This study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) and Social & Demographic Trends analyzed news coverage of African Americans during a 12-month time period, February 16, 2009 – February 15, 2010.  The analysis is based on coding conducted as part of PEJ’s weekly News Coverage Index (NCI).

During this period, PEJ researchers coded 67,245 stories as part of the NCI.  These stories span across five media sectors: newspapers, online, network TV, cable TV and radio.  The universe of stories was coded by a team made up of 17 trained coders, a coding administrator and a senior research methodologist.
In addition to the main variables that are a regular part of the NCI, we added variables to track significant mentions of four separate demographic groups. We began coding for significant mentions of Hispanics, Africans and African Americans on February 9 and Asians on February 16, 2009.

We also added a variable for significant mentions of President Obama’s race. 

To create the set of stories used for this study, we combined the stories coded for prominent mentions of African Americans with those coded prominent mentions of Obama’s race. 

We only looked at domestic stories for this study; we did not include stories coded as U.S. international or non-U.S. international.

In 2009, PEJ monitored 55 different news outlets, and in 2010 PEJ monitors 53 different news outlets each week Monday–Friday, and Sunday newspapers. The specific content collected is as follows:

  • Newspapers: All stories on the front page with a national or international focus are captured and coded.
    • 2009: A rotating group of seven out of 13 newspapers daily, ranging from the Kansas City Star and San Jose Mercury News to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, USA Today, Washington Post, and New York Times were coded. 
    • 2010: A rotating group of five or six out of 11newspapers daily, ranging from the Ventura Star and The Day to the Seattle Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal are coded.
  • Broadcast network television evening news shows:
    • 2009: The entirety of ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS’s Evening News, and NBC’s Nightly News are captured and coded every weekday. A half hour of every episode of PBS’s Newshour with Jim Lehrer was captured and coded, with coding alternating between the first and the second half-hour of the show. 
    • 2010: PEJ started rotating the broadcasts so that two out of the three commercial network news shows are coded every weekday.
  • Broadcast network television morning news shows: Every Monday to Friday the first 30 minutes of ABC’s Good Morning America, CBS’s Early Show, and NBC’s Today show were captured and coded.
    • 2010: PEJ started rotating the broadcasts so that two out of the three commercial network news shows are coded every weekday. 
    • Daytime cable news: Every weekday, a half-hour of news from two of the following channels was recorded between 2-2:30 p.m. ET:  CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC.
  • Evening cable news: Every weekday, the first half-hour of a rotating schedule of six news programs from CNN, Fox and MSNBC were recorded and coded, ranging from CNN’s Situation Room and Anderson Cooper 360, to Fox News’s O’Reilly Factor and Special Report With Bret Baier to MSNBC’s Hardball and Rachel Maddow.
  • Radio news: 
    • 2009: Twice a day (at 9 a.m. and again at 5 p.m. every Monday to Friday), all news headlines from ABC and CBS radio were captured and coded, as was a  half-hour of NPR’s Morning Edition, with coding alternating between the first half-hour of the first hour, and the first half-hour of the second hour.
    • 2010: PEJ was rotating the coding so that one set of 9 a.m. and one set of 5 p.m. headlines were coded every weekday. For NPR, PEJ now codes both Morning Edition and All Things Considered on NPR. On any given day, PEJ codes the first half-hour of either the first or second hour or one of these shows every weekday.
  • Talk radio: Every day, the first half-hour of a rotating selection of two or three different talk shows was recorded and coded, ranging from Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage to Ed Schultz and Randi Rhodes.
    • 2010: PEJ codes either one or two of the radio talk shows every weekday. The total sample includes Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Ed Schultz only.
  • Online news: Once a day (Monday to Friday), the top five stories on a rotating schedule of the following news sites were captured and coded:, Yahoo News,, Google News,,,, AOL News,,, BBC News (international version), and
    • 2010: PEJ replaced the BBC News and Reuters websites with and

For a methodology of our News Index, see here:

In order to track stories in which certain demographic groups had a significant presence, PEJ devised a comprehensive set of rules.

Significant Mention

  • To be considered a significant part of the story, 25% of a story needed to be about that demographic group and their race/ethnicity/religion.
  • The race/ethnicity/religion needed to be explicitly stated.  If a person was pictured or named without his/her race stated explicitly, that story was not coded.  This rule applied even if one might assume/guess their ethnicity from the picture or name.
  • Stories about foreign governments, businesses, etc. were not be coded unless they referred to how those governments/business are affecting one of the groups of people below.
  • A story could be about multiple demographic groups.  For example: Asian and Hispanic could both be selected if the story was 25% or more about Asians and 25% or more about Hispanics.
  • Any person, group or organization referred to using the term “name of country + American” or “name of region + American” were coded for this variable if they are 25% in the story.
    •  For example: Mexican American, Asian American, etc. would be coded if that person satisfied the 25% rule in the story.
  • Any person, group or organization referred to by their nationality only was coded for this variable if they were 25% of the story.
    • For example: A person or group referred to only as Peruvian, Kenyan, Chinese, etc. would be coded for that ethic/demographic group.

From the greater universe of 67,245 stories, we culled down to a smaller group of 643 stories for this study that was made of only stories that were coded for African American presence, presence of Obama’s race or both of these variables.

Definition: This applies to stories that are 25% or more about an African American/African person, people or organization.  Note: President Barak Obama is specifically excluded from this variable. Instead, African American angles of coverage about him are captured in a separate variable described below.           


–    African American
–    Black
–    African

ALL countries (with only one exception, see below) on the continent of Africa, including those in North Africa, are automatically considered as African, i.e.:

–    Algerian
–    Congolese
–    Ethiopian
–    Kenyan
–    Libyan
–    Malian
–    Moroccan
–    Nigerian
–    Rwandan
–    Somali
–    South African
–    Sudanese
–    Tunisian
–    Zimbabwean
–    Etc.

The islands of the Seychelles, Madagascar and Mauritania are also African.

The exception is Egypt: for Egypt to be considered as African under this variable the story must explicitly mention Egypt, Egyptians or Egyptian organizations as African – such stories are likely to be rare.

*Please see the note below about exclusion of Africans coverage in this analysis

Definition: This applies to stories that are 25% or more about Obama’s race.

Stories coded for this variable may or may not also be coded for the African American variable.

If a story features Obama at 25% or more and mentions his race even once, it qualifies for this variable.

For this analysis we added together stories that were coded for significant mentions of Africans/African Americans and those that were coded for significant mention of Obama’s race as “African American.”

We then took one additional step. The purpose of this study was to examine African Americans in the news rather than Africans. Thus, in the African American Presence variable we excluded international or foreign stories such as those of the pirates in Somalia.

The total number of domestic stories came to 49316. That is 73% of all stories studied (67,245). The total number of domestic stories that talked about African Americans came to 643.

For the separate study examining African American publications, PEJ researchers examined coverage of the Gates incident from February 16, 2009 through February 15, 2010 in the African American press.

Articles and editorials were identified using a Lexis Nexus search for “Henry Louis Gates” of the three largest circulation African American newspapers in the U.S., The Afro-American, the Philadelphia Tribune and the New York Amsterdam News, based on figures from the 2010 State of the News Media.  Then articles were selected based on whether they would meet the qualification to be coded under the category “Arrest of Henry Louis Gates,” according to NCI coding rules. Stories about Gates that were not related to the arrest were excluded.

This resulted in 17 stories: Four from the Afro-American, eight from the Philadelphia Tribune and five from the New York Amsterdam News.  In all, ten of these articles were editorials or opinion pieces.

These stories were then read through and examined for sources interviewed, format (editorial, opinion, straight news or analysis) and other markers such as whether race relations or President Obama was mentioned.

The articles were qualitatively analyzed, with a close attention to how these newspapers differed in their coverage of the incident compared with the mainstream press.

Hispanic Presence

Definition: This applies to stories that are 25% or more about a Hispanic person, group or organization.


–    Argentinean
–    Belizean
–    Bolivian
–    Brazilian
–    Chilean
–    Colombian
–    Costa Rican
–    Cuban
–    Dominican
–    Ecuadorian
–    Salvadoran
–    Guatemalan
–    Honduran
–    Mexican
–    Nicaraguan
–    Panamanian
–    Paraguayan
–    Peruvian
–    Portuguese
–    Puerto Rican
–    Spanish (not language)
–    Uruguayan
–    Venezuelan
–    Mexican/Mexicana
–    Mestizo/Mestiza (mixed race)
–    Mexican American
–    Spanish/Spaniard
–    Latin/Latino/Latina
–    Indian (Only if Latin American indigenous heritage)
–    Chicano/Chincana
–    Mulatto/Mulatta
–    Moreno/Morena

Asian/ Asian-American Presence

This applies to stories that are 25% or more about an Asian person, people or organization.                        


–    Asian
–    Asian American
–    Asian American Pacific Islander
–    Pacific Islander
–    Hawaiian

Certain ethnicities are automatically considered Asian if their country of origin is mentioned. These ethnicities and nationalities are:

–    Burmese (Myanmar)
–    Cambodian
–    Chinese
–    Filipino (Philippines)
–    Indian
–    Indonesian
–    Japanese
–    Korean
–    Malaysian
–    Pakistani
–    Taiwanese
–    Thai
–    Tibetan
–    Vietnamese

Other ethnicities are sometimes considered Asian, but sometimes considered as part of a different group. For these ethnicities, there must be something explicit in the story linking them with an Asian culture or ethnicity. These include ethnicities/nationalities such as:

–    Afghan or Afghanistani
–    Armenian
–    Georgian (Republic of Georgia)
–    Kazakhstani or Kazakh
–    Kyrgyzstani or Kyrgyz
–    Tajikistani or Tajik
–    Turkmenistani or Turkmen
–    Uzbekistani or Uzbek

Big storyline is defined as and storyline that is been covered in multiple national-news outlets for more than one news cycle or as storylines that occurred often in the news.  A story needs to be 50% about the big storyline to qualify as such.

This is the person who appears as the main focus of a story.  The newsmaker is a person whose actions or statements constitute the main subject matter.  The lead newsmaker must be discussed in at least 50% of a story