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Substantiating a political public sphere in the Scottish press: a comparative analysis

Higgins, Michael (2006) Substantiating a political public sphere in the Scottish press: a comparative analysis. Journalism, 7 (1). pp. 25-44. ISSN 1464-8849

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This article uses content analysis to characterize the performance of the media in a national public sphere, by setting apart those qualities that typify internal press coverage of a political event. The article looks at the coverage of the 1999 devolved Scottish election from the day before the election until the day after. It uses a word count to measure the election material in Scottish newspapers the Herald, the Press and Journal and the Scotsman, and United Kingdom newspapers the Guardian, the Independent and The Times, and categorizes that material according to discourse type, day and page selection. The article finds a number of qualities that typify the Scottish sample in particular, and might be broadly indicative of a political public sphere in action. Firstly, and not unexpectedly, it finds that the Scottish newspapers carry significantly more election coverage. Just as tellingly, though, the article finds that the Scottish papers offer a greater proportion of advice and background information, in the form of opinion columns and feature articles. It also finds that the Scottish papers place a greater concentration of both informative and evaluative material in the period before the vote, consistent with their making a contribution to informed political action. Lastly, the article finds that the Scottish sample situates coverage nearer the front of the paper and places a greater proportion on recto pages. The article therefore argues that the Scottish papers display features that distinguish them from the UK papers, and are broadly consistent with their forming part of a deliberative public sphere, and suggests that these qualities might be explored as a means of judging future media performance.