July 31, 2011

UK Front Pages Analysis - July 2011

I'm going to try something new and "exciting" - this month. I've been gathering data from all the front pages of the UK papers. I type up all the words from the front pages that I can clearly read when the front page image is about 230 pixels wide. I also include any main image captions, as the picture is also a big part of the front page punch.

The idea is to get a feel for the character of each paper and how it focusses its coverage, based on how it shouts at its audience. I will try and do this at the end of every month and see what each paper focussed on and found most imperative to sell to its audience.

I will try and build on my analysis over the coming months, but to start with I decided to create some word clouds using the software at worditout.com. In case you are unaware, a word cloud builds an image from the most common words used in a store of text; the more common the word, the larger the word appears. I'm going to show these clouds below the fold, as they will take up some space:

At first, I realised I might have a big problem! See if you can spot what's troublesome about these front page clouds:

The Mail:
The Express:
The Mirror:
The Star:
Etc, etc. The obvious problem is that the word 'free' appears so frequently that it dwarfs all other words by comparison. The papers are always trying to special offers that can take up as much as 50% of the paper's entire height. I haven't weighted any of the words by their size on the page, but believe me when I say that very often the word "FREE" is bigger than words in the headline. You'll also note that the word 'bread' appears quite frequently in the Express cloud, because their freebie was often a loaf of bread.

So I added "free" to the list of ignored words (which included "the", "of", "and" etc) to make sure my clouds gave a better picture of the content of the editorial message. I will continue to document occurrences of "free" and "win", though, and in future posts I will make a note of their weighting.

Also note: I did not have to remove the word "free" from The Guardian, i or The Independent as the word did not appear frequently enough to cause a problem. Furthermore, be aware that from The Mail, I also had to filter out the following words: recipe, Spencer, voucher, vouchers, diet, Dukan, holiday, holidays, Michelin, marks

First, let's look at The Guardian, i and The Independent, for reasons I'll explain in a second:

The Guardian
The Independent:
The reason I put these papers first is that they tend to be pretty good at straight reportage of the most prevalent news in headline-sized fonts on their front pages. i in particular is incredibly concise and gives a good benchmark for the rest of the papers to be marked against. So, looking at i, we see the hacking scandal was a big part of July, followed by the attacks in Norway. The NHS shows up due to talk of reforms, while actual reference to names is very limited (Murdoch, Breivik and Winehouse can all be seen in tiny text)

The Independent tends to have very similar story weighting to i (they are twin-sister papers, after all), but immediately you can see they have centred the hacking story around 'Murdoch' and, to a smaller extent, 'Brooks'. You'll see a similar pattern in The Guardian, though you'd be hard pressed to find 'Brooks' in their cloud. It's all about the Murdochs. This shows how stories are built around the people, not just the facts. To The Guardian and The Independent, this was all about Rupert Murdoch. In particular with The Guardian, you'll notice they mention 'Norway' more than they mention 'hacking', despite them banging on about phone hacking for longer than anyone.

The Mirror:
The Mirror has a long-standing spat with the Murdoch papers, so it's not surprising to see them build the hacking story around old man Rupert, too. Already, though, you see much more weight given to Amy Winehouse's death, with the Mirror using the first name, 'Amy', in the classic tabloid-best-mate way. Significant coverage was given to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's North American tour, but centred around their old mate, 'Kate'. Interestingly, their coverage of Norway's terrorist attack barely used the word 'Norway' at all, instead focussing on 'killer', personalising the story.

The Telegraph:
The Telegraph is a proper-bo broadsheet, so you'd expect it to try and be as dignified as possible in its display. It has given due prominence to the hacking scandal and the surrounding issues, such as Murdoch, Cameron, MPs and police. Still, only a single incident of the word 'Norway' means you won't see it on this cloud, though 'gunman' makes an appearance.

The Express:
The Daily and Sunday Express give due weighting to the hacking scandal, but mention Murdoch much less frequently in their shouty text, and Cameron hardly at all. Interestingly, they use the word 'Diana' as much as they use the word 'Murdoch'. The second most common appearance on the front page was 'Kate' as they follow the royal tour. The word 'cancer' appears more than 'NOTW'*.

The Star:
Desmond's other offering, The Daily and Sunday Star have decided to go a different way with their coverage, focussing on 'love'. That almost sounds sweet until you realise the word 'love' tends to appear in phrases such as 'love cheat' and 'secret love nest' in news that the Star appears to have made-up, whole cloth. It's cloud reads as you'd expect from OK magazine or hairdresser gossip. The word 'hacked' does appear in medium-sized text, though only in stories regarding the supposed hacking of 'Jordan', 'Jade' and 'Becks'.

The Mail:
The Daily and Mail on Sunday (which I had to filter twice just to get to the stories, don't forget) barely seems to mention hacking at all. 'Britain', 'home' and 'family' get plenty of attention, as you might expect from the conservative jingoists. The word 'Mail' appears frequently because they tend to mention themselves quite frequently on the front page. The Mail cloud is just a mess, really - you try and make some sense of it. I was expecting to see the words 'cancer', 'jobs', 'EU' and 'now' to appear in massive text, so colour me surprised.

The Times
So we come to the first of Murdoch's papers (note: I also filtered 'Philip Gould' and 'inside' as the Times was serialising his book this month). Interesting, the Times had less qualms in naming their boss than some of the other non-NI papers, with 'Murdoch' taking centre stage. Other than the phone hacking case, the Times have been quite diverse in their coverage, though you can spot 'BSkyB', 'Gadaffi', 'Duchess', 'Europe' and 'Amy' in there if you squint.

The Sun:
So The Sun focusses on 'hacking', but not 'Murdoch', unsurprisingly. It seemed to have a lot of 'exclusive's and spent a lot of effort mentioning itself and trying to find the Euromillion winners. 'Amy' Winehouse gets the first name treatment and again, 'love' appears quite a lot which, in this case, is a mixture of Amy Winehouse news and sex gossip.

I hope this was of interest. If you have any ideas of how to further this analysis, let me know and next month I'll make it even better. I'll continue to document the headlines over the course of August!

*'NOTW' is the catch all term I've used for any News of the World reference.

Note: Headline analysis is not indicative of coverage inside the newspaper or on its website.

Thanks to @suttonnick and @skynews for providing the front page images I use

I have saved the excel file I keep all the headlines in at a publicly available Google Docs location. It is free to download, if you wish to have a play with the data yourself - download it here.


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