McGill researchers explore media election coverage

News

New project uses newspaper data to analyze the effects of news coverage

Election news is being monitored at McGill University this spring. A team of scholars and researchers from the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC) have spearheaded a project to track media coverage of the 2004 Canadian election in real time over the course of the electoral campaign. Called the Observatory on Media and Public Policy (OMPP), the group will scrutinize the contents of seven major Canadian daily newspapers in order to build a perspective on the role of print media and individual print outlets on electoral campaigns.

Each day, a team of coders will study the main news sections of the Globe and Mail, National Post, Toronto Star, Calgary Herald, Vancouver Sun, La Presse and Le Devoir. They will note articles relating to federal politics, including reporting, analysis, opinion and editorials. This content will be coded into a database, recording the precedence and prominence of particular leaders, parties and issues, as well as noting the positive, negative or neutral treatment of parties and key figures in the race. The results will be updated daily on the Observatory's website.

The content database will be used to show how parties and leaders are portrayed and which issues are dominating the campaign. An expert panel of Canadian analysts will interpret the data, assess which parties and issues are driving campaign coverage, and how coverage varies between newspapers and across regions.

"Media play an important role in election campaigns. They contribute to the rise and fall of leaders and help set the importance of election issues," explains Stuart Soroka, OMPP co-director. "The OMPP will provide a systematic investigation of campaign coverage, help validate or challenge traditional assumptions about media effects during electoral races, and provide timely analyses of campaign coverage during the election campaign."

By comparing trends in positive and negative party coverage with data from opinion polls, the OMPP will also allow analysts to obtain a sense of whether the press is following public opinion in the campaign — or leading it. "This project fills a long-standing gap," says Ken Whyte, a former National Post editor and MISC visiting scholar. "The OMPP's timely, systematic and reliable approach to media coverage will help illuminate the role played by news outlets during federal election campaigns."

Observatory on Media and Public Policy project directors: Stuart Soroka, Assistant Professor, McGill Department of Political Science; Ken Whyte, Visiting Scholar in Media and Public Policy, McGill Institute for the Study of Canada; Antonia Maioni, Director, McGill Institute for the Study of Canada.

Online analysts: Barry Cooper, Professor of Political Science, University of Calgary; Donna Logan, Director and Professor, UBC Graduate School of Journalism; Lydia Miljan, Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Windsor; Hugh Segal, President, Institute for Research on Public Policy; Michel Vastel, Columnist, Le Soleil; William Watson, Associate Professor of Economics, McGill University; Paul Wells, Columnist, Macleans.