Researchers explore the geography of online news

By Mike Gasher

The Geography of
News Project
is an on-going program of research devoted to examining the
circulation of news on the Internet. Its central research question asks whether
globalization and the emergence of the Internet have had any impact on the
flows of news — both domestically and internationally.

Each news organization draws its own particular map,
providing an editorial content package that brings together audiences and
advertisers in a shared geographical space, or market. This map is the product
of a particular kind of triangulation, in which the geography the news
organization occupies is drawn by the spatial relationship delineated by three
points: its news content, its target audience and the advertisers seeking
access to that audience. This map is a construct and the points of the triangle
can be shifted to reflect the territorial and demographic ambitions of the news

What happens, then, when the geographical parameters are
radically altered? What happens when a newspaper decides to establish a World
Wide Web site and is no longer confined to its hard-copy circulation area? What
happens when this newspaper could, potentially, expand its geography to take
advantage of the Internet’s vast transmission capacity? Would the newspaper
seek an on-line readership distinct from its hard-copy edition? Would its sense
of its community expand, would it become more extroverted? Would its news
package change accordingly to fill up this space? Would it increase its
international news coverage? What would its news map look like?

Our central question:
Clearly, the Internet offers news organizations significant technological
potential to expand their news geography beyond conventional confines and
constitute a larger, more international readership. What is equally clear,
however, is that the circulation of news is not simply a technological
question. If the Internet’s architecture and the commercial imperative of
expanding markets serve as centrifugal forces, they contend with the
centripetal forces of community, the news values of proximity and the digital
divide. The central question posed here is: Have daily newspapers, in
establishing on-line editions, taken advantage of the Internet’s geographical
reach to expand and diversify their news coverage?

The results so far:
We have conducted news-flow
of the web sites of 10 daily newspapers in Canada, the United
, France,
Israel and the United Kingdom.  While each of the newspapers takes its own
approach to packaging news for its web site, we have also detected some
patterns.  The most noteworthy is a
tendency to map a highly circumscribed “news world,” with international news
focused primarily on the United States
(by far the No. 1 source country for news coverage), the United Kingdom and France.  Conversely, the continents of Africa and South America are largely absent from these sites’ news
coverage.  Even countries like Russia, China,
Japan and Israel receive
less coverage than one might expect. Within countries such as Canada and the United States, the domestic news
map is similarly circumscribed, with some regions much more heavily covered
than others. A second tendency is a privileging of sports as a topic in
international news coverage.  In many
cases, sports coverage overshadows news, business and arts coverage in international
news reporting from certain countries, particularly those in Africa and South America.

News-flow studies are quantitative, largely telling us
“what” gets covered.  In the next stage
of the Geography of News Project, we are conducting a series of textual
analyses, which are qualitative and interpretive, and will give us much more
information about “how” and “why” different places and topics are covered.

Project Publications:

“Mapping the Geography of Online News”, Gasher, Mike & Reisa Klein,
Canadian Journal of Communication, Vol. 33, No. 2, pp. 193-211 (2008) Abstract

“The View From Here: A News-flow Study of the On-line Editions of Canada’s
National Newspapers”, Gasher, Mike, Journalism Studies, Vol. 8, No. 2 (2007)

Increasing Circulation? A
Comparative News-Flow Study of the Montreal Gazette’s Hard-copy and On-line
Editions”, Gasher, Mike, & Sandra Gabriele, Journalism Studies,
Vol. 5, No. 3, pp. 311-323 (2004) Abstract

Routes: The Geography of News in Digital Times”
, Gasher, Mike. Panam: Cultural
Industries and Dialogue between Civilizations in the Americas
, (ed. Gäetan
Tremblay). Quebec:
Les Presses du l’Université Laval, pp. 470-485 (2003)

Funding: The
Geography of News Project has received funding from Concordia University
(2000-2003), le Fonds québécois de recherche sur la société et la culture
(2002-2005) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada