Topic of Study
How the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have covered the republican, democrat election campaign.
Population of interest
United States residents
Unit of analysis
An article on a daily post
All articles tackling election campaigns in the last one week
The last 7 days ranging from morning to evening
Code of data
For the purposes of this study, favorable coverage constitutes items that clearly promote the election campaign (usually editorial pieces and letters to the editor); refer to the occasion as using favorable terms without mentioning problems or criticisms; describe the candidate’s ability to influence elections; or highlight a character or organizer in a feature story. Neutral coverage constitutes items that show both the favorable and the unfavorable aspects of the elections. Pieces that mention the campaign period in passing or as an incidental part of another story, or articles that make simple statements of fact with no value judgments associated, are also considered neutral.
Researchers argue that when mass media emphasize certain topics, those receiving the messages will believe those topics are more important. It is argued that the “free flow of information is crucial to an active public sphere and, for the most part, media – first newspapers, then television, and now internet – are the major source of relevant new information.” Though the numbers of television channels have notably increased, “most individuals chose to watch the same small fraction of these channels.”
“Most neoinstitutional research focuses on identifying how organizations seek to convince others of their legitimacy by making structural changes or adopting new policies and procedures that symbolize their conformity to societal rules and values…the theory generally fails to identify the role an organization’s external communication has in the legitimacy process. While the New York Times is being labeled as “liberal” by the right-wing press, the Wall Street actually comes under fire from the Southern Poverty Law Center.
If selective exposure theory is applicable here, then people who perceive that New York Times and the Wall Street are biased to the political left or right will take the paper that they perceive jives with their own political bent. But will the coverage actually pan out for the reader? Will the conservative reader actually find more favorable coverage?
Of the categories that were selected for examination, tone presented the most need for informed subjectivity on the part of the researcher. Each piece was labeled “favorable,” “neutral,” and “unfavorable.” Pieces labeled “favorable” either displayed outright endorsement of the Tea Party movement on the part of the writer (as was the case of many of the editorials and letters to the editor) or uncritical news stories. Favorable news stories, for the purpose of this review, downplayed or omitted the controversy associated with the elections.
During coding issues of analysis were put into perspective. If fewer stories were to be coded, then it would make sense to narrow the unit of analysis down from the story level to the paragraph, sentence, or even word level. However, with so many stories to code in a limited amount of time, the coders were asked to determine whether the articles came off as strongly favorable or unfavorable on first reading; if one needed to count positive 19 and negative words, then the story was probably balanced and could be reasonably coded as “neutral.” Some editorials masked biting criticisms behind sarcastic praise. The coders were reminded to thoroughly read all of the articles and watch out for such subtleties. The Wall Street ran no briefs or corrections, and the New York Times ran very few.