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Frogs indicate that quality of U.S. corporate news coverage is on the decline

This post is written by Cision blogger Matt Merlin. Matt has been an account director at Cision in media analysis for five years. He has extensive experience in tracking how companies are portrayed by the media, especially trends, cycles and paradigm shifts in coverage. He also has client experience with many global firms from agriculture to financial services to charitable foundations.

Statistics help us view media coverage without our individual biases

This is my first blog post about corporate news coverage and reputation, and it’s already gone to the dogs frogs.

There’s an old wives-tale/business-school metaphor that states if you put a frog in a pot of boiling water, the frog will immediately feel the drastic change in temperature and will jump out of the pot.

But, if you gradually turn up the heat, the frog will remain in the pot and burn. The lesson behind the story is that frogs don’t have sensitivity to gradual changes in temperature, only drastic ones. And of course, we in the media world are really a lot like frogs. We have the innate ability to feel the sting of negative news or the euphoria of favorable buzz.

When we scan our company’s news – our competitors’ news – traditional media – online media – and then start tracking that all over time, we quickly lose perspective, as most humans (short of Steven Hawking) lack the ability to synthesize all that information and then parse it out. 

Oh, by the way, I assure you that I’ve never tried the frog boil at home. I cook mostly vegetarian.

In terms of the recession going on now, we’ve all been boiling like a frog. The decline in the quality of corporate news hasn’t been sudden but very gradual over the past year and a half. I don’t know this because I’m omnipotent  or omnipresent. I know this because I have good data! For the past several years, we here at Cision have been tracking how some of the largest U.S.-based companies are portrayed in key national and regional media, both print and Internet. We call this the Cision Index.

When we examine stories for the Index (or for any analysis project for that matter), we don’t just look at how many people saw the story. We examine how people interpret an article based on the tone of coverage for a particular company — plus a multitude of other factors, such as the presence of that company’s competitors, whether that company name was in the headline and what percentage of the article is dedicated to coverage of that company. We express this quality score as a positive or negative percentage and call it the Cision Impact Score.

When we take all these Cision Impact Scores for two years worth of data and calculate the average on a weekly basis, we get a composite view of news over time. If you check out the graph below, you can see the slow, downward decline in the news quality. Of course, you may notice some drastic movements on big news weeks, such as mid-December 2008, where financial companies posted record losses.  But overall the downward trend is slow and steady.

One thing not to miss on the graph is the fourth quarter of 2008, where the majority of corporate news was negative. The Average Cision Impact Score was well into negative territory. That’s pretty amazing and unprecedented, to think that most large, U.S. companies had more negative news than positive news for an entire quarter. That would even make Kermit the Frog jump.

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