Friday, December 22, 2017

Headline Bias

I read the news today, oh boy
About a lucky man who made the grade
And though the news was rather sad
Well I just had to laugh
I saw the photograph
--The Beatles

One way to analyze media bias is to study how a particular outlet treats headline-worthy events of similar magnitude that are perceived to have been led by different political parties. Stories could be evaluated for both their placement and tone.

Consider, for example, how USA Today treated the Democrat-led passage of Obamacare:

Exclusive front page story, big fonts, pix with smiling faces, celebratory tone.

Contrast that to how the same outlet is treating the Republican-led passage of the tax-cut bill:

Shared front page story, smaller fonts, no pix, certainly no celebratory tone.

Not apples to apples events, some might say. Others contend that they are directly comparable. How to resolve such disagreement?

There are several ways to address such issues analytically. One would be to have a bipartisan expert panel that, using preset criteria, selects comparable headline-worthy events to be analyzed pairwise--as we imply doing above.

Another, probably better, way would be to pool, say, 100 events led by Democrats and 100 events led by Republicans that a bipartisan expert panel agrees meet a threshold for 'headline worthiness.' Then study the stories in each pool for their characteristics (placement, presentation, tone, etc.). Calculate the averages and compare the means.

Repeat for multiple outlets.

Finally, consider a measure of 'headline bias' to complement extant measures of media bias such as Groseclose's slant quotient.

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