If it bleeds, it leads
News outlets have many variables within their control that can influence public opinion about a subject. The most basic ones, such as the curation and selection of facts, give them exceptional power over the kind of information we can access. Others, like tone, time, and extent of coverage can subliminally affect our perception of the reported subject.
In this study, we will focus on a specific variable: the overall sentiment of a news article. Are news outlets selectively positive/negative in their reporting of certain subjects?
First, let's explore some overall statistics: the average sentiment per outlet and subject.
All outlets publish mostly negative news. This is not a bias introduced by the selected subjects; other studies have reached similar conclusions. In fact, trying to understand why news reports are predominantly negative is an active area of research. The consensus seems to be that people have a neurological predisposition to focus on negative information, and news outlets just use that to their own benefit.
People love bad news, but some outlets like to report them more than others. ABC News has the least amount of negativity in its news, while Fox News is the most negative.
No subject receives an overall positive sentiment. Donald Trump is the one with the least number of negative articles, with Hillary Clinton not too far back. Abortion and vaccination are rarely reported with a positive tone.
Let's dig deeper into the data and see how news outlets report various subjects. Click on the titles to see the charts.
Some of the most interesting findings:
We can use this type of data about news outlets to ascertain their similarity. The idea is simple: if they have identical sentiments about the same subjects, they are similar to each other.
After going through the charts, you might get a sense that certain groups of outlets are consistently rated in a similar way to each other. Fortunately, there are some statistical techniques to test this hypothesis.
There are four distinct groups: one composed solely of ABC News, and three others led by Washington Post, Huffington Post, and CBS News, respectively.
Some interesting findings came out of this analysis:
Every outlet is more negative about certain subjects. Are these sentiments conscious decisions of their editorial boards? That is a question we leave unanswered.