A World War II Scale Effort: Newsweek

What level of public attention is required for the “WWII-scale effort” urged by Thomas Friedman and others? To provide a provisional answer to this question, GW students in Professor Svoboda’s UW-20 classes examined ten magazines published during WWII and still in print today. They compared each magazine’s coverage of WWII during 1942 with its coverage of climate change from July 2008 to June 2009 . Up to 12 issues were examined for each period. (See a more detailed overview of the project here.) Today we present the first of two  analyses of  Newsweek, a weekly news magazine.

Comparison of Coverage of WWII and Climate Change in
Newsweek Magazine during 1942 and 2008/2009

By Ben Lin, Sean Miller, and Kathleen Sams

We conducted a study of twelve Newsweek issues from 1942 and compared them with twelve Newsweek issues from July 2008 to June 2009. For both time periods we examined the third issue of each month. We compared the percentage of World War II content in the issues from 1942 to the percentage of climate change content in the current issues of Newsweek.

After completing our study we recognized a problem with our counting methods, which skewed our results. Instead of counting individual articles within the trademark section called “Periscope,” we counted that feature as one article. If we had counted each article in each “Periscope,” our percentages would have been much higher because in 1942 these sections were entirely devoted to news of the war. In the more recent issues of Newsweek we studied, we once again counted “The Periscope” as one article, but this had no net effect on our results for climate change.

Even after making this adjustment, we found that the percentage of articles about WW II was lower than we expected. In all the issues we examined, the events of WW II were reported in series of small articles in the major sections of the magazine.  These articles constituted an average of 34% of each issue. We also noticed that most of the ads pertained to WW II, which would have increased our percentages of WW II materials.  Looking back, we now estimate that the total number of pages containing information on WW II would have been closer to 70%.

In the 2008/2009 issues of Newsweek, climate change was rarely mentioned. We found an average of .25 articles on climate change out of an average of 7.5 major feature articles per month. In addition, 2 out of 21 ads per issue and 1 out of 8 editorials per issue featured climate change. In sum, Newsweek had little to no coverage of climate change; only the advertisements regularly touched on “green” themes.

Our group did not expect these results. We knew that a news-based magazine would cover World War II extensively. However, we were surprised by the low coverage of climate change. Global warming has been seeping into our culture; we expected more news and features to be about climate change. The most significant difference between Newsweek’s coverage of World War II in 1942 and its coverage of climate change in 2008/2009 was the sheer quantity. But the World War II articles were also more direct, while the climate change features in Newsweek generally dodged around global warming, talking more about energy and economics.

To conduct our research on the 1942 issues of Newsweek, we were required to use microfiche. This method was incredibly frustrating. The analysis went so much slower when using microfiche because flipping through a film strip was much harder than going through a physical magazine. We had to move the fiche back and forth to get both sides of the magazine (even and odd pages). Also, the format of Newsweek changed over the years. The 1942 issues included large numbers of small articles compared to the few main feature articles in the present day issues. Overall, although the going was tough, we persevered and obtained our data, however flawed.

**Our numbers for climate change are more representative of the magazine**

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