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


The second part 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. Round 2: Cabinet vs Shadow Cabinet.


In this second part of the analysis, we look at the big guns – how frequently have Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn and other prominent politicians being cited in the media, and what does this mean?


I’ll start off with saying that this really isn’t looking great for the Shadow Cabinet... So, for the faint of heart or easily enraged, look away now.

Across 2,000 news headlines on Brexit between January and August 2018, there were 463 references to Conservative Cabinet ministers, and just 48 for their Shadow counterparts. In other words, 91% of news headline references to Cabinet-level MPs were to Government politicians.

Brexit headline references. (January - August 2018)

Boris Johnson🗳️ alone achieved as many Brexit headlines as the entire Shadow Cabinet combined... As did the combination of the duo of David Davis🗳️ and Philip Hammond🗳️.


So, how does this break down across outlets? Well, because the Shadow Cabinet figures are so low, it is difficult to see. I have, therefore, calculated each as a proportion of their respective totals.

Percentage of references by outlet. (January - August 2018)

The Sun and Mirror account for over half of all Shadow Cabinet headlines, while the distribution across news sites for Cabinet member-led stories is more balanced, with some skews relative to Shadow Cabinet references in the Telegraph and Daily Mail.

So, maybe it is better for the Shadow Cabinet in the body text of these articles? Maybe they are not creating the news, but at least they are responding?

In the body text of 1,300 Brexit articles, there were nearly 2,500 Cabinet Minister references (with duplicate occurrences for the same minister removed). There were 364 references to Shadow Cabinet members. Here, the ratio is better! By four percentage points.

Brexit body text references (January - August 2018)

When we look at the leading contributors for coverage on both sides, unsurprisingly, the party leaders are at the top, but the gulf is huge. Theresa May🗳️ is referenced in nearly 70% of items, relative to Jeremy Corbyn🗳️’s 16%.


Percentage of Brexit articles Cabinet/Shadow Cabinet member have been referenced in. (January-August 2018)

Boris Johnson and David Davis are on equivalent levels to the entire Shadow Cabinet in terms of unique articles referencing them, while Philip Hammond is on par with the Shadow Cabinet minus Jeremy Corbyn.

Clearly right wing media bias skewing this, right? Well...


Click here!!


If we look at the Cabinet, there are some clear trends across news outlets. The BBC, Guardian and Buzzfeed are less likely to reference Theresa May, compared to the Daily Mail and the Sun – but still cite her in over half of items.


Brexit items referencing Cabinet/Shadow Cabinet member (January-August 2018)

The Daily Mail generally cites multiple Cabinet members in many of its items, but particularly favours Boris Johnson.


When we examine Shadow Cabinet references, an interesting trend emerges.  The Daily Mail is far more likely than any other source to reference Jeremy Corbyn, but the same is not true for the rest of the Shadow Cabinet.


But even among left-leaning media, Brexit coverage of the Shadow Cabinet is much lower than their Conservative counterparts. 17% of the Guardian’s Brexit articles mention Corbyn – but this is still lower than Theresa May, Boris Johnson and David Davis.


Keir Starmer beats only Michael Gove, and only in Buzzfeed’s coverage. John McDonnell loses to all of the Conservative ‘Big 6’.

Basically, the Shadow Cabinet aren’t even in the Brexit debate.🔷



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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