The Project for Excellence in Journalism’s News Coverage Index is, we believe, the largest effort ever to measure and analyze the American news media on a continuing basis.
The Index examines some four dozen news outlets in real time to determine what is being covered and what is not—a broad sense of the American news agenda. The findings are then released in a weekly report that features an Index of the top stories, a narrative analyzing the twists, turns, and trajectory of the coverage, and a breakdown of the differences among media sectors.
The initiative is an attempt to provide an empirical basis for cataloguing and understanding what a wide swath of media offer the American public at a time of growing debate about the press’ influence, standards and economic foundation.
The outlets studied come from the five main sectors of mainstream media—print, network TV, cable, online, and radio. They include evening and morning network news, several hours of daytime and prime time cable news each day, newspapers from around the country, the top online news sites, and radio, including headlines, long form programs and talk. In all, the Index sample includes 48 outlets (35 each week-day with some rotation), every Sunday through Friday.
In the weeks that follow, PEJ will also unveil a series of secondary indices, including People in the News; a Talk Show Index from cable and radio programming; and a Blogger Index examining the content of the blogosphere and analyzing how it compares with that of the mainstream media.
The unprecedented scope and size of the media universe captured and coded will also serve as a foundation for an expanded number of more detailed studies PEJ plans to produce.
The News Coverage Index was designed by PEJ Director Tom Rosenstiel and Deputy Director Amy Mitchell and an advisory team of nine academic and commercial researchers over the course of two years. It required the creation of proprietary software and a new website.
The index report is written by PEJ Associate Director Mark Jurkowitz, former press critic of the Boston Globe and Boston Phoenix. The coding team, which will work 24 hours behind the news cycle, includes eight professional coders. They work with a coding administrator, Paul Hitlin, and a supervising research methodologist, Hong Ji.
The News Coverage Index will also be paired with a new expanded News Interest Index by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, which is led by Andrew Kohut. The Center will analyze the public’s response to the stories identified in the News Coverage Index.
These twin indices of what the media are covering, and how the public is responding will offer an unprecedented pair of tools to understand the degree to which journalists and citizens are in sync—or in disagreement—over what constitutes important news.