CBC Releases Interim Results of Their News Study

CBC News has released an interim report of a large-scale review and analysis of news content, which is yielding valuable insights into how the public broadcaster’s journalism performs across a wide range of measures, including its political coverage. You can see the report here

The study, known as the News Balance Report, adds to a considerable existing body of research over the past 30 years, used to ensure its journalism, and continues to lead in establishing and performing to best industry practices. In addition, CBC News has a publicly-available set of Journalistic Standards and Practices and is accountable to an independent Ombudsman.

“Trustworthiness and transparency are two of our key attributes,” says Jennifer McGuire, CBC News general manager and editor in chief. “Quite rightly, as Canada’s public broadcaster, our news and current affairs operations are held to a higher standard. We believe an important part of that responsibility is to regularly evaluate what we do and how we do it as part of our accountability to Canadians.”

“For us, the notion of balance extends further than simply political coverage,” McGuire says. “While politics is an important part of our mandate, we also have an obligation to represent Canada to Canadians in a host of different ways. We also look at how various viewpoints and issues appear, how Canada’s geographic regions are covered and the representation of gender on CBC News. All of this helps to inform our journalism.”

“The News Balance Report is a thorough and careful content evaluation to help determine whether the CBC is meeting its editorial mandate,” says Mark Jurkowitz, associate director of the Pew Research Centre’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and a member of an expert panel overseeing the study. “While the question of balance may ultimately lie in the eye of the beholder, these findings represent a laudable effort at journalistic transparency.”

The interim report is based on a 10-week sample of television, radio and internet news between October 26, 2009 and January 17, 2010. The full study will span the 25-week period ending May 2, 2010. A full report on the study, which was initiated in January, 2009, will be released in the fall of 2010.

Produced by ERIN Research Inc. and overseen by an independent panel of media experts (see below), the full study will include both detailed content analysis and audience perception research. While its focus is CBC News, both network and local/regional, it includes competitors on each platform.

Content analysis provides information about gender balance, geographic representation, subject matter and tone of political and other coverage. It covers approximately 440 hours of radio and television news and 2,400 stories on the Internet. It is likely the most comprehensive news study undertaken in Canada, if not North America.

The authors note that numerical results “do not indicate balance or the lack thereof… Often, there are competing positions on how news can be presented, and different observers may legitimately disagree.”

Among the preliminary findings:

– While overall, people portrayed in news coverage are far more likely to be men, CBC News anchors and hosts are more likely to be women; other networks are more likely to have men as anchors and hosts;

– While CBC News tends to give more news coverage to visible minorities and aboriginal people, these groups are still generally under-represented on all networks;

– CBC News does a good job representing the country geographically in proportion to distribution of population; although English-language coverage of Quebec is generally under-represented in all English language media;
– Government gets more coverage than opposition. We have also evaluated the tone of our political coverage (with stories categorized as “positive,” “neutral” or “negative”). The majority of the coverage is neutral. However, government attracts both more negative and more positive coverage than the opposition. Coverage of the opposition is more likely to be neutral. This is perhaps not surprising, since it is government which makes decisions and are held accountable – and criticized – for them.  “While we still have a good deal of data yet to look at, we already have information which will be useful to our programming teams for long term planning and development,” McGuire says.

Five media experts from Canada and abroad were selected as a panel of advisors to the project. Their role is to provide methodological and interpretive advice to ERIN Research directors, who retain final control over content. The five represent a spectrum of broad expertise and experience in mass media:

– Sarah Carter: Bureau Chief, CBS News, Johannesburg and visiting professor at the University of British Columbia;

– Fred Fletcher: Professor Emeritus, Communication Studies and Political Science, York University and founding president of the Canadian Media Research Consortium;

– Hanson Hosein: Director of the Master of Communication in Digital Media program at the University of Washington in Seattle;

– Mark Jurowitz: Associate Director of the Pew Research Centre Project for Excellence in Journalism;

   – Holli Semetko: Vice Provost for International Affairs and Director of the Office of International Affairs at Emory University and 1995-2003 Professor and Chair of Audience and Public Opinion Research, Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, University of Amsterdam.