Monday, November 07, 2005

News coverage of Alito nomination, part I

Use of "Scalito" in news coverage of Alito nomination with multiple measurements.

Initial coverage of the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court relied heavily on the "Scalito" nickname to convey the Judge's conservatism and possible similarity to Justice Antonin Scalia. That usage declined rapidly after the second day of coverage, falling to well under 10% of all articles by Wednesday, November 2. In last week's post here, I wrote about this, based on searches of web news sources via Google, and Lexis/Nexis searches of US papers and major papers (as defined in the Lexis/Nexis database.) The current results are updated through searches of Monday, November 7, and confirm the rapid decline in the use of "Scalito" and the continued low level of usage.

In response to the earlier post Robert Chung raised an important question concerning how fast these databases are updated, and hence how reliable searches taken no more than a day after the source appeared might be. These data give us a nice chance to answer that question here.

In the graph above, I've plotted the results based on searches done on four different days: 11/2, 11/3, 11/5 and 11/7. For searches of Google News, the four searches produced nearly identical results, reflecting the very rapid updating of Google's data. In the figure, only the blue line (from 11/7) shows up, but that is because all four searches produced identical results, with the exception of the 11/3 search of news from 11/3, precisely when we would expect some lag in Google's indexing (or in web posting of articles, for that matter.) The implication is that Google searches of news within 24 hours of the date of publication appear to be quite stable.

For the Lexis/Nexis data, the delay in updating is apparent, though there is rapid convergence to stable search results as well. The Major papers database appears to update slightly faster than the US Papers database. In either case, within 48-72 hours of publication the database is quite stable. One reason for the US papers variability is that this database contains some non-daily publications, hence longer lags, while the Major papers data are all daily publications.

So the bottom line is that we should be careful about using searches without verifying them a couple of days after publication. On the other hand, the search sources are quick enough that, at least in this case, the conclusions we reach are unchanged.

For whatever reason, the Web news sources used "Scalito" in over 40% of their initial stories. Print used it in 20-30% of their Monday and Tuesday stories. After that, all sources dropped the use of the term to well under 10% of articles. Language Log has a nice discussion of this from a non-quantitative perspective here.

What did the press write about instead? Stay tuned. Posted by Picasa