Crime or economy: which one gets more local media attention?

Spoiler: not a crime

Author:

VoxUkraine and SemanticForce have jointly conducted research into the subjects covered by the regional media and identified the proportion of the publications relating to economy in these media as well as specific economic topics that appear most frequently.     

The new era of fakes requires journalists  to comply with professional standards and readers to be attentive and media literate. Even though television remains the leading source of information for Ukrainians, online media ranks second enjoying increasing popularity. With the growing popularity of national online publications, the regional online media also get more attention from the readers.

Hence our interest in finding out what makes the regional media tick, what topics they consider relevant and what topics get most media coverage. It is equally important to understand their role in raising the level of economic discussion in the country. Do they write about economic issues at all and if so, what is their particular area of interest?

How we calculated

We received all the news published on the regional media sites from December 2018 to May 2019.

We selected the regional media actively cooperating with VoxUkraine, in particular in the VoxConnector project, as well as large regional media. Overall, 159 regional online media from all over Ukraine were entered into our database. During April-May we also had phone interviews with nearly 80 media participating in the VoxConnector project regarding their content and the popularity of specific topics.

The final sample contains 452,071 publications.

We used the inductive dictionary-based method (PLSA) to determine the proportion of articles in the regional media relating to the economy. We identified the following 10 categories of the articles: economy; politics; culture; sport; crime; military conflict in the East of Ukraine; medicine; education; religion; other (general subjects).

For each of these 10 categories, we created a dictionary of keywords. We further broke down “Economy” and “Politics” into subcategories: the former with a view of seeing whether regional journalists write about the economy and if so, what exactly their focus is; the latter with a view of verifying our assumption that on average the regional media began to write more about politics with the beginning of the presidential race (January 2019). 

Spoiler: the local media wrote extensively on politics only in April, prior to it the attention to this topic had remained on the same level. The most popular topic turned out to be the economy. 

The algorithm counted the number of root words and their forms for the Ukrainian and Russian languages. Their number accumulated throughout the text, and, when counted, it equalled the score that the subcategory received, the sum total of the points for all the subcategories being the sum of the category. After all the categories received points, they were compared and the category having the highest score was assigned to the article.

For instance, the category “Economy” consists of 14 subcategories. Among them there is the subcategory “Budget” with the keywords: budget, tax, single social contribution, tax on withdrawn capital, income tax, grant-in-aid, subsidy, treasury, government bonds, etc. That is, if any of these words is found in the text, it is +1 point to the subcategory “Budget” of the category “Economy”.

The category of the article was also defined based on where exactly in the text the algorithm found a match. The title and subtitle have to be weighted and prioritized since they should contain the main topic and the idea of ​​the article. The search for matches in the text weights less since the tags and recommendations from articles relating to other topics could be found in the text of the news. Whenever our dictionary hit on a match in the title or subtitle the values ​​were further weighted (weight = 5), the matches in the body of the article had a weight of 1. The weight of 5 points was determined based on the fact that it allowed for the highest accuracy of categorization. We started with a weight of 2 points and gradually increased it.

We thus managed to improve our categorization. The probability of miscategorization is 8%. The categorization was verified by gradually checking a random sample of 100 news until we reached an acceptable level of error.

Since one of the global goals of VoxUkraine is to further develop economic discussion we additionally weighted the topics in the category “Economy” (weight = 1.05). If an article contains economic indicators it means there is an interest in this topic and it can and should be developed and expanded.

What is of interest to the regions? The most popular topics of the articles

Economy, crime, politics and culture are the most popular topics in the regional media. Such articles account for 70% of the whole array of the articles researched.

Articles relating to the economy represent 32% of all the regional media news over the past six months. It is the highest percentage among all the other categories, which both pleasantly surprised us and disproved one of our assumptions that most articles would relate to crime (the latter accounts for 21.3%).

Another interesting finding is that the local media write about politics just as frequently as they write about culture even though the data was collected precisely for the period of the election race that began in January 2019. According to the editor of a regional mass media, news about local cultural events get a lot of views because everyone is eager to know what is going on in their city. News about big politics can be read on the national media anyway.

It should be noted that our research has revealed that over the last six months the 159 media under study published approximately the same amount of news monthly: an average of 6 thousand publications per month. As for the articles relating to politics, they were unevenly distributed with their number increasing as the election day approached: the least publications came out in December (11.3%) with the publications in April being 2.5 times more (28.9%).

Overall, culture receives an average of 1,000 publications a month more than politics, namely 6,000 vs. 5,000. If we leave out the peak in April, then an average of 16 articles out of every 100 from our sample will be about culture and 14 about politics.

Another surprising finding of this study is the unexpectedly little number of articles about the Orthodox Church (1.3% of all publications). Most publications about this topic came out in winter when Ukraine received the Tomos. In December-January nearly the same number of church-related articles appeared as in February-May. The regional media did not actively cover the transition of churches to the OCU: the average monthly number of such publications had been halved already in February and remained at that level: an average of 4.6 publications per month in one mass media.

Education, the conflict in the East of Ukraine and sports received a roughly equal share of media attention: about 2%. More frequently than these topics but less frequently than politics, the local media sites publish articles relating to medicine which accounts for 4% of the total array and an average of 21 articles per month in one media. That is, it could be assumed that on average each media publishes articles about medicine 5 times a week.

The regional mass media write a lot about the economy. New productions and business practices, gas tariffs, budgets and investments in regional development become the news’ focus more often than the articles of other categories. Every third article contains economic indicators and terms which means that economic topics are worth expanding.

Economic discussion in the regions

32 out of every 100 articles from our array relate to the economy. According to the regional journalists, the economy is important because it helps understand the impact of global processes of the Ukrainian economy on the regions. In their economic articles, the journalists of the local mass media mostly give their readers practical knowledge and skills.

Explaining their motivation to write about the economy the regional journalists refer to this topic as a vacant niche that can attract both specialized business audience and ordinary citizens.

The articles relating to the economy can also become a means of monetization for the regional media: businesses are beginning to regard such media as an advertising platform. According to the personal experience of the journalists we interviewed, the readers are more prone to reading longer articles about the economy than short news reports on the same subject. These are not representative data but rather a trend and food for thought.

Which economic topics get more local media attention?

To answer this question we broke down “Economy” into the following 14 subtopics: 

  • Transport
  • Business
  • Budget
  • Energetics
  • Banks
  • Income
  • International financial aid
  • Housing and Communal Services; utility tariffs
  • Agriculture 
  • Investments 
  • Foreign Currency
  • Inflation
  • Macroeconomic indicators
  • Raiding

The most popular economic topics in the regions are those relating to the life of the region: transport (45%), business (19%), and budgets (10%). These are the topics where local media can compete with large national media.

About 45% of the publications relating to the economy compare to transport. It is little wonder since this subtopic contains references to local roads (mostly to roadworks but not limited to them), transportation and public transport fares.

The articles about regional businesses and the impact of national business on the region account for 19% of all the economic articles. These include publications about the launching of new businesses, news about plants and factories, as well as the regulators’ activities, news about business forums, etc. Regional business news is interesting for the readers including the businessmen themselves. Such materials create a platform for discussion and a positive impression regarding the development of the business environment in the region.

The articles relating to the budgets are both relevant and popular with the regional mass media accounting for 10%. Here belong articles about the budgeting process at the state level, taxes and the respective state bodies, as well as about the public budgets, regional budgets, grants-in-aid and subsidies for the region. The subtopic of decentralization and allocation of funds is the most interesting for the reader. According to the journalists, such articles get the most views.

Slightly less popular with the regional media are the topics relating to the energy sector (6%), banks (4.9%), household incomes (4.1%) and international financial aid (4.1%). These are rather the topics of the “big” mass media and the regional media cannot really come up with new ideas here. Therefore, having no competitive advantages they are not interested in writing about it.

Even less popular are the topics relating to the agrarian sector accounting for only 1.3% of the “Economy”, “Investments” (1.1%) and “Housing and Communal Services” (2.6%).

Relatively few are the regional media publications relating to foreign currency (0.8%), inflation (0.5%), macroeconomic indicators (0.2%) and corporate raids (0.1%). We specifically included the topic “Raiding” in “Economy” in addition to in “Crime” with a view of finding out how serious this problem is and whether much is written with regard to corporate raids in the context of the economy. Luckily, not much. And the topic “Crime” contains even fewer articles about raiding, namely 0.06%.

Conclusions

  1. The regional media address economic issues more often than other topics. We have analyzed 452,071 publications on 159 regional media sites and found that 32% (148,892) relate to the economy. Ranking second by a significant margin are the articles relating to crime (21%) with the articles relating to general subjects of the category “Other” (16.8%) and publications about culture (8.58%) and politics (8.07%) ranking third.
  2. The topics relating to “Church” (1.25%), “ATO” (2.11%) and “Education” (2.48%) are the least popular. The Church received most coverage in December and January whereas “Education” and “ATO” were published evenly each month of the past six months.
  3. Among the topics relating to the economy the most popular are “Transport” (45%), “Business” (19.2%) and “Budget” (9.8%). Less than 1% of the economic articles are publications about macroeconomic indicators (0.1%), inflation (0.2%) and foreign currency (0.5%).

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Disclaimer

The author doesn`t work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have no relevant affiliations