September 11, 2005

Reporting Katrina

What's Getting Covered



A quantitative look at reporting on hurricane Katrina

Monday, September 12, 2005, 11:45 am Eastern Time

How are Katrina and its aftermath being covered? To get a snapshot, the Project for Excellence in Journalism has been regularly conducting keyword searches of Google News to trace the contours of what the press is focusing on and what it is not focusing on. This third update shows how the coverage has evolved over the two weeks since the hurricane swept through the Gulf Coast region.

Our second update of the search terms, conducted six days ago, showed that the city of “New Orleans” was the geographic location getting most of the coverage, more so than “Louisiana,” “Mississippi,” or even the “Gulf Coast.” President Bush continued to be the focal point of much of the coverage through last week, along with common, broader terms such as “rescue,” “looting,” and “evacuate.”

The third set of searches conducted today, shows New Orleans growing as the primary locus of hurricane coverage, though all coverage continues to grow. Over the past six days, stories with a reference to New Orleans have increased by 36%. Stories referencing Louisiana, meanwhile, have increased 15% and stories that refer to the whole Gulf Coast have increased by 20%. Stories about Mississippi have increased 24%.

President Bush continues to be a major topic in the coverage, particularly the political impact of the relief effort. Over the past six days, there has been a 34% increase in stories that mention the hurricane and President Bush. The past six days have also seen a substantial increase in the number of stories that mention the Red Cross (up 88%) and FEMA (up 131%). Many stories that mention FEMA have included specific discussions about FEMA’s director, Mike Brown, and how the agency handled the first few days after the storm.

In fact, during the second week of the hurricane’s aftermath there was a proliferation of coverage on the government’s handling of the relief efforts and who should be held responsible for what went wrong. The number of stories with the word “blame” has increased by 185% over the past six days, while the term “planning” has seen an increase of 100%.

The storm’s impact on the poor has also become a growing topic. Stories that use the term “poverty” have increased 88% over the past six days, while stories that use the term “damage” have increased by 68%. There has also been an 83% increase in the number of hurricane stories that use the word “missing” as more coverage becomes focused on the whereabouts of survivors and those who are not accounted for. And the media’s role in the story has become a hot topic– references to it have grown 152% over the last six days.

Finally, some of the focus of the initial coverage has decreased in emphasis over the two weeks. The “Superdome,” for example, is no longer a centerpiece of the coverage in the way it was over the first few days. “Looting” has only appeared in 18% more stories, while “rescue” has only seen a 2% increase after the initial waves of rescues that occurred soon after the hurricane.

These new searches were conducted between 9 am and 10 am Eastern Time on September 12, 2005.

The key word searches on Google News returned the following results:

Search Terms
Rough number of Articles Returned on 9/6
Articles Returned on 9/12

“Katrina”
“Katrina” and “ Louisiana”
“Katrina” and “ New Orleans”
“Katrina” and “ Gulf Coast”
“Katrina” and “ Mississippi”
“Katrina” and “damage”
“Katrina” and “rescue”
“Katrina” and “Superdome”
“Katrina,” “Bush,” and “president” “Katrina” and “Red Cross”
“Katrina,” “oil,” and “price”
“Katrina” and “flooding”
“Katrina” and “Nagin” (Mayor of New Orleans)
“Katrina” and “ Biloxi”
“Katrina” and “evacuate”
“Katrina” and “looting”
“Katrina” and “football”
“Katrina” and “hurricane Ivan”
“Katrina” and “FEMA”
“Katrina” and “Iraq”
“Katrina” and “missing”
“Katrina” and “tsunami”
“Katrina,” “vacation,” and “Bush”
“Katrina” and “ Hattiesburg”
“Katrina” and “public health”
“Katrina” and “African-American”
“Katrina” and “poverty”
“Katrina” and “gouge”
“Katrina” and “refugees”
“Katrina” and “levees”
“Katrina” and “planning”
“Katrina” and “media”
“Katrina” and “race”
“Katrina” and “blame”
“Katrina,” “angry,” and “officials”
“Katrina” and “Condoleezza Rice”
“Katrina” and “responsibility”
“Katrina” and “slow response”
“Katrina” and “Kanye West”
“Katrina” and “exodus”
“Katrina” and “relocation”

257,000 articles 104,000
139,000
97,900
52,400
33,000
34,000
29,400
37,800
34,100
14,200
15,400
18,200

16,000
14,000
13,000
11,200
8,300
10,600
13,200
9,970
8,250
5,200
3,470
5,270
1,440
2,420
261
26,200
13,100
8,120
7,390
5,000
4,600
3,290
2,660
2,660
2,100
1,630
1,540
1,290

347,000 articles
120,000
189,000
117,000
65,100
55,400
34,700
29,100
50,500
64,000
20,500
21,200
31,700

20,400
18,100
15,300
15,500
9,170
24,500
21,700
18,200
12,100
6,990
4,420
6,650
2,590
4,530
342
32,900
19,300
16,200
18,600
8,970
13,100
4,270
3,580
5,770
4,660
3,380
1,960
2,790

Tuesday, September 6, 2005, 3:00 pm Eastern Time

How are Katrina and its aftermath being covered? To get a snapshot, the Project for Excellence in Journalism has used keyword searches of Google News to trace the contours of what the press is focusing on and not focusing on. In this report, the Project has updated its search of Google News since last Friday's initial report (see below) to see where new themes have emerged, and what themes are disappearing.

Our initial searches from last Friday showed that Louisiana and the “ Gulf Coast” were the geographic areas referred to most often, with Mississippi also receiving extensive coverage. There was significant use of the terms “rescue,” “flooding,” and “damage,” as well as references to the New Orleans Superdome, the Red Cross, and to President Bush. Other elements of the story, such as race and class (as measured in the use of terms “poverty” and “African-American”) were referred to fairly infrequently. Less than one percent of the stories about the hurricane through last Friday used those terms.

After our next round of searches conducted Tuesday, September 6, we can determine that certain elements of the coverage have indeed expanded in attention over the Labor Day weekend while others have decreased.

Overall coverage of the hurricane continues to be extensive. Roughly 257,000 articles have included at least a reference to the hurricane or its aftermath. While New Orleans and the state of Louisiana were both mentioned about the same amount of times through last Friday, the focus on New Orleans seems to be growing as time passes. “ New Orleans” was mentioned an approximately 57,300 additional times over the Labor Day weekend while “ Louisiana” was mentioned only an additional 21,200 times. Stories on the state of Mississippi, which was mentioned fewer times to begin with, was mentioned only an additional 11,600 times over the weekend.

Other elements of the story also became much more a focus of coverage. The President’s role has continued to grow, perhaps in part due to his making two visits to the scene of the disaster. The terms “Katrina,” “Bush,” and “president” went from 24,000 mentions through last Friday, to about 37,800 references through today. That is an increase of 58% more stories. There were more than twice as many stories that connected Katrina to Iraq. Through last Friday, about 6,040 stories referred to both, while that number has increased to 13,200 stories through today.

FEMA and the public health risks posed by the hurricane have also become much more prevalent in coverage. References to “FEMA” have gone up by 47% since our initial searches, while mentions of the term “public health” have increased by 130%. The references to the terms “African-American” and “poverty” have more than doubled over the weekend as more stories are dealing with those elements of the hurricane’s effects. Stories involving the term “looting” rose from 10,100 stories on Friday to 13,000 by Tuesday, an increase of 29%. Finally, stories that included the word “rescue” increased 36%, from 25,000 to 34,000 articles.

Other key terms that were mentioned quite frequently though the first few days of the recovery lost emphasis over the weekend. Terms such as “damage,” “oil” and “price” together, and “gouge” became much less used over the weekend than during the first few days after the event, suggesting perhaps that as the enormity of the human toll of the hurricane became clearer, those secondary themes fell into the background.

Google News includes online articles from the past 30 days, so the searches included here returned stories that appeared at any point during that time. Our initial search was conducted four days after Katrina made landfall, while the search today was conducted an additional four days later.

These new searches were conducted between 11 am and 1 pm Eastern Time on September 6, 2005.

The key word searches on Google News returned the following results:

Search Terms
Rough number of Articles Returned on 9/2
Articles Returned on 9/6

“Katrina”
“Katrina” and “Louisiana”
“Katrina” and “New Orleans”
“Katrina” and “Gulf Coast”
“Katrina” and “Mississippi”
“Katrina” and “damage”
“Katrina” and “rescue”
“Katrina” and “Superdome”
“Katrina,” “Bush,” and “president”
“Katrina” and “Red Cross”
“Katrina,” “oil,” and “price”
“Katrina” and “flooding”
“Katrina” and “Nagin” (Mayor of NO)
“Katrina” and “Biloxi”
“Katrina” and “evacuate”
“Katrina” and “looting”
“Katrina” and “football”
“Katrina” and “hurricane Ivan”
“Katrina” and “FEMA”
“Katrina” and “Iraq”
“Katrina” and “missing”
“Katrina” and “tsunami”
“Katrina,” “vacation,” and “Bush”
“Katrina” and “Hattiesburg”
“Katrina” and “public health”
“Katrina” and “African-American”
“Katrina” and “poverty”
“Katrina” and “gouge”

187,000 articles 82,800
81,700
80,800
40,800
34,400
25,000
24,400
24,000
22,800
15,900
14,900
14,600
11,900
11,600
10,100
8,390
7,850
7,190
6,040
5,910
5,840
4,730
3,100
2,290
691
537
492

257,000 articles 104,000
139,000
97,900
52,400
33,000
34,000
29,400
37,800
34,100
14,200
15,400
18,200
16,000
14,000
13,000
11,200
8,300
10,600
13,200
9,970
8,250
5,200
3,470
5,270
1,440
2,420
261

We decided to conduct several more keyword searches today to get further comparisons of how often other concepts are being discussed. These searches were conducted between 12:01 pm and 12:30 pm Eastern Time.

Search Terms
Articles Returned on 9/6

“Katrina” and “refugees”
“Katrina” and “levees”
“Katrina” and “planning”
“Katrina” and “media”
“Katrina” and “race”
“Katrina” and “blame”
“Katrina,” “angry,” and “officials”
“Katrina” and “Condoleezza Rice”
“Katrina” and “responsibility”
“Katrina” and “slow response”
“Katrina” and “Konye West”
“Katrina” and “exodus”
“Katrina” and “relocation”

26,200 articles 13,100
8,120
7,390
5,000
4,600
3,290
2,660
2,660
2,100
1,630
1,540
1,290

Furthermore, a visitor to the PEJ site noted in an email that while New Orleans in general was getting a fair amount of coverage, not all parishes within the city were receiving equal coverage and much of the coverage included pictures of parts of the city without referring to the specific locations being discussed. To consider this observation, we searched for areas in and around New Orleans to see how often each was mentioned in a story regarding the hurricane.

Search Terms
Articles Returned on 9/6

“Katrina” and “ Jefferson Parish”
“Katrina” and “St. Bernard Parish”
“Katrina” and “ Orleans Parish”
“Katrina” and “Plaquemines Parish”
“Katrina” and “ Algiers”
“Katrina” and “St. James”
“Katrina” and “ St. Tammany Parish”
“Katrina” and “Tangipahoa”
“Katrina” and “ St. Charles Parish”
“Katrina” and “ Washington Parish”
“Katrina” and “ St. John the Baptist”

6,730 articles 2,650
1,270
267
174
158
157
154
102
30
25

Friday, September 2, 2005, 3:00 pm Eastern Time

Online search engines allow us to use innovative methods to track how news stories are being covered in real-time. The Project for Excellence in Journalism conducted searches using the search engine Google News to gain insight into how online coverage is framing Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

For instance, a basic search for the term “Katrina” shows the scope of the coverage, roughly 187,000 articles. Within that, certain angles of the reporting are more common than others. The state of Louisiana , as an example, is mentioned twice as often as the state of Mississippi . Certain cities are also getting more coverage than others. For example, the city of New Orleans has been referred to 81,700 times while Hattiesburg, MS, has been cited only 3,100 times.

Other searches reveal that the organization of the Red Cross is mentioned in stories three times as often as FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Stories about the hurricane refer to President Bush roughly 24,000 times, while stories refer to Mayor Nagin of New Orleans roughly 14,600 times. Roughly the same number of stories use the terms “evacuate” and “looting,” while a significant number of articles connect hurricane Katrina to other stories such as last year’s hurricane Ivan, the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean , consequences of the hurricane on football games, and the ongoing events in Iraq . A relatively small number of articles refer to the hurricane and terms such as “poverty” and “gouge.”

Google News is a search engine that uses computer algorithms to compile news stories from over 4,500 news sources, blogs, and other sites. The engine is updated constantly and by utilizing key term searches, allows us to conduct a quick and rudimentary analysis of how fast-moving stories are being covered online.

The below list of searches is by no means exhaustive, and the limitations of such an analysis are fairly obvious. New articles are posted on the web all the time and these searches reveal how often terms are mentioned, not the topics or primary subject matter of each story. Also, some terms such as “flooding” or “missing” may have multiple meanings depending on the context. However, even with these limitations, this quantitative investigation does provide insights into the trends of the hurricane reporting.

All searches were conducted between 10 and 10:30 am Eastern Time on September 2, 2005 .

The key word searches on Google News returned the following results:

Search Terms
Rough Number of Articles Returned

“Katrina”
“Katrina” and “Louisiana”
“Katrina” and “New Orleans”
“Katrina” and “Gulf Coast”
“Katrina” and “Mississippi”
“Katrina” and “damage”
“Katrina” and “rescue”
“Katrina” and “Superdome”
“Katrina,” “Bush,” and “president”
“Katrina” and “Red Cross”
“Katrina,” “oil,” and “price”
“Katrina” and “flooding”
“Katrina” and “Nagin” (Mayor of NO)
“Katrina” and “Biloxi”
“Katrina” and “evacuate”
“Katrina” and “looting”
“Katrina” and “football”
“Katrina” and “hurricane Ivan”
“Katrina” and “FEMA”
“Katrina” and “Iraq”
“Katrina” and “missing”
“Katrina” and “tsunami”
“Katrina,” “vacation,” and “Bush”
“Katrina” and “Hattiesburg”
“Katrina” and “public health”
“Katrina” and “African-American”
“Katrina” and “poverty”
“Katrina” and “gouge”

187,000 articles
82,800
81,700
80,800
40,800
34,400
25,000
24,400
24,000
22,800
15,900
14,900
14,600
11,900
11,600
10,100
8,390
7,850
7,190
6,040
5,910
5,840
4,730
3,100
2,290
691
537
492

Note: Google News includes stories from the past 30 days and news sources from both American sites and sites based overseas. These searches were conducted using the English/U.S. version of Google News. For more information on how Google News operates, go here.