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How are UK online news outlets covering Brexit? (Part I)


The first of a selection of pieces of analysis (with data and charts) quantifying different aspects of the Brexit coverage in the UK news media in 2018. Different angles will be covered in future pieces. Round 1: DExEU vs Shadow DExEU.


Firstly, looking at 2,000 Brexit news headlines from nine news outlets between January and August 2018, I have searched for each of the current and previous Conservative Brexit Department ministers and their Labour shadow counterparts.

David Davis does best with 34 headlines referencing him (largely the Daily Mail and the Sun) to Dominic Raab’s 12. Keir Starmer achieved just 4 – in the BBC, Guardian and Independent only.

Number of headlines referencing DExEU / Shadow DExEU, between January and August 2018.

Some of Raab’s headlines were likely due to his brand new appointment in July, but he has already clocked up more headlines than the entire Shadow DExEU team has since January this year.


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Next, who is referenced in the body of the items? Well, David Davis again. Across a subset of 1,300 news items from six sites, David Davis is referenced in 292 (over a fifth of pieces), and Dominic Raab in 113 (8%).

Number of items referencing a politician since January 2018.

Keir Starmer beats Steve Baker, but he is the only Shadow DExEU representative with any significant coverage at all. And at an average of 4% of items, the coverage isn’t particularly wide.

In terms of news outlets, Dominic Raab is covered at fairly similar rates across websites, but David Davis has peaks in the Daily Mail – 30% of Mail Online items have some reference to David Davis. Keir Starmer on the other hand has low coverage, but the Guardian and BBC give him slightly more prominence.

BuzzFeed News just seems to enjoy passing references to Steve Baker in many of its Brexit pieces…

So, what does this mean? Inevitably, a skew favouring DExEU could be perceived as a bias, however, the fact that this persists across outlets indicates that it is an issue that has more to do with the communication and the public profile of the Shadow DExEU team than with news outlets themselves.


Obviously the angle that articles take will differ quite significant across news outlets, but what it does mean is that the Conservative Brexit Department team has been leading the news agenda across the board, while Labour has failed to engage even with friendly sites.🔷



Methodology:

  • I generated a list of nearly 2,000 headlines using Google’s site search feature (looking for ‘Brexit’) restricted to items published since Jan 1 2018. For 1,300 of these items (those not behind a paywall), I have assessed the article contents for keywords.
  • I have done my best to remove errant links/references to other items on each site from the text analysed, as this risks over-representing certain terms on certain sites. This does mean there is a margin of error in this analysis.
  • This isn’t a 100% exhaustive list of all items published by each news outlet on Brexit, but it is a good sample, representing at least one per day for most of the major news sites.
  • Each article is only counted once per politician — regardless of how many times they are referenced in that article. I took into account the fact that full names might not be used in articles.

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(This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected.)


(Cover: Dreamstime/Chris Dorney.)


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Researcher - Media Research and Strategy. Particular expertise around television and online video, transactional media and fixed-line telecommunications.
London, UK. Website

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