4.4 Headline stance

Journalism involves a production process – headlining, text editing, story structuring, selecting sources, layout and visuals are all practices that create meaning.

We coded the articles according to headline stance towards the carbon price policy announced by the Gillard government on February 23, 2011. We excluded those articles where the headline was not relevant (N/A) and coded the remaining 3643 articles as neutral, positive or negative.

The author acknowledges that coding is an interpretative exercise. Checks were however carried out between coders. Different readers could interpret the same headline differently. Indeed, some headlines are deliberately written to achieve that effect. Where meaning was obviously ambiguous, the article was coded 'neutral'. Many neutral articles were announcements of policy, basic explanations of policy and articles focused on the political tussle between the Gillard government and the Opposition Coalition of National and Liberal parties.

Figure 4.4.1, shows that headlines across all newspapers was more negative than positive. There was a stark contrast between the News Ltd and Fairfax newspapers.

Figure 4.4.1: Headline stance of articles, across 10 Australian newspapers from Feb. - Jul. 2011.
Newspaper Negative Neutral Positive
The Daily Telegraph 65% 27% 8%
Herald Sun 59% 28% 12%
The Courier Mail 57% 26% 16%
The Australian 54% 33% 13%
The Northern Territory News 53% 29% 18%
The Advertiser 50% 26% 23%
The Mercury 48% 27% 24%
The West Australian 45% 33% 22%
The Sydney Morning Herald 42% 23% 36%
The Age 36% 33% 31%
Total 51% 29% 20%

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Overall, 80% of headlines were negative or neutral and more than 50% were negative, but there were clear variations across the newspapers. Even allowing for some coding differences, Figure 4.4.1 demonstrates a highly negative stance towards the policy on the part of News Ltd papers. More than 50% of headlines in all News Ltd newspapers were negative and more than 75% were negative or neutral. In the case of the Sydney tabloid, The Daily Telegraph, more than two-thirds were negative. The Fairfax papers the SMH and The Age and Seven West Media's The West Australian were more balanced – although the tendency was still towards negative headlines.

When the neutral headlines were removed, negative and positive groups were compared. As Figure 4.4.2 shows, the contrast between publications was marked. Headlines in News Ltd papers on the Eastern seaboard mainland were more biased against the policy. The Daily Telegraph and the Herald Sun were more negative than The Advertiser and The Mercury.

Figure 4.4.2: Positive compared negative headline stance of articles, across 10 Australian newspapers from Feb. - Jul. 2011.

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Some examples of negative headlines

'PM's warmist assurances nothing but a smokescreen', (Herald Sun, March 19, 2011)

'The truth is, you can't put a price on carbon - no one can', (The Age, March 29, 2011)

'Just pay up and ignore the irony', (The Daily Telegraph, February 14, 2011)

'Here comes the high-cost sun', (The Australian, March 22, 2011)

'MEAN GREEN TAX You will pay $16.60 more a week HOW IT WILL HIT YOU', (Herald Sun, April 2, 2011)

'$860 CARBON SHOCK - Revealed: More pain for struggling households', (The Courier Mail, April 4, 2011)