Year-End Edition 2009 (1): Measuring "China"

Written by Uln on December 31st, 2009

Goodbye 2009. Here is another Year-End Special of Chinayouren, the first after a full year of operation. Thanks all for sticking around.

As usual we will start with the popularity of China in the news. This year it is more interesting than ever, because 2010 is a round number, and the early-birds of the China Experts are already chanting the Chinese decade.

As we predicted last time, 2008 was a peak for China related news in the World, and it was going to be difficult to beat that in the short term. Within the general rising trend, 2009 has gone back to reasonable levels of media attention, partly because Xinjiang and the Tiananmen anniversary were no match for Tibet, Sichuan and the Olympics; partly because the US Obamania has stolen the show from the Middle kingdom.

In the first months of the year the crisis did bring some attention to China, but as soon as it became clear that the stimulus package was working and damage was under control, the journalists’ interest waned. Here are the results of my Chinanews-meter, the high precision tracking device I purchased from the Uni of East Anglia:


Occurrences of "China" in LaVanguardia 1881-2009

This year I want to go a bit further, so I add below the statistics from Google Trends for the News references of the term “China”. Note that Google Trends is not more precise than my own original method, because the number of news sources that Google references always grows. To recalibrate the scale we must try neutral words like “when” or “he” and take them as visual zero axis, leaning the whole curve to the right. The result confirms clearly the peak of 08.


Google Trend News for "China" (axis not corrected)

Still, this system is not very accurate, and I would like to find a more reliable way to estimate the impact of China.  I guess the old Chinanews-meter above is as good as I can get for now. As a random mainstream newspaper in Barcelona without any special connection with China, there is no reason why La Vanguardia  shouldn’t replicate roughly the general trend in the West.

Another possible solution (albeit without numbers) is to use the tool “Google Timeline” to compare some occurrences of “China” within particular newspapers. Interestingly, I have seen that the “highbrow” newspapers, such as the NYT or WAPO, tend to have a more stable coverage of China, as they usually have staff dedicated fulltime to this subject:


New York Times occurrences of "China"

Whereas more “lowbrow” papers like USAToday tend to show more the peaks and the valleys, as they follow more closely the trends of popular interest (see the massive peak in 2008 Tibet+Sichuan+Olympics):


USAToday occurrences of "China"

As a temporary conclusion I would say the results from USAToday and similar papers are more significant, because by far that kind of media have the largest number of readers in the World. This confirms again the trend seen in my old Chinanews-meter, and it also confirms the impression of most China bloggers I have spoken to: 2009 was not as hot as 2008.

Your call

I am still not entirely satisfied with these measurements and I am looking to find a better way to estimate “China” and follow it over time. If you have any idea please let me know in comments. Any suggestion welcome.

In the meantime, the bets are open for 2010 predictions, closest guess gets a beer.  Remember there is the Shanghai Expo and the end of the stimulus package, plus the novelty of Obama will be worn out. I go for a safe 4,000 this time (we have to use the Chinanews-meter again as it is the only chart with numbers in it).

In the next part we will see the results of this blog in 09, and I will inflict you with the best of the 2009 collection. While I get that ready, to follow the year end tradition, here’s the green pastures of the Biscay coast:

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UPDATE: This morning I did a “callibrated” Google trend, taking the word “when” as horizontal reference. “The lower curve is the one representing “China”. The results are far from precise, but they do confirm a strong peak in 08 and return to normal in 09:

Occurrences of "when" (up) and "China"(down) in Google Trends News

UPDATE2: I have found out these days one reason why the Chinanews-meter shows such a sharp fall in 2009: in the beginning of the year the popular correspondent of La Vanguardia, Rafael Poch, was demobilised from Beijing. It is very possible that a few hundred of the articles missing in 09  can be explained by his absence.  Of the charts above, probably the general reality of Western media is somewhere between the USAToday and the NYT charts. I am still looking for a way to put numbers to that, any idea would be welcome.

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