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100 Days of Gushing Oil – Media Analysis and Quiz

About this Report

A number of members of the PEJ staff assisted in the production of this report, “100 Days of Gushing Oil: Eight Things to Know About How the Media Covered the Gulf Disaster.”

The team that aided in the research, including coding and content analysis of almost 2900 stories about the oil spill, included:  Vadim Nikitin, Sovini Tan, Nancy Vogt, Danielle Kurtzleben, Kenny Olmstead, Mahvish Khan, Jeff Beattie,  Kevin Caldwell, Jesse Holcomb, Emily Guskin, Angela Sanson and Paul Hitlin.
Other staff members who made substantial contributions to the report were: Researcher/coder Aaron Ray, research analyst Josh Appelbaum, public relations associate Dana Page, weekly News Index manager Tricia Sartor, analyst/coder Laura Houston Santhanam, senior methodologist Hong Ji, associate director Mark Jurkowitz, deputy director Amy Mitchell and director Tom Rosenstiel.


As a special report for PEJ’s weekly News Coverage Index (NCI), “100 Days of Gushing Oil: Eight Things to Know About How the Media Covered the Gulf Disaster” is based on aggregated data collected from April 20, 2010 through July 28, 2010. The complete methodology of the NCI is available here.

Examining the news agenda of 52 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.

Following a rotation system, PEJ analyzes all stories with a national or international focus that appear as follows:

  • On the front page of newspapers
  • In the entirety of commercial network evening newscasts
  • During the first 30 minutes of network morning news and all cable programs
  • During a thirty minute segment (rotated daily) of the PBS evening news and NPR’s Morning Edition or All Things Considered
  • As one of the top 5 stories on each website at the time of capture
  • During the first 30 minutes of radio talk shows
  • During the entirety of radio news headline segments

Capture and Retrieval

All outlets included in the weekly index are captured and included in PEJ’s media archive.

For newspapers that are available in print in the Washington, D.C. area, we have hard copies delivered to our office each day. For newspapers that are not available for delivery, digital editions of the paper are retrieved either through the newspaper’s own web site, or through the use of digital delivery services such as and When necessary, the text of articles are supplemented by the archives available in the LexisNexis computer database.

Radio programs are captured through online streams of the shows. Using automated software, we record several local affiliates that air the program in various markets throughout the country. The purpose of this method is to ensure that we have a version of the program in case one of the streams is unavailable on a particular day, and so that we record the show in a manner that represents the way a typical listener would hear the program with commercials and newsbreaks.

Online websites are captured manually by a member of PEJ’s staff. The capture time is rotated between 9 am ET and 4 pm ET. The home pages and pages with the top articles for all sites are saved so that when we reference the material, the format is the same as it appeared online at the time of capture. 
Finally, all television shows are recorded digitally and archived for coding purposes. PEJ is a subscriber to DirectTV satellite service and all programs are burned onto DVDs for archival purposes.
All television and radio programs are then coded by a member of PEJ’s staff who watches or listens to the archived version of the program.

List of Outlets and Rotation Schedule

The most current list of outlets and rotation schedule is available here.

Story Selection

This report aggregates the NCI from April 20, 2010 through July 28, 2010. The data is primarily based on 2,866 oil spill stories during that time. Stories were considered to be about oil spill if 50% or more of the story was on that topic.

Coding Team

The coding team responsible for performing the content analysis is made up of seventeen individuals. The daily coding operation is directed by a coding manager, a training coordinator, a methodologist, and a content supervisor. Several of the coders have been trained extensively since the summer of 2006 and most of the coders have more than a year’s worth of coding experience.

Social Media Coverage of the Oil Spill

This study also examined the coverage of the oil spill in social media, which is based on the data collected from PEJ’s New Media Index from April 20, 2010 through July 28, 2010. The NMI is a weekly report that captures the leading commentary of blogs and social media sites focused on news.

A prominent Web tracking site Icerocket, which monitors millions of blogs, uses the links to articles embedded on these sites as a proxy for determining what these subjects are. Using this tracking process as a base, PEJ staff compiles the lists of links each weekday. They capture the top five linked-to stories on each list (25 stories each week), and reads, watches or listens to these posts and conducts a content analysis of their subject matter, just as it does for the mainstream press in its weekly News Coverage Index.

The priorities of the bloggers are measured in terms of percentage of links. Each time a news blog or social media Web page adds a link to its site directing its readers to a news story, it suggests that the author of the blog places at least some importance on the content of that article. The user may or may not agree with the contents of the article, but they feel it is important enough to draw the reader’s attention to it. The percent of links of each big story is determined by taking the total number of links in the sample and then dividing that number by the number of links devoted to each specific story. The percentages are then ranked in order to discover the five storylines that were most present in online commentary. 

For the examination of the links from Twitter, PEJ staff monitored the tracking site Tweetmeme. Similar to Icerocket, Tweetmeme measures the number of times a link to a particular story or blog post is tweeted and retweeted. Then, PEJ captured the five most popular linked-to pages each weekday under the heading of “news” as determined by Tweetmeme’s method of categorization. And as with the other data provided in the NMI, the top stories are determined in terms of percentage of links.

The New Media Index also includes a section of the most popular news videos on YouTube each week. Each Friday at noon ET, a PEJ staff member captured the list of most viewed news and politics videos on YouTube over the previous week. These videos are categorized as such on the YouTube site and are often a mix of mainstream news reports, raw footage relating to breaking events, or other types of public affairs clips. PEJ determined the top five most viewed videos as they are listed on YouTube’s page at the time of capture.

The complete methodology of New Media Index available here.

Interactive Feature on Media Websites for the Oil Spill Coverage 

In connection with this study, PEJ examined the websites associated with 14 major national news outlets to evaluate how those organizations used their sites to bolster ongoing coverage of the spill.

The outlets examined included: the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, the Associated Press, ABC News, CBS News, MSNBC, PBS NewsHour, Fox News, CNN, the Huffington Post and ProPublica. 

PEJ researchers examined the interactive features between July 30 and August 4, 2010.  Researchers audited these websites and searched for interactive features on the homepages and in sections of the sites devoted to coverage of the Gulf oil spill. The analysis focused on interactive graphics and multimedia tools on those websites. While by no means was this an exhaustive look at web tools developed, it did give us a sampling of how news outlets used the web to supplement their coverage.

Public Interest in the Oil Spill

This study also compares public’s interest in the oil spill with the media coverage of the oil spill during the first 100 days of the disaster. In this study, while the media coverage is based on the data collected from PEJ’s News Coverage Index, the public interest is based on the News Interest Index surveys  (NII) produced by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. NII is a weekly survey measuring the public’s interest in and reaction to major news events, and has been used in conjunction with the NCI. 

These twin indices of what the media are covering and how the public is responding help understand the degree to which journalists and citizens are in sync—or in disagreement—over what constitutes important news.

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