Friday, October 14, 2011

Charting Content

As I’ve had occasion to note before on LaMarotte this past spring (link), newspaper circulation has been declining, relative to population, for quite a long time now. If we index both at 100 in 1970, by 2008 news circulation had declined to 78.3 and population had increased to 148.4. Nevertheless, newspapers—especially the big, influential papers—still have plenty of clout—not least in that they influence the notoriously lazy television media. That post came to mind yesterday as I was reading the Russia insert in the New York Times—in large part because the Russian offer had much more of the flavor of an old-fashioned newspaper. This morning I undertook something I’ve been wanting to do for a while now. I’ve taken the main section of today’s New York Times and classified its forty-four stories into five categories. Such classification is, of course, subjective. Here are my results:


[Note: Clicking through enlarges image. But changes introduced—by Google? others?—now do not bring you back to the post if you click on the Back Arrow. Instead, when wishing to return, press Esc.]

What did I classify as crime/malfeasance? Strauss-Kahn is not charged in a rape that allegedly took place in France. A hedge-fund chief goes to jail. Former premier of Ukraine faces investigation. Gunmen seize aide workers in Africa. Debate on how to handle terrorists. Online education and financial fraud. Custody battle and killings. California inmates end hunger strike. A story on drugs that came from the police. Connecticut triple murders. Finally, second chances after prison. Two of these stories are perhaps a little iffy, but I include them because they exhibit the Times’ fascination with prisoners.

The times coverage of foreign countries is interesting. In alpha order, Africa is mentioned three times (crime, economic news, and all other); Asia twice (Ukraine under crime, floods in Thailand), Europe once (Strauss-Kahn). Islamic countries clock in at eight stories, hence their assignment to a category. The Times’ coverage of Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, and others is almost obsessive; today is no exception.

The economic stories, predictably, are bad-news stories. Some of the stories bite especially because they underline the flavor of the times. Just to name four: fluoridation is being omitted to save money; insurance companies want to eliminate coverage of eating disorders; Congress wants to curb Pentagon cuts; California seems to be killing Medicaid.

The “All Other” category mercifully shared the second largest category with the economy and has a faintly upbeat flavor. It includes a story on Indian students finding places to study here, the floods in Thailand, but with emphasis on officials being blamed rather than the rains, discovery of prehistoric paint manufacturing in Africa, people who build mazes with and within corn fields, state casinos, Mayor Bloomberg’s girlfriend’s puppies (heart-warming?), privately owned parks, a professor who told a stutterer to sit down already in his class, consumers’ rights to sue, and David Brooks’ comments on clashes regarding the 9/11 war memorial.

So how does the equivalent coverage of Russia look? The comparison may not be fair because that paper is intended to make Americans feel good about Russia—rather than reporting news. But here it is. The stories broke into three categories: Politics (36.4%), Agriculture (27.3%), and All Other (36.4%). Politics? All lauding either Putin, Medvedev, or both. Agriculture? Green is the word here—and reveals Russia’s long-standing obsession with the sector. One of those stories features an American who went off to the Moscow region to make all kind of cheese! And the All Other? It deals with a prize awarded to an American professor, Russian charitable organizations showing children’s pictures to New York audiences, achievements in space, and the elimination of onerous employment records in Russia’s businesses. The author of that last story wonders how, in the future, “problem employees” will be identified when they apply for new jobs. That, I suppose, ranks as objective reporting. On the one hand, privacy, on the other…

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