Global Attention Profiles Ė A working paper

First steps towards a quantitative approach to the study of media attention

Ethan Zuckerman



News media outlets (newspapers, radio and television broadcasts and websites) have finite capacities. Newspapers have practical limits to the number of articles that can be printed each day. Radio and television broadcasters can fit only so many stories into a 30 minute newscast, and news websites must select which stories fit on their homepages.


The genesis of this paper was the anecdotal observation that major English-language news media outlets devote more attention to some countries than to others. This is to be expected: in a given week, some countries will experience newsworthy events like wars, natural disasters, scientific discoveries, economic collapses, sports championships, while others will not. But it is equally clear, on an anecdotal basis, that some countries get far more attention on a consistent basis, without regard to the relative frequency or magnitude of newsworthy events.


How do newspapers, newscasts and website divide their attention between regions of the world? To which countries to they devote the most attention? Why do some countries get more attention than others? Do factors like a countryís population and the size of its economy predict which countries will command the most attention from media channels?


This paper begins to answer some of these questions with repeatable, transparent statistical tools. It introduces the Global Attention Profile (GAP) as a portrait of a news media outletís attention to various nations. GAP software automatically crawls a news media outletís website and calculates country-by-country story counts over a period of time. This paper reports these story counts and correlates them to a wide range of country data sets provided by the World Bank.


GAP research demonstrates that the most accurate predictor of a media outletís attention is the size of a nationís gross domestic product. This correlation is significantly greater than the correlation between media attention and the size of a nationís population, and appears to be the strongest correlation between media attention and 21 factors examined. Generally speaking, violent conflict seems to have less effect on media attention than the size of a nationís economy does.


While most media sources studied demonstrate similar patterns, one media outlet Ė the BBC News Ė shows radically different patterns. The BBCís media attention is more closely correlated to the size of a nationís population than to the size of its economy.


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