Tag Archives: opinion

FLASH REPORT: Political Slant Ratings by Show – 1/30 to 2/3

Our latest TV News measurement metrics, targeting individual programs aired by the 3 major broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) and the top 3 cable news channels (CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC), is fairly consistent with our previous studies.  As has been our pattern, we have limited our focus shows airing from 5 PM until 11 PM eastern time, Monday through Friday. Because of that, transcript coverage is less than normal since Florida primary coverage preempted several regular programs under study.

It’s worth noting that, particularly in the case of CNN, those special programs garnered Nielsen ratings of roughly twice the average of the programs they replaced (Erin Burnett Outfront & Anderson Cooper 360). For those who wonder why the media is obsessively covering the Republican primaries, your answer lies there.

CHART 1: Slant Rating by Show - January 30 to February 3

As always, content with a numerical rating above zero indicates a Republican slant, with ratings below zero representing a Democratic slant. In this case, however, those shows which are in the +2.0 to -2.0 range are shown in gray, indicating that they are in the “balanced” news category. The one notable exclusion this week is CBS Evening News, but our content coverage for it was exceptionally light. Red remains the color indicator for “slanted” news which favors the Republican party, while slanted content that favors towards the Democratic party is shown in blue. Those interested in the underpinnings of the Mediate Metrics slant rating system should review our January 31st post, or see our primer on Text Analytics Basics at: http://wp.me/p1MQsU-at.

Since our analytical coverage varies by program and date, so does our confidence in the associated show ratings. The exact amount of program coverage is shown in the Table 1 below, but we have graphically indicated depth-of-coverage by way of color shading in Chart 1. For example, the cones representing CBS Evening News, Special Report (Fox), and NBC Nightly News were purposely made lighter to reflect the relatively small transcript coverage for those particular show. We should also note that our version 1.4 classifier did exhibit some anomalies that caused our NBC Nightly News ratings to be disproportionately skewed towards favoring Republicans.

TABLE 1: Slant Rating by Show - January 30 to February 3

Further information about our rating system can be found in previous posts, or by contacting us via email at: barry@mediatemetrics.com

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TREND REPORT #1: Political Bias by TV Network

The chart at right summarizes the slant ratings for the networks we have thus far analyzed in January. Our previously published Flash Reports are useful snap shots, but the trend analysis better portrays the long-term political orientation of the networks, programs, and time periods we are studying.

The lines and markers in our graph represent the high/low/weighted average slant ratings for each network in our previous 2 weeks of analysis. Even with this relatively small data set, trends are beginning to emerge.

ABC has operated within a very tight range, as had CNN, indicating that they are quite purposeful about their political orientations — and none too slanted, either.

CBS and (especially) NBC have favored different parties each week, but our analytical databases are the lightest for those 2 networks. Their weighted averages currently favor the Democratic party (depicted in blue. with numerical ratings less than zero), but time will tell where they each level out at.

Not surprisingly, Fox News and MSNBC both show the largest partisan bias. Since Fox’s evening line-up does contain some “balanced” news programming (such as “Special Report with Bret Baier” and “The Fox Report with Shepard Smith”), the fact that their relative weighted slant rating is lower than MSNBC’s comes as no surprise. At some point, we may analyze the balanced news program category by itself to see how political messaging is interwoven within it.

Tomorrow, we will use this data as the basis for our weekly Impact Report to quantify the combined effects of bias and reach. As mentioned in previous posts, bias is not by itself determined by the number of media outlets delivering a slanted message. Rather, it is akin to the advertising concept of share of voice, in which the number of  ad impressions is combined with the total available inventory, as well as the size of the audience that is receiving it.

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FLASH REPORT: Political Slant by Show – 1/23 to 1/27

Building on our previous post, today we our publishing a separate version of our TV news measurement metrics which focuses on the political slant of individual programs aired by the 3 major broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) and the top 3 cable news channels (CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC), based on our enhanced 1.2 classifier. The analysis is focused on shows airing from 5 PM until 11 PM eastern time, Monday through Friday.

CHART 2: Slant Rating by Show - January 23 to 27

We’ve constructed this chart slightly differently than in the past. As always, content with a numerical rating above zero indicates a Republican slant, with ratings below zero representing a Democratic slant. In this case, however, those shows which are in the +2.0 to -2.0 range are shown in gray, indicating that they are in the “balanced” news category. The one notable exclusion this week is NBC Nightly News, but our content coverage for it was exceptionally light. Red remains the color indicator for “slanted” news which favors the Republican party, while slanted content that favors towards the Democratic Party is shown in blue. Those interested in the underpinnings of the Mediate Metrics slant rating system should review our January 31st post, or see our primer on Text Analytics Basics at: http://wp.me/p1MQsU-at.

Since our analytical coverage varies by program and date, so does our confidence in the associated show ratings. The exact amount of program coverage is shown in the Table 2 below, but we have graphically indicated depth-of-coverage by way of color shading in Chart 2. For example, the cones representing CBS Evening News, Special Report (Fox), and NBC Nightly News were purposely made lighter to reflect the relatively small transcript coverage for those particular show.

TABLE 2: Political Slant by Show - 1/23 to 27

Further information about our rating system can be found in previous posts, or by contacting us via email at: barry@mediatemetrics.com

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Understanding The News

I’m about halfway through Blur by Tom Rosenstiel and Bill Kovach, and I can’t recommend this book enough. Classes on its content should be made an educational requirement.

Here are some factoids I gleaned from my readings:

  • Newspaper staffs are down by roughly 30 percent from ten years earlier. For network news, the cuts have been even steeper.
  • Traditional online news sites have gotten bigger, not smaller, despite the proliferation of online news outlets.
  • When changes in communicating to the masses have occurred in the past, existing power elites have tried to exploit the transition in almost every case.
  • The argument culture limits the information we get, rather than broadening it.

The fundamental premise of the book is that the objective-and-disciplined mediation function has largely disappeared from news reporting. In parallel, business models have arisen that focus more on assertion (goal: disseminate information quickly) and affirmation (goal: maintain audience loyalty) than on verification. As such, the burden of editing and analyzing the news falls to individuals. In essence, we must become our own investigative journalists.

The authors point out that the clash between fact-and-faith has occurred numerous times in history, providing both risks and opportunities in every case. In this instance, the challenge of “skeptically knowing” the truth about the news is indeed burdensome, but we can now interact with the media, political leaders, and others in an unprecedented manner.

Powerful stuff, if you think about it.

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Open Season on Journalists: Trump versus Todd

It seems like every time I turn around, some political figure is taking on a journalist. Here’s the latest installment, featuring a very edgy Donald Trump chastising Chuck Todd of MSNBC during his Daily Rundown Show this morning.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MyVq-Vj9IlY

Wouldn’t you love to see focus group ratings during one of these exchanges?

My sense is that many political figures already have.

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White Paper Excerpt: “Bias and Objectivity in the News Media”

I remain convinced that one can measure media bias electronically, at least to some extent, by examining the text of news broadcasts and objectively identifying the speaker’s personal value judgments. With that said, it is far more difficult to extract bias based on that content that is chosen to be aired. The following excerpt, taken from a 2004 white paper published by The Foundation for Critical Thinking titled, “How to Detect Media Bias and Propaganda” by Dr. Richard Paul and Dr. Linda Elder, explains this far more eloquently than I ever could.

Enjoy.

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The logic of constructing news stories is parallel to the logic of writing history. In both cases, for events covered, there is both a massive background of facts and a highly restricted amount of space to devote to those facts. The result in both cases is the same: 99.99999% of the “facts” are never mentioned at all (see Figure 1).

FIGURE 1

If objectivity or fairness in the construction of news stories is thought of as equivalent to presenting all the facts and only the facts (“All the news that’s fit to print”), objectivity and fairness is an illusion. No human knows more than a small percentage of the facts and it is not possible to present all the facts (even if one did know them). It isn’t even possible to present all the important facts, for many criteria compete for determining what is “important.” We must therefore always ask, “What has been left out of this article?” “What would I think if different facts had been highlighted here?” “What if this article had been written by those who hold a point of view opposite to the one embedded in the story as told?”

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Amen.

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Who’s News? YOU Decide.

The more I study media bias, the more I realize that TV coverage flows (and often overflows) in certain directions because viewers vote with their eyeballs.

The blogosphere is crackling today with reports on the CBS internal memo which directed their debate moderators to devote fewer questions to Michelle Bachmann. The issue certainly has ignited the fanaterati. Don’t get me wrong; editorial selection bias is a very real phenomenon. Still, a thinking person should consider other possibilities.

So here is one: Perhaps we get a disproportionate amount of coverage on certain issues and people because they drive viewership. Combined with the extensive amount of news capacity that needs to be filled, media outlets are motivated to keep popular stories alive because lots of people are following them. As an unfortunate by-product, reporters and commentators fan the  flames over time by digging up all kinds of corner-cases, then sensationalizing them as “New Developments!” And that’s when we enter the realm of the absurd.

Circling back to the issue du jour, giving Michelle Bachmann more debate time does not make sense for the network in that context. It’s an inexact science, but it is a network executive’s job is to promote viewership … which drives ad revenue …which increases company profits, equity value, and personal paychecks.

It’s tempting to see a conspiracy here, and maybe there is one, but I think it is equally possible that this is just capitalism in action.

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Quantifying the Impact of TV News Bias – Example #1

The following example represents my core method of quantifying the impact of media bias, using only program segments from the top 3 cable news networks in this particular example. The underlying “Raw Bias Index” data I am using is in fact quite coarse, so consider this an alpha trial put forth for review and discussion.

Much debate has been devoted to assessing whether there is a liberal or conservative media bias. Qualitatively, a case can be made for both, but quantifying the effective bias is a more complex endeavor.

In my recent studies of television news programming, it occurred to me that the quantity of liberal TV outlets seemed greater than conservative channels, but their “share-of-voice” may still be lesser. The true impact of a particular TV news program can only be determined by considering both bias and reach.

In order to add a viewership variable, I used the Nielsen Cable News Ratings from September 8, first calculating the average rating of the 6 largest cable news networks for the entire day. (Source: TV by the Numbers – Zap2It website. http://tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com/2011/09/09/fox-news-leads-presidential-address-viewing-among-cable-news-ratings-for-thursday-september-8-2011/103155/ )

 NOTE: “P2+”= Viewers over the age of 2.

I then calculated a “Viewership Weighting” factor for each of the post-Presidential address programs from CNN, Fox, and MSNBC that I had previously created a Raw Bias Index for (see Sept. 11 post below), and com combined them to create a “Raw Impact Index.”

Needless to say, prime time news is viewed much more extensively than its daytime cousins, hence the large viewership weighting factors. Still, one can readily see in this crude example that viewership, not the number of TV outlets, is key to determining the overall impact of news bias.

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PLEASE NOTE that this is but an example, and is not meant in any way to be an accurate-or-comprehensive measure of TV news bias today.

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Is this methodology simplistic? You bet. I fully expect critiques from those more experienced in media measurement and proficient with survey science. Regardless, simpler is often times better.

As always, I remain open to feedback, and encourage you to leave yours in the comments section.

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