Although quantitative analysis has been used frequently in media research, its weaknesses often diminish its value — something that we should all keep in mind as we follow the upcoming elections in the press.
In his book Analysing Newspapers: An Approach from Critical Discourse Analysis, John Richardson explains that there are flaws in a process that “assumes if a word is used 20 times in one newspaper and only twice in a different newspaper, this is of significance.” For example, he notes that because his own research on the representation of Islam includes words such as violence, threat and terrorism, it could be interpreted – incorrectly –as being indicative that Muslims are linked to negative social activity.
A similar observation was made more recently by the Project for Excellence in Journalism in its analysis of media coverage of presidential candidates in 2007. Following a lengthy discussion of which candidates were dominating the coverage, the report acknowledges, “It is important to note that these data speak to the quantity of coverage given to each party’s candidates, not tone of that coverage. A story about Republicans could be favorable, unfavorable or neutral to that party. Likewise for Democrats.”