Friday, May 10, 2019

News Coverage of Latin America

Kathleen Searles and Kevin K. Banda, "But her emails! How journalistic preferences shaped election coverage in 2016." forthcoming in Journalism.


While existing work explains how journalists use news values to select some stories over others, we know little about how stories that meet newsworthiness criteria are prioritized. Once stories are deemed newsworthy, how do journalists calculate their relative utility? Such an ordering of preferences is important as higher ranked stories receive more media attention. To better understand how stories are ordered once they are selected, we propose a model for rational journalistic preferences which describes how journalists rank stories by making cost-benefit analyses. When faced with competing newsworthy stories, such as in an election context, the model can generate expectations regarding news coverage patterns. To illustrate model utility, we draw on a unique case – the US 2016 presidential election – to explain how reporters order newsworthy stories (e.g. scandal and the horse race) by observing changes in the volume. Our content data captures coverage featuring Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump on major broadcast and cable networks over 31  weeks. We find that the rational journalistic preference model explains the imbalance of scandal coverage between the two candidates and the dominance of horse race coverage. In 2016, such preferences may have inadvertently contributed to a balance of news stories that favored Trump.
The authors posit a straightforward argument about what stories journalists choose. Here are some underlying assumptions:
Journalists are motivated to maximize professional and economic benefits like attention for their work and minimize the associated costs like time. Even though journalists may be influenced by nonmaterial benefits, like influencing public discourse, their decision-making is still self-interested (Zaller, 1999). We assume that this ordering of preferences affects the rational journalists’ actions (Riker and Ordeshook, 1968), which allows us to explain aggregate patterns of news coverage as the product of journalists making strategic decisions, motivated by costs and benefits, regarding their story preferences.
They go on to discuss how in the U.S., trailing candidates get attention but not for their scandals, while leading candidates have their scandals scrutinized.

In the context of news stories on Latin America, we could generate plenty of testable hypotheses. Here are a few:

1. Stories that emphasize Latin America's policy problems (esp. related to violence)  predominate over successes.

2. Disaster stories will receive more (even the overwhelming majority of) attention for countries the U.S. government has labeled an adversary.

3. Economic success stories will be reported primarily for market-led policies rather than state-led policies, while negative stories will be the opposite.


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