The Columbia Journalism Review's Ron Howell claim that Jill Abramson's love of dogs is affecting The New York Times' number of dog stories is a little bit flawed--we know because we tried it before.
Howell asserts that, "Dogs have been appearing in the paper 45 percent more frequently since Jill Abramson took over as executive editor last November," a clear indication that Abramson, a onetime puppy blogger and author of a dogoir, is obsessed with canines. In doing so, Howell plugged *in the search term "dog!" (the exclamation point allows Lexis/Nexis to find results that use the root word "dog") and made sure that the mentions appeared more than three times in a story for it to count. His final numbers: an increase from 230 to 337 mentions since Abramson took over as Executive Editor. But there's a difference between stories that mention "dogs" and stories that are about dogs, and there's a difference between the number of times the word "dog" is mentioned versus the number of times those turn into dog stories. Here are the problems:
Stories That Include the Word Dog Three or More Times May Not Be About Dogs (Canines)
Yes, it's true. Take this story about "The Many Qaddafis" from February 2011--there are phrases like "stray dogs" or "mad dog" and an allusion about "dogs and cockroaches", which would appear in Howell's search. That's probably not the type of story which would indicate Jill Abramson's love of dogs. Neither would be a profile on Diane Harakawa (the chairwoman and chief executive of Riverain Medical in Miamisburg, Ohio) whose morning routine includes a run with her dog Millie and who once worked at a hot-dog hut, or these stories that mention hot dogs which would, using Howell's search terms, appear in his searches. We conducted a search similar to the one Howell performed (using his stated method) and found around 27 results where stories included hot dog mentions but no canine mentions (right).