Why I Get More Than One Newspaper, Cont.

Last week I mentioned the striking difference in the way three major newspapers "framed" the latest employment data. The Washington Post's headline was "Jobs report builds hope," the WSJ's was "Tepid Job Growth Fuels Worry," and the NYT's was "Job Creation Is Still Steady Despite Worry" -- this while all were talking about exactly the same government report.

Here's a new example, from the front pages of the same three major dailies yesterday. The visuals are fuzzier, but the editorial differences are at least as significant. Let me lay out what you're seeing below.

The news concerns the findings that 2012 was the hottest year on record for the continental United States. The Washington Post and the New York Tmes both played this as big front-page news. The WaPo's headline, at left in the picture below, was "Nation set record for heat last year." The NYT's was "Not Even Close: 2012 Was Hottest Year Ever in U.S." Both papers devoted most of the above-the-fold space on their front pages to the stories and accompanying photos, maps, and graphics -- which I've boxed in red.


Then we have the WSJ. The picture on its front page, marked in blue, is also weather-related, about the heat wave and related brush fires in Australia. But it's a picture-and-caption, and is  presented mainly as a weather story, as with a blizzard or tornado, rather than as bearing on climate issues. How does the WSJ deal with the "Hottest Year on Record" news? Its treatment is also shown in red: the little "news briefs" box, pointing to a story on an inside page.

Themes for further study:
  • At the most obvious level, this is one more reminder of the importance of "framing." Two major papers decided the "hottest year" finding was first-tier news. The third did not.

  • In conjunction with the previous WaPo/NYT/WSJ comparison, it raises an interesting question about the WSJ. For years everyone who talks about the WSJ has contrasted its editorial & op-ed pages, which are the print equivalents of Fox News or CCTV, with its news operations, admired by all. The main biases of the news operation would be the professional/cultural biases of journalism in general, rather than a Fox-style partisan tilt.

    Yet as a matter of strict news judgment and framing, in both of these cases the NYT and the WP chose one emphasis (job report basically positive; climate report quite important) and the WSJ chose an emphasis that was not only different but also more "right wing." Jobs-report news is basically bad; climate news is not that important. Coincidence? Sign of editorial/news convergence at Murdoch's WSJ? I don't know, and these are only two data points. But it may be a trend worth watching.

  • When I was a kid in southern California, a surprisingly large number of my school teachers were former "Okies," whose farmer-parents had fled with their children to California from the man-made disaster of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. My sixth-grade teacher would describe how, as a sixth-grader himself in Oklahoma, he had watched the sky turn black during dust storms and then watched the family's crops and cattle die. He gave us bonus lectures on the importance of soil conservation -- and said that his parents had given him lectures on the importance of wildlife conservation, after hearing from their parents about the extinction of the once-numberless passenger pigeons, the near hunting-out of the buffalo, and so on. The moral in all these stories was: Why didn't they stop before it was too late? You can fill in the rest. (Or read this, in Grist.) 
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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