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Richard Broughton @Richard_Ampere
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Thread: How are UK online news outlets covering #Brexit in 2018? More analysis, with more data and charts!

Part 4: **Is news outlets’ focus on abstract concepts a reason voter opinions are slow to shift?**

(AKA ‘Who cares about Brexit’s impact on the media industry anyway’)
I also did an analytical piece on whether it was plausible that overspending swung the EU referendum result – if you’re interested, it’s here:

TLDR – the answer is “it’s certainly possible”
Anyway, to the topic: In terms of headlines across 2000 #Brexit items, 'No deal' dominates (insofar as 7% of headlines can dominate anything). In not too distant second place, customs at 5%, and in third, immigration, at 3% of headlines.
Note these are (on the whole) slightly smaller numbers than we saw in the previous pieces of analysis around MPs. Theresa May was cited in ~15% of headlines, Boris Johnson in 2%, David Davis in 2%...
While this isn’t an exhaustive list of topics, comparing to the references to prominent MPs is interesting – BBC is more likely to lead on a topic-based story than an MP-led piece, particularly compared to other outlets (notably the Mail, Mirror, Sun, Buzzfeed).
Let’s have a look at the contents of these articles (1300 subset of them), does the story change? Well, a little.
Customs now leads, being mentioned in some form in 46% of articles. No Deal and Single Market come in second & third, at just over 30% of #Brexit items, with migration fourth at 23% of stories - Northern Ireland is just behind.
But also, Free Trade (19%), Tariffs (18%). Red tape, despite being a mainstay of many an EU-critical article pre-referendum, only mentioned in 3% of pieces…
So what else isn’t being covered. Well, sorry people in the creative sector, you’re not being mentioned very much. Well, who cares about those people anywa… oh hang on, that’s my industry.
But also, the Nuclear Industry – 2%. Science – 4%. Fishing – 4%. Aviation - 4%. Automotive - 6%...
This I suspect, may be key – and likely influencing the very slow changes we’ve been seeing in public perception. If articles deal with the abstract (customs, migration, free trade), and not with the practicalities (i.e. the sectors that readers work in)...
...perhaps it is little surprise that attitudes to #Brexit are slow to shift.
At outlet-level, the BBC, as a whole, reflects specific issues more frequently than its peers. Perhaps partly due to the fact that it doesn’t focus on opinion-led editorials, but BBC leads on references to Customs, #SingleMarket, Northern Ireland.
The Sun, however, is way below average on ‘Customs’ references, and above average on Migration. The Mail has noticeable skews towards ‘No Deal’, ‘Free Trade’ and ‘Northern Ireland’, and leads on ‘Jobs’ as a theme.
The #NHS – you may note – is oddly low on the list, with the Sun particularly unlikely to reference in its Brexit pieces.
At the low coverage end of the issue spectrum, the Mail is more likely to reference ‘Sovereignty’, ‘WTO’ and (interestingly) £350m per week, while the BBC has better than average coverage of Aviation and Fishing sectors – alongside Border Checks.
The Guardian is particularly likely to reference Science and Technology relative to other news sites, while Buzzfeed picks out the Nuclear industry more than others.
If I’m honest, what surprised me was how frequently specific #Brexit issues were mentioned in BBC News. My personal perception from reading its articles has been that BBC News Online has been less likely to challenge the government narrative than certain other news outlets…
…However, perhaps this is confirmation bias on my side? While the data doesn’t refute the idea (not examining how concepts are presented), it certainly doesn’t support it. The BBC has wider topical coverage – on average – across its #Brexit items.
So, needs further investigation – seems like an analysis of the tone and sentiment of articles is the next (more challenging) analytical step.
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