May 25, 2007

Iraq Dominates PEJ’s First Quarterly NCI Report

Newspapers

Newspapers are often thought of as covering a wider range of news events on any given day because their newshole—the amount of space they have for news each day—is so much greater than anything on the broadcast side. PEJ’s Index reveals, though, that this breadth exists even on the front page alone. Across the first three months of 2007, no story garnered more than 7% of the newshole. And even the diminished top story shared the limelight. In other words, the more diverse news agenda in print is not simply a matter of more space. It also may be a function of editorial sensibility—the sense that the audience may be interested in more things, and the availability of a bigger staff to deliver it.

Three different stories—the Iraq policy debate, the 2008 campaign and events in Iraq—each received about 7% of the coverage during the first quarter of 2007.

Small vs. Large Papers

Are there obvious differences between the front pages of large circulation papers and smaller ones? That, too, is something the Index can shed light across a longer span of time, but not meaningfully on a weekly basis.*

In general, larger papers tended to distribute their national coverage more evenly. At mid-sized papers the national coverage was mostly about the elections while at smaller papers the Iraq policy debate earned the most space.

The levelness of front-page coverage was most evident in the largest newspapers, those with a circulation of over 650,000. Their quarterly totals result in nearly a three-way tie for the top story (each receiving roughly 7% of the coverage).

The mid-size and smaller papers studied had clearer—but different—top stories. At the mid-size papers, 12% of the front page coverage was spent on the 2008 elections. Much of this is attributed to the inclusion here of the Albuquerque Journal, candidate Bill Richardson’s hometown paper.

Beyond the election, another interesting finding emerged among the mid-sized papers. The second ranking story was the Iraq homefront (8%) followed by events on the ground (7%). This was the only outlet group, where homefront and ground stories outpaced those about the U.S. policies.

In the smallest papers, those with a circulation less than 100,000, it was the Iraq policy debate, at 13%, that garnered the most attention. About three-quarters of the stories in these papers that dealt with Iraq were not written by the staffs of these papers, but instead were either from wire stories or other news outlets. The next story of choice, though, ran against the norm. It was the new Democratic-led Congress (6%). Overall, about 60% of the stories about national or international issues on the front pages of these papers were wire stories or from other news outlets.

 

 

 

*The NCI studies the national and international news agenda. Therefore, in local newspapers, we include only local stories that relate to a news event that has gained national or international attention.