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Global Attention Profiles - A Working Paper: First Steps Towards a Quantitative Approach to the Study of Media Attention


Ethan Zuckerman


Harvard University - Berkman Center for Internet & Society

August 2003

Berkman Center Research Publication No. 2003-06

Abstract:     
News media outlets (newspapers, radio and television broadcasts and websites) have finite capacities. Newspapers have practical limits to the number of articles that can be printed each day. Radio and television broadcasters can fit only so many stories into a 30 minute newscast, and news websites must select which stories fit on their homepages.

The genesis of this paper was the anecdotal observation that major English-language news media outlets devote more attention to some countries than to others. This is to be expected: in a given week, some countries will experience newsworthy events like wars, natural disasters, scientific discoveries, economic collapses, sports championships, while others will not. But it is equally clear, on an anecdotal basis, that some countries get far more attention on a consistent basis, without regard to the relative frequency or magnitude of newsworthy events.

How do newspapers, newscasts and website divide their attention between regions of the world? To which countries do they devote the most attention? Why do some countries get more attention than others? Do factors like a country's population and the size of its economy predict which countries will command the most attention from media channels?

This paper begins to answer some of these questions with repeatable, transparent statistical tools. It introduces the Global Attention Profile (GAP) as a portrait of a news media outlet's attention to various nations. GAP software automatically crawls a news media outlet's website and calculates country-by-country story counts over a period of time. This paper reports these story counts and correlates them to a wide range of country data sets provided by the World Bank.

GAP research demonstrates that the most accurate predictor of a media outlet's attention is the size of a nation's gross domestic product. This correlation is significantly greater than the correlation between media attention and the size of a nation's population, and appears to be the strongest correlation between media attention and 21 factors examined. Generally speaking, violent conflict seems to have less effect on media attention than the size of a nation's economy does.

While most media sources studied demonstrate similar patterns, one media outlet - the BBC News - shows radically different patterns. The BBC's media attention is more closely correlated to the size of a nation's population than to the size of its economy.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 27

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Date posted: February 29, 2004  

Suggested Citation

Zuckerman, Ethan, Global Attention Profiles - A Working Paper: First Steps Towards a Quantitative Approach to the Study of Media Attention (August 2003). Berkman Center Research Publication No. 2003-06. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=487943 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.487943

Contact Information

Ethan Zuckerman (Contact Author)
Harvard University - Berkman Center for Internet & Society ( email )
Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
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