Responsible Terrorism Coverage (ResTeCo). A Global Comparative Analysis of News Coverage About Terrorism from 1945 to the Present

Research question/goal: 

The ResTeCo project aimed to develop new knowledge, theories, tools, and data to empower a broad range of innovative research on the relationship between news coverage and terrorist activities around the world. It is a joint effort of three groups of researchers at the University of Illinois, the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and the University of Mannheim. The Mannheim team worked on the following three areas: 1) studying the normative aspects of responsible terrorism coverage, 2) investigating how coverage given to terrorist attacks changes with respect to characteristics of the attack, and 3) developing new text-analytic methods for analysing terrorism coverage.

For area 1), we developed a multiperspectival normative assessment framework to clarify appropriate normative expectations towards terrorism coverage (Wessler et al., 2021). In this paper for the journal Communication Theory, we also provided concrete recommendations for journalists and social media users on how to communicate about terrorist attacks responsibly.

For area 2), two automated content-analytic studies of international coverage of terrorist attacks were undertaken. In the first study, which appeared in the International Journal of Communication (Chan et al., 2020), we disentangled how the emotional tone of terrorism coverage changes when it is combined with the topics of refugees and Islam, respectively, in a particular news item. We found, for example, that only in Christian-majority countries the emotion fear in terrorism coverage is heightened when the topic is mixed with Islam (but not refugees). In the second study, presented at the 70th annual conference of the International Communication Association (Chan et al., 2020), we disentangled how attacks perpetrated by Islamist and right-wing extremists were reported differently around the globe. We identified a consistent trend of overreporting Islamist attacks as terrorist attacks in Western media outlets but also in public diplomacy outlets from China and Russia (e.g. Sputnik, China Daily). This trend was not observed in other non-Western media outlets. Both studies point to significant cultural and structural determinants of terrorism coverage that have not been systematically studied before.

For area 3), in an article published in Communication Methods and Measures, we developed a new technique to extract cross-lingual topics in multilingual corpora (Chan et al., 2020). We also established best practices for measuring news sentiment, published in Computational Communication Research (Chan et al., 2021).

Fact sheet

2017 to 2021
Data Sources: 
Metadata and extracted features from global media content material
Geographic Space: