April 3, 2003

Embedded Reporters

Factualness and Sourcing

Factualness

A common criticism of the media culture today is that the press is too interpretative. Commentary and analysis are blended with news. Journalists flip flop in their roles between pundit and reporter. Peter Arnett in Baghdad famously crossed that line when he went on Iraqi state TV and offered his opinions on U.S. military strategy.

The reporting studied here finds that the embedded reporters, at least early on, focused heavily on facts.

The study examined each embedded report for whether the assertions in the story were mostly factual, analytical, or fell into the category of opinion or commentary. Analysis was counted as any interpretative statement that was attributed to a source or some reporting. Opinion was any assertion that the reporter offered on his or her own, without referring to reporting to back it up. Commentary was description that went beyond fact– more poetic narrative of what it felt like to be there. Each story was then tallied according to which type of reporting predominated.

Level of Reporting
Fact 93.5
Analysis 1.9
Opinion 0.9
Commentary 3.7
Total 100%

The stories were overwhelmingly factual, 94%. The next closest category was commentary, stories that attempted to describe the scene with some poetic license. Accounts that were largely analysis or opinion were negligible. It would be interesting to see whether over time, particularly when action is slower and reporters have been in the field longer, these percentages change.

Sourcing

Where were viewers getting the information from in embedded stories? Overwhelmingly, it came filtered through the reporters alone. In the vast majority of stories studied (77%), reporters were the only person viewers heard from.

This was even truer on the broadcast networks, where 83% of stories featured only the reporter, compared with 71% on cable.

One reason, perhaps, is that with less time, particularly in the evening newscasts, the networks' embedded reports tended to be shorter summaries of the day's events. Interestingly, these summaries were often among the clearest to understand and provided the most context, Project analysts felt.

On cable, with more time to fill, there was a slightly greater tendency to hear from soldiers and other sources as well, in part because more of these stories touched on soldiers' reactions and feelings rather than focusing on summarizing the day's events.

Overall, the embedded reporters interviewed commissioned officers in 15% of the embedded stories. In about half that many, 8%, we heard from just enlisted personnel.

Cable was especially more likely to air stories that interviewed enlisted personnel only (7 stories in all versus 2 stories on the networks).