PEJ Talk Show Index Overview and Methodology
PEJ’s Talk Show Index analyzes what topics are being focused on by one segment of the media, namely talk, discussion and opinion programs. The Talk Show Index makes up a subsection of the programs included in PEJ’s broader News Coverage Index, released earlier in the week, that analyzes the topics covered by a wide swath of media outlets from five different media sectors.
The programs that make up the Talk Show Index compose a portion of the shows from two of those sectors, radio and cable TV, most notably AM radio and evening cable broadcasting shows.
The Talk Show Index ran through the year 2007 and was also published in early 2008.
Note: After consulting various reference guides and outside consultants on usage, the Project has chosen to refer to its several weekly content analysis reports as “indexes”—the version largely accepted in journalism—instead of “indices”—a term used more frequently in scientific or academic writing.
Criteria for a Talk Show
When deciding which of the programs within our overall index should be included in this Talk Show Index, we focused first on the role of the host and whether his or her opinions are made evident to the audience and whether that is a clear part of the brand or appeal of the program. Secondarily, we examined whether the opinions of the guests were a chief appeal. In some programs, the story selection is a major means by which the hosts’ interests or opinions are made clear. Some programs that include reporting and talk, the format is a blend, but the opinions of the host are obvious and a key factor in the program’s identity.
Using these criteria and selecting from the list of programs already included in our larger index, the following shows make up our current sample:
The O'Reilly Factor
With the exception of Rush Limbaugh’s radio show, the above programs are not coded every weekday. Instead, they follow a system a rotation. To see details of that rotation, see the methodology for the News Coverage Index.
For days when one of the above shows is preempted for breaking news or for any other reason, we do not include the replacement show as part of that week's sample.
The Talk Show Index considers talk radio and talk cable TV programs together and identifies the top stories across both. The total seconds devoted to talk radio and talk cable TV are merged to make up the overall talk show newshole. Then the top stories are determined by the percentage of the overall talk show newshole that was spent on each particular topic.
We considered two other models for creating the talk show index.
1. Compile the percentages of top stories for talk radio and talk cable TV separately and then average these two lists into one final list. This would have given radio and cable TV equal weight.
2. Compile percentages of big stories for talk radio and talk cable TV, and then add the lists together using the weightings employed in PEJ’s overall News Coverage Index. These weightings are based on survey data as to where people get most of their national and international news. The weightings are radio (0.12) and cable TV sector (0.26).
Pulling out two weeks’ real data for testing these three methods, we found that the lists of the top five stories were similar using all of these three methods (the top stories’ names and their ranks). We also found that in each of these two sample weeks, the ratio of the seconds spent on talk radio to the seconds spent on talk cable TV was close to the ratio of the weight applied to radio sector (0.12) to the weight applied to cable TV sector (0.26) in the News Coverage Index. Having this similar ratio means that the calculations made without weights would be similar to those made with a weighting system. In the end, we adopted a straight forward method in determining the top stories by finding the percentage of overall time these talk shows devote to each topic.
Updated March 27, 2008