The tone of coverage in the London Olympics may go any way the wind blows

The Oxford English Dictionary identifies 171 thousand words in the current-usage English language. Which to pick from when reporting a story?

The choice is not a small one. For example, was there a “controversy” or a “dust-up” surrounding that call in the volleyball match? Maybe a “fire storm?” Those three choices – all describing the same event – can have profound impact on how the audience views the games. And research out of Penn State suggests, based on analysis of the Beijing Games, that the weather has a big effect on what choices American journalists make.

The study matched the positive and negative tone of coverage to weather conditions and air quality. And the results were consistent:

By using computer-aided content analysis, this study examined how Beijing’s weather, which was measured by the Air Pollution Index (API), temperature, and cloudiness (sunny or cloudy), might influence the coverage of the 2008 Beijing Olympics by 4 U.S. newspapers. The results demonstrated that the API and temperature were significantly related to the negativity of the news reports that were filed from Beijing. Specifically, as Beijing’s temperature rose or air pollution level increased, U.S. journalists used more negative words in reporting on the Olympics. The temperature was also correlated with the negativity of China-related reports. The findings provided evidence that journalists’ news decision making might be influenced by a greater variety of factors than we previously thought.

Basically, when US reporters’ hair got frizzy, they started talking shit about China. Which, let’s face it, is understandable in a country where they had to shut down all manufacturing in an entire city just so Olympic athletes didn’t die.

By Tommy Belknap

Owner, developer, editor of DragonFlyEye.Net, Tom Belknap is also a freelance journalist for The 585 lifestyle magazine. He lives in the Rochester area with his wife and son.

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