that minimize a researcher's subjective predispositions. Categories and criteria are rigorously defined and applied consistently to all material. Each system must be reliable, meaning that additional researchers using the same criteria should reach the same conclusions. Because it is both systematic and reliable, content analysis permits the research to transcend the realm of impressionistic generalizations, which are subject to individual preferences and prejudices... 

CMPA researchers have honed their skills on a wide variety of projects since 1987, making them among the best trained and most experienced at news media content analysis. Researchers examine news stories on a statement-by-statement level, recording all overt opinions expressed by either the reporter or other individuals quoted in the story. Each opinion is catalogued according to the source of the comment, the target, and the issue under discussion. Researchers do not assign overall positive and negative scores to entire stories, since such an approach fails to fully account for the nuances within each story. Individual statements are logged into a computerized database, allowing statistical analyses to fully describe the relationships among news sources, time periods, the focus of coverage and the tone of coverage.
Depending on the length and breadth of the study, CMPA's codebooks (which contain the categories and rules for coding) range from 100 to 300 pages long and include 20 to 50 different analytic variables. Research assistants are trained for between 150 and 200 hours before they begin work on a project. During the training process, researchers code sets of stories, and their work is compared to that of previous coders until a minimum reliability level of 80% is reached for all variables. That means that the new coders must reach the same conclusions as their counterparts at least four out of five times. For most variables, the level of agreement is much higher.
The story compares the number of positive to negative content of stories by each network for each candidate but that is not the part interested me. You will have to follow the provided link if this part of the story interests you. 

The researchers found that 105 major topics of the stories covered the campaign as a “horse race” and only 16 on the policies of the candidates. I assume that the news organizations know best how to maximize their audience and am left to conclude that their viewers would rather know about today’s poll, mudslinging, name calling and money raising than the candidates issue positions and the likelihood that these they would achieve their stated objectives. That is a sad conclusion.

1 comment:

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