New York Times and Wall Street Journal Coverage of Japan Earthquake and Fukushima Nuclear Crisis (II) About The Nuclear Debate

This post is the continuation of the previous one. It analyzes how New York Times and Wall Street Journal are portraying the news about the Japanese disaster and the Fukushima nuclear crisis. We can pursue an individual analysis of each newspaper storyline, as it refers to an event with massive media coverage. New York Times results are based in the content analysis of more than 200 news published till March 21, 2011, and some 1,300 news by Wall Street Journal.

We continue to show in this post the empirical results concerning the storyline profile of each newspaper. We use also as term of comparison the results concerning the average media coverage given by all US newspapers in our sample. Please refer to the precedent post for additional explanations about metholodogy and interpretation of the results.

The first figure we show in this post is revealing. It refers to the use of adjectives concerning the evolution of Fukushima nuclear crisis. We have monitored the couples improve/worsen, improving/worsening and optimism/pessimism. The results are striking. There is no different use concerning “improve”, but there is a consistent bias in using all other terms. Things “worsen” or are “worsening” much more for NYT than for WST. And things are “improving” much more for WSJ than for NYT. Also in the same line, “optimism” is much more present in WSJ articles than in NYT.

If we comapre the two leading newspapers against the US newspapers average, results tend to suggest that “worsening” and “improving” are keywords for the modelling of the storyline. Things are “improving” much more if we read WSJ in comparison to US newspapers, things are “worsening” much more if we rely on NYT articles in comparison to all US newspapers.

In the precedent post we showed in figure 4 how Fukushima is defined as event. “Nuclear crisis” predominates, with 4.5 points of media impact. In relative terms, NYT preferred the to use “nuclear accident”, while WSJ privileged “nuclear disaster” and “nuclear emergency”.

We add new content analysis about the media coverage given concerning the impact of damages of Fukushima nuclear crisis on human health. Main US newspapers reference is a generic “health risks”, with 1.8 points. But both NYT and WSJ prefer to use a more aseptic terminology: “health effects”, and this is specially the case in WSJ articles. If we look at media coverage of specific risks for health linked to nuclear radiation, we find again that WSJ departs clearly from common US newspapers trend. WSJ systematically underreportss media references to specific issues on nuclear and heath, like cancer, iodine, the milk and spinach from Fukushima Prefecture farms reported as contaminated or the radioactive iodine found in tap water in Tokyo. By contrast, NYT tends to follow the same rate of media coverage than other US newspapers, sharing the same storyline in this chapter.

Next figure is again focused in the storyline chapter referring to the impact of Fukushima nuclear crisis. Previous figure referred to effects on human health. Next one looks at media coverage to the seriousness of the radioactive emissions and about the evaluation of how harmful could they be.

Wall Street Journal and New York Times focus massively on “radioactive contamination” by comparison to US newspapers. As for the keywords referring to the extent of the damages, we find here the mirror of the previous figure. Now is WSJ that follows common US newspapers trend on these issues, while WSJ journalists depart and create a specific storyline profile: they insists much more than WSJ and average US newspapers on risks and damages associated to Fukushima and, again, in a systematic way. This applies to “danger zone”, “extemely high”, “lethal radiation” or “fission”.

Both figures 7 and 8 show us a clear biased interpretation and explanation of the events occurring in Fukushima nuclear plant.

The following figure shows the external references and sources cited by NYT and WSJ. This ongoing crisis contains a strong technical component, as the evaluation of nuclear damages requires to know and explain the functioning of a nuclear power and the implications of radioactivity in human health. Thus, Fukushima storyline requires the contribution of external sources. Main reference used is the category of “experts”, with a US media impact of  3.7 points. Then come the “scientists”, with 1.7 points. There is also reference to “technicians” (0.4 points), but it mainly refers to in the field technicians trying to solve and stop the radiation emissions. We find that NYT follows common pattern, while WSJ clearly deviates in this area, and refers to a much lower extent to such external references when constructing its Fukushima storyline.

Both NYT and specially WSJ refer in a lower extent than US newspapers average to news and information provided by Associated Press. A similar but less pronounced path is followed concerning the use of Reuters references. This is not a susprising result if we assume the initial hypothesis in the previous post that even if NYT and WSJ are not news agencies, they play in fact a similar role as news content provider to other newspapers because of their nature of leading influential newspapers. If this is the case, they should rely more on own sources than in information provided by agencies than the average US newspapers, as it actually happens.

Figure 10 refers to storyline keywords showing feelings and reactions to the disaster and crisis. Many of them refer mainly to Fukushima nuclear crisis. Main reference used is “concerns”, followed by “fears”. In both cases NYT uses this terminology in a lower extent than US newspapers and WSJ. Less used terms like “panic” and “dramatic” tend to be introduced more profusely in WSJ articles than in other media.

Figure 11 refers mainly to wording about the damages produced by the Tohoku earthquake and the subsequent tsunami in coastal areas. Main individual references are to consider it as a “disaster” and refer to “damages”. We observe that all sources give basically the same weight to these main defining components associated to the Japan earthquake.

The difference in media coverage profile appears concerning all other issues related with physical and personnel damages linked to the catastrophe. In a very systematic way, average US newspapers provide a wider media coverage to each single issue in comparison to NYT, and NYT covers in a wider extent all these issues than WSJ. Our interpretation of this result, which appears to be consistent all the way is not that NYT and WSJ are not as sensitive to casualties, tragedy and destruction than other US newspapers. To our understanding, this result tends to confirm our initial assumption that both NYT and WSJ assume their role as leading and influential newspapers. They understand that their mission is not just to inform and descrive the events in their most direct consequences (victims, death toll, missing people, debris). In consequence, they add to this basic storyline new description analysis and interpretation of the implications and effects of both the disaster and the nuclear crisis. They play a role in providing insights to public opinion. According to our judgement, this result also reflects that the different media coverage given by NYT and WSJ to Fukushima nuclear crisis is not simply a factual result, but it reflects two different positions in the US nuclear energy debate.

We interpret the lower weight given by WSJ in comparison to NYT in the media coverage of the direct personnel and property damages to the fact that WSJ is obliged to cover in a wider extent than NYT the analysis of the economic consequences of the the earthquake and tsunami. This different profile is clearly reflected in figure 12.

The content of figure 12 is all related to economic and business issues. If our storyline technique made sense, we should observe here that WSJ focus on these issues in a much wider extent than NYT and average US newspapers. Empirical results are in line with expected results. This is with no doubt the specific field developed within WSJ news. In comparison to all US newspapers and NYT, the specific issues more sensitive to WSJ analysis are the dollar, the impact on investments and the problems with the huge amounts of Japanese debt. Nikkey and oil prices are also elements of special preoccupation for WSJ.

Concerning issues that receive lower levels of media attention, we find that WSJ is specially concerned or sensitive to taxes, the role of Bank of Japan and the implications of the destruction in supply chain outside Japan.

Last two figures of this post are oriented to show the newspapers position about the debate on nuclear energy opened by the Fukushima nuclear crisis. Taking into account the information gathered from all precedent figures in this and previous post, it can be stated that New York Times and Wall Stree Journal defend and present well defined different positions about nuclear power, in the way the present the storyline of disaster in Japan.

Final figures refer directly about nuclear debate and about the possible sustitutive role of renewable energies. It is clear that this set of issues relates to local US interests. If results about nuclear debate are coherent with the rest of the storyline, we should expect to find a partisan approach, with WSJ defending the nuclear power and NYT considering renewable energy.

Figure 13 shows primarily the presence given to two opposed camps. “Nuclear energy” and “nuclear industry” are present in a wider extent in NYT articles. Presence in WSJ is in line with US average. But remember that WSJ is a business oriented journal. The natural result if this was a neutral business issue should be to find that media coverage by WSJ about the nuclear industry would higher than average (as it happended with neutral economic issues related to the tsunami and earthquake, as shown in figure 12). Actual result should then be considered as underreporting about the nuclear industry.

Concerning the other party in the debate, we find that WSJ use to refer to opponents as “protesters”. NYT writes about “opponents”, “anti-nuclear” or “activists”, and this in a higher proportion than US newspapers. NYT gives more space to nuclear opponents in the storyline than average. Use of these terms is marginal in WSJ news.

Another element showing a partisan position against nuclear power by NYT is that it refers in a substantial higher extent than all other newspapers to BP oil spill, in relation with Fukushima news.

Figure 14 shows to which extent the newspapers refer to alternative sources of energy in the context of Fukushima crisis. Once again, there is a systematic broken pattern. New York Times refers much more extensively than Wall Street Journal to renewable related energies. We find that WSJ refer to alternative sources in a wider extent than US newspapers but, as for its nature of economic driven paper and creator of content analysis, a really neutral coverage to these items would probably imply a much higher media coverage than actual.

Global picture emerging from all graphs is that Fukushima has actully become a national US debate about the future of the nuclear power in the United States. New York Times assumes a leading role in considering a more aggressive energy policy based in renewable sources, by the way if covers Fukushima nuclear crisis news. Wall Street Journal appears clearly positioned as favorable to the nuclear industry, and the media strategy followed is not to enter into the nuclear debate, presenting instead a passive and low-profile attitude, by minimizing coverage to content related with risks and dangers of Fukushima events, and by using a “no news” approach about renewable energy.

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