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Every Now and Again–A Study on News Coverage of Immigration


“News Coverage of Immigration 2007: A political story, not an issue, covered episodically” is a report based on additional analysis of content already aggregated in PEJ’s weekly News Coverage Index (NCI). The NCI examines 48 news outlets in real time to determine what is being covered and what is not. The complete methodology of the weekly NCI can be found here. The findings are then released in a weekly NCI report. All coding is conducted in-house by PEJ’s staff of researchers continuous throughout the year. Examining the news agenda of 48 different outlets in five media sectors, including newspapers, online, network TV, cable TV and radio, the NCI is designed to provide news consumers, journalists, and researchers with hard data about what stories and topics the media are covering, the trajectories of major stories and differences among news platforms.

This report focused primarily on stories on immigration within the Index. For this report, all stories that had been already coded as being on immigration were isolated and further analyzed to locate the presence of immigration over a year’s worth of news, and how immigration coverage ebbed and flowed throughout 2007. This provided us with the answers to questions, such as which aspects of the immigration issue did the media most tune into?; what was not covered?; and who provided the most coverage?

The data for this analysis came from a year’s worth of content analysis conducted by PEJ for the NCI. The 2007 analysis contains a total of 70,737 stories: 6,559 newspaper stories; 6,520 online stories; 21,320 network television stories; 22, 823 stories on cable news; and 13, 515 from radio programs.

For this study we conducted a multi-level analysis. First to create the universe sample, we identified all stories coded for immigration for all of 2007. In our weekly analysis of press coverage, we capture immigration at two levels: big story and topic. Big stories are particular topics that occurred often in news media, featured in multiple news outlets during the time period under study. Within our Index we have an established “Immigration debate” big story. That universe consisted of a total of 1,651 stories: 210 newspaper stories; 72 online stories; 207 network television stories; 889 stories on cable news; and 273 from radio programs.

Second, another sample of immigration stories came from all stories within the Index on the topic of immigration. These would be all stories on immigration as a general topic. For example, if there was a presidential campaign story that deals with immigration, this code allowed us to catch that. This allowed us to pick up various miscellaneous stories that involved immigration but did not directly deal with the larger immigration debate big story. The universe for this component consisted of a total of 1,561 stories: 189 newspaper stories; 69 online stories; 206 network television stories, 865 stories on cable news, and 232 from radio programs. Out of these 1,561 immigration topic stories 1,408 were coded under the Immigration debate big story code.

Third, we analyzed the specific time period of May 17 to June 28, 2007 which coincides with the announcement of the compromise bill on immigration between the Senate and the White House and its defeat. An overall look into all media sectors shows that immigration as a topic in the first four months of 2007 was below 2 %. A sudden surge came in May and June during which the numbers for immigration jumped to 6.1% and 7.6% respectively. And then for the rest of the year it went back to the 2-3% range. The surge in immigration coverage coincided with the May 17 announcement of the compromise bill among the Senate and the White House and its defeat on June 28. Therefore we specifically considered a detailed and qualitative assessment of immigration coverage for this time frame. For this specific time period we pulled all immigration debate big stories between the dates May 17 to June 28. This universe consisted of a total of 641 specific stories: 69 online stories, 33 newspaper stories, 117 network television stories, 282 stories on cable news, and 140 from radio programs.

Fourth—in conjunction with this—a separate report from a former study of PEJ on Spanish-Language Coverage of the Immigration Bill that focused on the time period of June 25 to June 29 was included. For this study PEJ examined Spanish network national evening news on the two major stations, Telemundo and Univision and compared it to evening network news on the major networks, ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS. The specific methodology for that snap shot study is included at the end of this report.

As a result, the study included stories devoted primarily to immigration:

  • On the front page of newspapers
  • In the entirety of commercial network evening newscasts
  • The first 30 minutes of network morning news, the PBS evening news, NPR’s Morning Edition, and all cable programs
  • The top 5 stories on each website at the time of capture

The basic NCI codebook codes for topic at three different levels, and also includes date coded, Story ID number, story date, source, broadcast start time, broadcast story start timecode, headline, story word count, placement/prominence, story format, story describer, and broadcast story ending timecode, geographic focus and campaign mention. The complete methodology for the weekly NCI has further details on the coding system and inter-coder reliability.

Outlets Examined

Newspapers (Sunday to Friday)

The New York Times every day (Coded two out of these four every day)
The Washington Post
The Los Angeles Times
USA Today
The Wall Street Journal (Coded two out of these four every day)
The Boston Globe
The (Minneapolis) Star Tribune
The Austin (Texas) American-Statesman
The Albuquerque Journal (Coded two out of these four every day)
The (Attleboro, Mass.) Sun Chronicle
The (Ashtabula, Ohio) Star Beacon
The Chattanooga Times Free Press
The Bakersfield Californian

Web sites (Monday to Friday)
Yahoo News
Google News
AOL News

Network TV (Monday to Friday)

Morning shows

ABC – Good Morning America
CBS – Early Show
NBC – Today

Evening news
ABC – World News Tonight
CBS – CBS Evening News
NBC – NBC Nightly News
PBS- Newshour with Jim Lehrer

Cable TV (Monday to Friday)
Daytime (2 to 2:30 p.m.) – coded two out of three every day
Fox News

Nighttime CNN – coded three out of the four every day
Lou Dobbs Tonight
Situation Room (6 p.m.)
Paula Zahn Now/Out in the Open
Anderson Cooper 360

Nighttime Fox News – coded three out of the four every day
Special Report With Brit Hume
Fox Report With Shepard Smith
O’Reilly Factor
Hannity & Colmes

Nighttime MSNBC – coded two out of the four every day
Tucker Carlson (6 p.m.)
Hardball (7 p.m.)
Countdown With Keith Olbermann
Scarborough Country/Live With Dan Abrams

Radio (Monday to Friday)
News Radio
Headlines – every day
ABC Radio headlines at 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
CBS Radio headlines at 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
NPR Morning Edition- 5:00-5:30 a.m. as broadcast on an East Coast member station.

Talk radio
Rush Limbaugh every day
One out of two additional conservatives each day:
Sean Hannity
Michael Savage
One out of two liberals each day:
Ed Schultz
Randi Rhodes

Additional Outlets Specific to Study of Spanish-Language Coverage of the Immigration Bill:


Spanish Language

La Opinión
El Nuevo Herald
El Diario-La Prensa


The New York Times
The Washington Post
Los Angeles Times

Network News

Spanish- Language


English- Language

ABC – World News Tonight
CBS – CBS Evening News
NBC – NBC Nightly News
PBS- Newshour with Jim Lehrer

Spanish-Language Coverage of the Immigration Bill: Methodology


PEJ studied the period June 25-29, 2007. In print we studied the front-sections of three Hispanic papers — La Opinión, El Nuevo Herald and El Diario-La Prensa – and three English-language papers — the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. In broadcast we studied the three English-language commercial television network evening newscasts and the PBS NewsHour and two Spanish-language evening newscasts, on Telemundo and Univision.
During this period all stories that were at least 50% about the issue of immigration were captured for analysis.

Story Capture

Five of the six papers — La Opinión, El Nuevo Herald, the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times — were collected by conducting a simple LexisNexis search, which allowed us to determine the word counts and placement of each story. Since El Diario-La Prensa was unavailable on LexisNexis, hard copies of the papers were obtained from the New York Public Library archives and all relevant articles were obtained. PEJ collected and studied all stories on the immigration bill appearing in the front section of each paper. The papers were selected based on circulation and geographic relevance to show the differences between different Hispanic markets, since Hispanic newspapers do not circulate nationally.
The broadcast stories were obtained from National Aircheck, a broadcast media monitoring firm. English broadcast stories were collected from PEJ’s news index archives, which contains daily network broadcast news programs. PEJ’s normal practice is to code only the first 30 minutes of a news broadcast if the program airs for over one hour, but in the case of all broadcast sources in English and Spanish, save for PBS NewsHour, all programs air for thirty minutes. In the case of PBS, PEJ coded only the first half hour.

Coding Design
Once the stories were collected, PEJ used the content analysis method employing original software designed to organize the stories according to specific variables. We selected several different variables that would allow us to measure each article quantitatively and qualitatively. For this project, the English-language stories had already been coded and identified in the Index as being on the discussion of the immigration legislation, and PEJ went back in the database and isolated those stories and combined them with the Spanish-language stories in the database.

The stories were categorized by:

  • Program or publication
  • Date
  • Word count
  • Format
  • Story describer
  • Three main sources

The story describer serves the purpose of allowing us to quickly identify a story based on content and gives a brief description of the material covered in the article. The three main sources variable specifies where the reporters obtained their information from when they relied on an outside source. Quotes from politicians or activists, statistics from organizations and interviews with citizens all are considered sources.

The qualitative aspect of the project focused on examining the articles for tone, language use and any other similarities or differences found in both print and broadcast. The stories were compared to one another in their respective languages and mediums and were then compared in English and Spanish to draw comparisons. All stories were coded in their original language.

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