August 18, 2008

Tracking the Economic Slowdown

Methodology

As a special report for PEJ’s weekly News Coverage Index (NCI), The Changing Narrative: How the News Media has Covered the Slowing Economy is based on the aggregated data collected from the creation of the NCI on January 1, 2007 through June 30, 2008. The complete methodology of the NCI is available here.

Examining the news agenda of 48 different outlets in five media sectors, including newspapers, online, network TV, cable TV, and radio, the NCI is designed to provide news consumers, journalists and researchers with hard data about what stories and topics the media are covering, the trajectories of major stories and differences among news platforms.

Following a rotation system outlined below, PEJ monitors 48 different news outlets each week: 34 or 35 outlets each weekday as well as 7 newspapers each Sunday. From that content, PEJ analyzes all stories with a national or international focus that appearing as follows:

  • On the front page of newspapers
  • In the entirety of commercial network evening newscasts
  • During the first 30 minutes of network morning news and all cable programs
  • During a thirty minute segment (rotated daily) of the PBS evening news and NPR’s Morning Edition
  • As one of the top 5 stories on each website at the time of capture

Capture and Retrieval

All outlets included in the weekly index are captured and included in PEJ’s media archive.

For newspapers that are available in print in the Washington, D.C. area, we have hard copies delivered to our office each day. For newspapers that are not available for delivery, digital editions of the paper are retrieved either through the newspaper’s own web site, or through the use of digital delivery services such as pressdisplay.com and newsstand.com. When necessary, the text of article are supplemented by the archives available in the LexisNexis computer database.

Radio programs are captured through online streams of the shows. Using automated software, we record several local affiliates that air the program in various markets throughout the country. The purpose of this method is to ensure that we have a version of the program in case one of the streams is unavailable on a particular day, and so that we record the show in a manner that represents the way a typical listener would hear the program with commercials and newsbreaks.

Online websites are captured manually by a member of PEJ’s staff. The capture time is rotated between 9 am ET and 4 pm ET. The home pages and pages with the top articles for all five sites are saved so that when we reference the material, the format is the same as it appeared online at the time of capture.

Finally, all television shows are recorded digitally and archived for coding purposes. PEJ is a subscriber to DirectTV satellite service and all programs are recorded onto multiple TiVo recording units before being burned onto DVDs for archival purposes.

All television and radio programs are then coded by a member of PEJ’s staff who watches or listens to the archived version of the program

List of Outlets and Rotation Schedule

The most current list of outlets and rotation schedule is available here.

Story Selection

This report aggregates the NCI from January 1, 2007 through July 30, 2008. The data is primarily based on over 5,000 economic stories during that time. The resulting universe is drawn from approximately 1955 hours of programming on the three major cable news cable channels, 1369 on network TV, 978 on radio, and 469 days’ editions of 21 different newspapers, and the five leading news websites, some 48 different news outlets in all.

Stories were considered to be about the US economy if 50% or more of the story was on that topic. Specifically, most of this report focuses on stories that were coded as one of two major stories we tracked. Those two stories were called “US Economics” and “Gas/oil prices.” For most of the data in this report, the totals of those two stories were added together to get an accurate total for the overall economic coverage.

Coding Team

The universe of stories was coded by a team, which is made up of 12 trained coders, a coding administrator, and a senior research methodologist. The complete methodology for the weekly NCI has further details on the coding system and coder reliability.

Additional Data from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press

Public opinion and survey data cited in this report came from the work done by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. For more information about their work and methodology, see to their web site at people-press.org.