December 12, 2005

EXTRA! EXTRA!

The News Agenda

New tabloid breed is more than screaming headlines but could they be blueprint to the future?

The News Agenda

When it came to story selection, or news agenda, the commuter tabloids offer greater breadth. Using their “mini-story” length, we were struck by the degree to which readers could get the basics of the news on so many fronts—a daily digest for citizens of the sort prepared in more specialized form for busy executives.

Part of this certainly was a heavier emphasis on celebrity and entertainment, roughly twice the quotient of celebrity stories (15% vs. 6%) than in the broadsheets (144 total stories versus 40 in the larger format papers). Here, the Examiner more closely resembled the broadsheets (7%).(6) Even this number may undercount the full sense of celebrity news in the tabs, as it does not account for the prevalent use of one or two sentence items that were too brief to count as stories.

Story Topic
 
Youth-Tabloids
The Examiner
Broad-sheets
Total
Elections
1%
3%
2%
2%
Government
8
10
14
10
Crime
13
10
13
12
Business
6
9
15
10
Domestic Issues
10
12
13
11
Science
4
1
1
2
Foreign Relations
7
5
2
5
Accidents/Disasters
2
1
1
1
Celebrity/Entertainment
15
7
6
10
Lifestyle
14
16
13
14
Defense/Military
4
5
3
4
Sports
17
20
18
18
Other
1
2
0
1

The tabloids also carry somewhat less government news. They ran 79 government stories (9% of the total) versus 98 in the broadsheets (16% of the total). Often the difference was in how much coverage the top story received. The broadsheets frequently treated them at greater length and with multiple stories. Consider the July 20th 2005 coverage of John Robert’s nomination to the Supreme Court. All the papers reported on it, but Metro and Express offered only wire copy—a single 252-word AP story in Metro and 2 AP stories in the Express that were roughly 200 words each. The Washington Post and the Boston Globe, on the other hand, each had multiple front page stories, averaging more than 1,200 words each and all written by staff reporters. The Examiner fell in between, offering 3 AP stories on its page 10.

Geographic Focus
 
Youth-Tabloids
The Examiner
Broad-sheets
Total
Local
22%
32%
53%
34%
Other U.S.
23
17
9
17
National
13
14
18
15
Mix U.S./Foreign
6
6
5
6
International
14
11
5
10
Non-specific
23
21
12
19

The tabloids also shied away from business news, which accounted for just 6% or 62 stories, versus 15% of 109 on the section fronts of the broad sheets.

In the smaller topic areas, however, the tabloids generally offer a broader range of news. Science stories, for example, were given four times the portion of space as in broadsheet section-fronts stories or the Examiner (4% for newspaper tabloids versus 1% for the others). Foreign relations, often covered in the inside pages of broadsheets, made up 7% of all stories in the newspaper tabloids versus 2% in the section-fronts. Both crime and lifestyle stories appeared with about the same frequency.

One thing the tabloids are not, however, is local. Readers are half as likely to find local news in these pages as on the broadsheets section-fronts. Just 22% of the stories in the commuter tabloids were about the local community, compared with 53% on the broadsheet section fronts. This likely is a function of the reliance on second-hand wire and syndicated material. The Examiner fell in between, 32%, but placed this coverage in the very front of the book.

Footnotes

(6) We also looked at the topic differences as a percent of all words to see if there were meaningful differences between the two measurements. For all newspaper types the proportion of topics was strikingly similar whether based on total stories or total words.