media analysis

Study: New York Times Less Likely Than Chicago Tribune to Treat Gays Like Moral Pests

What I noticed popped up often in Judge Vaughn Walker’s 138-page Prop 8 ruling was how often he used the phrase “gays and lesbians” instead of the more clinical “homosexuals.” A gay man would do that, wouldn’t he? But of course Walker’s opinion isn’t the only place where language matters. If you look at both the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune, you’ll notice the two papers have a wholly different view on your LIFESTYLE.

A new study published in The Social Science Journal looks at each newspaper’s coverage of The Gays between 2003-04 and finds:

“The New York Times was inclined to emphasize the topic of human equality related to the legitimization of gay marriage,” writes the research team, led by Po-Lin Pan of Arkansas State University. “The Chicago Tribune highlighted the importance of human morality associated with the gay-marriage debate.”

The researchers analyzed the content of each paper’s coverage of the issue during the year before and the year after the Nov. 18, 2003 Massachusetts ruling that legalized gay marriage in that state. A total of 120 news stories were studied to determine their approach to the topic, the tone of the writing and the types of sources who were quoted.

Their overall conclusion: “The New York Times embraced the issue of human equality, while the Chicago Tribune attempted to emphasize American family values in the debate over gay marriage.” Specifically, 33 percent of sampled stories in the Times focused on equal rights, compared to 19 percent in the Tribune.

To break things down even further, Miller-McCune explains:

Stories focusing on “American tradition and family values” made up 17.5 percent of the Times’ coverage, and 22.2 percent in the Tribune. Religious attitudes toward the topic were emphasized in 12 percent of the Times stories but nearly 20 percent of those in the Tribune.

In the year after the Massachusetts ruling, the Times coverage changed in one dramatic way: The newspaper quoted far more people who were identified as gay. Twenty percent of sources quoted in gay marriage-related stories were identified as gay, compared to 5.4 percent during the year before the ruling. The Tribune, in contrast, was more consistent. Before the ruling, 10.9 percent of sources in gay marriage-related stories were identified as gay; after the ruling, the number rose slightly to 11.8 percent.

Conclusion? Passing same-sex marriage laws makes me no more inclined to read a physical newspaper.

[Note: Yes, we realize the photo is of the Times‘ magazine and not the actual paper, but it was the best photo illustration, OK?!]