New York Times and Wall Street Journal Coverage of Japan Earthquake and Fukushima Nuclear Crisis (I)

We continue our analysis of the initial media storyline of Japan earthquake and tsunami, and the related Fukushima nuclear crisis. In a previous post we have shown how the Fukushima crisis is portrayed by media from United States, United Kingdom, Australia and India. National results are elaborated by the sum of the contributions of all local newspapers.

If an event receives a relevant and sustained media impact, content storyline analysis can also be performen for singular newspapers. For instance, in precedent research projects we have measured how top US newspapers by circulation were following Republican and Democrat candidates, and to which extent they presented bias in terms of total media coverage. As the current media attention to Japan disasters is global and massive, we can study the specific behaviour of any particular newspaper.

We have chosen in this blog to show the storyline profile of two leading and influential American newspapers: The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. As these two newspapers are new content generators, they become content providers for other newspapers when cited by. As WJS is a business oriented journal, we expect to find a specific focus on the economic consequences of the earthquake and the tsunami concerning local and international companies, and this should be reflected in the storyline. Those effect are of main importance for Japan’s economy and business, but less relevant for the global economy.

But in contrast with all other big natural disasters, Tohoku earthquake captures media attention with a clear local interests interpellation, as the Fukushima nuclear crisis may seriously open the debate about the future of nuclear energy use. United States uses profusely nuclear power. According to Gallup, in year 2010, 62% of respondents were favorable to nuclear power use for generating electricity, and 33% were opposed. Approval rates are partisan: using 2009 data it appears that 71% Republicans approve nuclear energy, while the approval rate for Democrats drops to 52%. Approval rates right now are respectively 62% and 32%. As it could be expected, approval rating are falling substantially in the context of the Japanese nuclear crisis: 39% of all respondents feel a lot more concerned about a nuclear disaster occurring in the United States after events in Japan, and an additional 31% are a little more concerned.

As many people consider NYT more liberal than WSJ, or WSJ more conservative than NYT, we want to check using our approach to which extent we find a different storyline profile about Fukushima nuclear crisis between these two leading newspapers. We will compare their behaviour to the storyline resulting from all newspapers from United States in our sample.

The analysis of this post is based in the content analysis of more than 200 different articles published by NYT and some 1,300 by WSJ directly related to Japan earthquake. Even if the range of the sample is wide enough, caution is required concerning the interpretation of individual results. When the media impact of an specific storyline component of NYT or WSJ is bigger than 1.0 points, we consider that results are quite reliable, as reflect an important amount of prevalence in different news. For issues obtaining lower scores as they are less frequently in the news, individual results are not directly reliable. In this case we consider that the relevant information appears if all single storyline components pertaining to similar issues behave following a common trend.

First figure just refer to the extension given to the main events suffered by Japan. First reference is still the earthquake, specially present in WSJ news. Fukushima related news receive a similar amount of news.

The following figures refer all to the Fukushima storyline.

The first one of them refers to main global issues in relation with Fukushima. While global attention to Fukushima is similar in both newspapers, we find that NY Times insists more than WSJ concerning “radioactive”, “contamination” and somewhat also “meltdown”. If we compare both to average US newspapers, we find that is WSJ which is underscoring these issues. It follows a clear different pattern concerning media coverage to “radioactive” and “contamination”.

In the following figure we show to which extent the newspapers use the reference to past nuclear disasters as a piece of the present Fukushima crisis storyline. We find a clear differenciated pattern between both newspapers. In comparison to US media coverage average, Wall Street Journal underuse references to past nuclear accidents. The underuse ratio is higher concerning the most severe past nuclear accident (Chernobyl, Level 7 accident) than concerning references to Three Mile Island, which did not provoke direct human casualties. The opposite happens with New York Times coverage: it stresses the media references to past nuclear accidents, in ha higher extent than US newspapers. Similar results concerning references to past disasters from other nature. References to the A-bomb suffered by Japan in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. References to BP oil spill disaster in Gulf of Mexico in the context of Japan disaster are marginal in US media and WSJ, by they play a certain role in the NYT storyline. Finally, the reference to the precedent big earthquake suffered by Japan, Kobe 1995 quake is reported in a similar way both by WSJ and NYT. In this case, the reference to past Japanese tragedy is unrelated with the nuclear debate.

There is a crucial choice that influences the whole profiling of the storyline: the basic labeling of the event. In the newxt figure we show the weight given by the newspapers to different wording of what is happening in Fukushima nuclear plant I Daiichi.

According to our results, the most used labeling is to refer to Fukushima as a “nuclear crisis”. This labeling takes 4.7 points of media impact in the storyline of news about the Japan disaster. In relative terms, this is also a preferred way to present the events by Wall Street Journal journalists. Other naming are “nuclear disaster”, by far less present, with 1.1 points of media impact. This is again a preferred option for WSJ. Third used option is “nuclear accident” (0.4 points), and is the chosen formula by NYT in relative terms to other media (in absolute terms, the main reference is to consider it as a “nuclear crisis”. Final used option is “nuclear emergency” (0.2 points), most widely used by WSJ. We can appreciate that the reference to an objective event, which is the explosion, is refelcted in the news in the same way by noth newspapers.

We echoed in a precedent post the controversial description by a top official from the European Union of Fukushima as an apocalyptic event. Our results show that only marginal media attention is given by US newspapers, and that NYT tends to use is in a higher proportion. Similar result concerning the use of “nightmare”.

Next figure refers to the appeareance of main local Japanese and international actors and authorities related with the crisis. Main reference for US media is Tokyo Electric Power, the company managing the Fukushima nuclear plant. We have splitted mentions to full name and those referring to it as TEPCO. WSJ shows references to the comapny in line with US average, and apparently prefers to use TEPCO instead of full name, in relative terms. This absence of divergent pattern is paradoxically an unexpected result. As WSJ is a business oriented newspaper, we should expect to find a special focus and media attention to Tokyo Electric Power concerning all different aspects when covering this nuclear crisis. This does not happen actually, and we will see later that this absence of interest on TEPCO is in sharp contrast with the media interest shown by WSJ in all other economic and business impact derived from the Japan earthquake and tsunami.

Concerning Japanese authorities, we find that WSJ and NYT insist more than US average when talking about them as a group (“Japanese Government”, “Japanese authorities”), but in a lower extent when referring to persons (Prime Minister Edano, Chief Cabinet Kan). Finally, the reference to the International Atimic Energy Agency is lower than average for NYT and specially for WSJ. The ratio Japanese Government/IAEA is 1.2 for average US media, 1.9 for NYT and 3.6 for WSJ. The way reference to local and international authorities is made is probably also a key factor in designing the storyline.

Other references

News Corp Scandal Media Coverage in US Newspapers

How Harmful Is News of the World Scandal for News Corp Reputation?

Movimiento 15-M, Democracia Real Ya: Perception by Local Newspapers El Mundo, El País, Intereconomía, Público

Bin Laden Killing News Storyline 1. Pakistan Media Coverage versus International Media (Ex USA)

New York Times and Wall Street Journal Coverage of Japan Earthquake and Fukushima Nuclear Crisis (II) About The Nuclear Debate

Japan XIV. New York Times and Wall Street Journal Coverage of Japan Earthquake and Fukushima Nuclear Crisis (II)

Japan XIII. New York Times and Wall Street Journal Coverage of Japan Earthquake and Fukushima Nuclear Crisis (I)

Japan XII. Japan Prefectures Media Coverage. Relationship with Personnel and Property Casualties by Earthquake and Tsunami

Japan XI. Companies in Europe Most Affected by Japan Earthquake, Tsunami, Fukushima Nuclear Crisis, by Media Impact

Japan IX. Fukushima Nuclear Crisis Media Views in United States, United Kindgom, Australia and India.

Japan VIII. Wikileaks on Fukushima and the Japan Nuclear Crisis. Measurement of the Initial Media Storyline.

Japan VII. Fukushima as a Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster: Media References by Countries