Journalism, Satire or Just Laughs? "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," Examined
PEJ’s study of The Daily Show was conducted over the course of 2007. For this study we recorded every new Daily Show episode that aired during the year (136 in total) and compared the data with that of PEJ’s weekly News Coverage Index (NCI).
PEJ’s News Coverage Index is a study of the news agenda of 48 different outlets from five sectors of the media. 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.
Data was analyzed by Mahvish Shahid Khan and Paul Hitlin with help from Banu Akdenizli, Dana Page and Nancy Vogt.
Basis of measurement: The Newshole
In this study, as in the Weekly News Index, the basis of measurement is time spent on any story.  Thus for cable news, such as The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, we refer to the percent of total seconds that a certain story received. In other words, of all the seconds analyzed in cable news this week, ground events in Iraq accounted for xx% (or xx seconds out of a total of xxx). The industry term for this is “newshole”—the space given to news content.
What did we code?
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart airs Monday through Thursday at 11 pm E.S.T. There are no shows on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays.
During the year, The Daily Show took many sabbatical breaks when reruns were aired. These reruns were not included in the study.
The first show coded was from January 7 since all shows before that date were reruns. The last show captured and coded was from November 1 since the program stopped airing new shows due to the writer’s strike.
Shows from June 25 and October 18 could not be captured due to a technical difficulty and were not coded.
In order to make the data comparable, this study uses weekly index data from January 1 through November 1.
The opening statement with which Jon Stewart kicks off the show with highlights of what’s coming up, was not coded in this analysis. Similarly, the segment in which Stewart checks in with Stephen Colbert was treated as a preview for the Colbert Report and was not coded.
Other segments, such as banter that lasted less than sixty seconds, and the Moment of Zen were not coded. The latter was treated as a story that occurred after the show had ended and was not analyzed as a part of the show.
Method of coding:
In the coding phase of this study, the rules adopted were the same as those for the weekly news index. Each episode was treated in the same way any television broadcast show would be in the NCI.
A coding protocol was designed for this project based on PEJ’s previous related studies. Nineteen variables are coded, including coder ID, date coded, story ID number (these three are generated from the coding software automatically), story date, source, broadcast start time, broadcast story start timecode, headline, story word count, placement/prominence, story format, story describer, big story, sub-storyline, geographic focus, broad story topic, lead newsmaker, broadcast story ending timecode, and campaign mention.
The source variable includes all the media outlets we code. The variable for broadcast start time applies to radio and TV broadcast news and gives the starting time of the program in which the story appears. Broadcast story start timecode is the time at which a story begins after the start of the show, while broadcast story ending timecode is the time at which a story ends. The variable for headline identifies whether the story is part of a regular news round-up segment. The variable for story word count designates the word count of each individual print/online news story. The placement/prominence variable designates where stories are located within a publication, on a website, or within a broadcast. The location reflects the prominence given the stories by the journalists creating and editing the content. Story format measures the type and origin of the text-based and broadcast stories, which designates, at a basic level, whether the news story is a product of original reporting, or drawn from another news source. Story describer is a short description of the content of each story. Big stories are particular topics that occurred often in news media during the time period under study. Sub-storyline applies to stories that fit into some of the long-running big stories, reflecting specific aspects, features or narrower elements of some big stories. The variable for geographic focus refers to the geographic area to which the topic is relevant in relation to the location of the news source. The variable for the broad story topic identifies which of the type of broad topic categories is addressed by a story. The variable for lead newsmaker names the person or group who is the central focus of the story. The campaign mention variable identifies whether the story names any mention at all of a U.S. campaign or election.
The lead newsmaker variable was introduced into the coding protocol from July 1, 2007 and so only stories from that date were coded for that variable.
1. Since the Weekly News Coverage Index consists of both print and broadcast media, the basis of measurement depends on the medium. For broadcast and cable, time is the unit of measurement. For print and online media, the unit of measurement is number of words.