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Content Anaylsis

Content Analysis

What are Americans getting from news magazines going into 2004?

The short answer:

To get a sense of how magazine journalism has changed, we looked at the content of the three longstanding weekly news magazines. First, we examined 20-year data from Hall’s Reports, a Stamford, Conn.-based research firm which measures the number of editorial pages in the magazines by category – national affairs, culture and business. The data indicate that these magazines are very different publications from each other and very different than they used to be. At a time when the industry trend overall has been toward niche publications, news magazines have actually become more general. No longer summaries of the week’s hard news – a chronicling of the significant events in the nation and world, they now do a bit of everything, and do very little as in depth as they once did. The expansion of coverage has come in particular at the expense of what is considered more traditional news of government, public policy and the economy. In some ways, the news magazines might be analogous to the morning news shows on television, a hybrid assimilating a little of all styles in one place.

First, there are more pages of editorial content. Editorial pages have increased 9 percent since 1980, even as ad pages have declined, according to data from Hall’s Reports.1

Number of Pages in News Magazines
Advertising and editorial in Time, Newsweek and U.S. News
Design Your Own Chart
Hall’s Media Research unpublished data
* 2003 data is January to July

What is in those pages has also changed. Pages devoted to national affairs, for instance, dropped by 25 percent from 1980 to the first half of 2003, according to Hall’s. There is less news on high culture such as museum reviews (13 percent in 1980 versus 10 percent in 2003), and, perhaps surprisingly, a smaller percent of pages devoted to business (11 percent versus 9 percent).2

The number of pages devoted to international news dropped off significantly after the collapse of communism but in 2003 has risen back up, due in large part to September 11th and the war in Iraq, to roughly the same level as in 1980.3

What subjects now take up the pages? The space devoted to entertainment and celebrity stories have roughly doubled since 1980 (and now account for 7 percent of the pages).4 Lifestyle coverage has grown from a scant 1 percent in 1980 to 4 percent in 2003 . Health news, which often translates to news you can use rather than medical science, has more than quadrupled (from 2 percent in 1980 to 9 percent in 2003).5 The three news magazines, particularly Time and Newsweek, have added pages directly from the genres that have seen the largest rise in circulation.6 (See Magazine Audience)

News Magazine Pages by Topic, 1980
Time, Newsweek and U.S. News, total pages
Design Your Own Chart
Hall’s Media Research unpublished data
News Magazine Pages by Topic, 2003
Time, Newsweek and U.S. News, total pages
Design Your Own Chart
Hall’s Media Research unpublished data
* 2003 data is January – July
News Magazine Pages by Topic
Select years 1980 – 2003, Time, Newsweek and U.S. News
Design Your Own Chart
Hall’s Media Research unpublished data
* 2003 figures January – July

A Closer Look At 2003

In addition to the longitudinal data from Hall’s about what topics got the most space, we wanted to take a closer look at the news magazine genre in 2003.

To do so, the Project did two analyses. First, it analyzed the cover stories of all three magazines for the year – January through the first of December. Next, it analyzed in greater detail every story in each of the magazines for four weeks of the year, corresponding to the weeks studied for other media in this report.

What we found on one level reaffirmed Hall’s research: today news magazines offer a little of everything and none of the magazines anymore can be described as a summary of the week’s news.7

But there are three distinct personalities now between the three magazines, perhaps more than there once was.

U.S. News & World Report, the smallest of the three in circulation and in ad revenue (See Magazine Audience and Economics), is the most information-laden, the most likely to highlight traditional hard news topics and the most likely to report in a neutral manner – a more straightforward accounting of the facts of events with less of a writer’s “take” or opinion on what those events mean.

Newsweek is lighter, more oriented toward lifestyle and celebrity coverage, and more likely to publish stories that contain an emotional component.

Time magazine is something of a hybrid between the two. Its content is more like U.S. News’ – neutral and information driven. Its covers, on the other hand, look a good deal more like Newsweek’s – highlighting lifestyle and entertainment.

The Year in Covers

These distinct personalities are particularly evident in the 2003 covers. The situation in Iraq was the most common cover story of the year at all three magazines. Time put the war on the cover 15 times (out of 48 issues studied), Newsweek 14 times, and U.S. News 12.

But after that, differences emerge. Aside from Iraq, for instance, Time and Newsweek were most likely to go with a lifestyle cover, such as health, dieting, or the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS. Newsweek had 11 such covers, Time 10. U.S. News, by contrast, had half as many, 5.

The lifestyle topics in Time and Newsweek, moreover, often were about how Americans behave: “She works, he doesn’t” (Newsweek) or “The Secrets of Eating Smarter.” When U.S. News did a lifestyle cover, it often tended toward a reference issue one might keep, such as an annual career guide or a consumer survival guide.

At U.S. News, rather than lifestyle, the second most common cover topic was a domestic social issue or historical matter, such as a cover package of stories about anti-Semitism in America, oceanic pollution, architecture or the history of flight. It had 10 such covers. Time had just one domestic issue cover (about health care). Newsweek had five.

Add in the economy, and the differences between the three are more pronounced. U.S. News did two covers on the economy. Neither Time nor Newsweek did any during the 48 weeks.

U.S. News also stands out in its treatment of popular culture and celebrity. Time and Newsweek each had four entertainment covers. U.S. News had none.

The covers, too, show a marked shift over time. In an earlier study, PEJ compared the cover stories of Time and Newsweek in 1977 and 1997. Over those twenty years, there was a clear decline in government and domestic affairs covers as well as foreign affairs. Softer news areas like entertainment, personal health and science received more cover play.8 In 2003, the war in Iraq dominated magazine covers throughout the year. Foreign and military coverage together represented 31% of cover stories in 2003 (compared to less than 10% of stories in 1997). Otherwise, trends toward softer news continued as the percent of covers about health rose to 18% at both Time and Newsweek (from 6% and 2% in 1997) and covers devoted to domestic issues like affirmative action and gay marriage fell slightly (from 10% to 8% of cover stories at Newsweek, and from 8% to 4% at Newsweek).

News Magazine Covers by Topic
Time and Newsweek 1977 & 1997
Design Your Own Chart
Project for Excellence in Journalism, ’’Changing Definitions of News,’’ March 6, 1998


Looking more in depth at four issues of each magazine rather than a year of covers, we see other differences among the three magazines. What topics got the most space in the magazines during the weeks studied?

U.S. News, by far, was the most traditional, devoting nearly half of its space, 49 percent, to U.S. government and domestic affairs. These topics took up 26 percent of the space in Newsweek during the weeks studied, and 13 percent in Time.

Newsweek, on the other hand, was the most oriented to entertainment and lifestyle. A full 37 percent of its space was consumed with lifestyle and celebrity stories (versus 31 percent at Time and a mere 6 percent at U.S. News).

What were the lifestyle stories? Newsweek covered the range of lifestyle activities — health trends, sports, travel, religion, cooking, the arts and popular culture. At Time, the bulk of it was pop-cultural trends and it also had more high-culture arts stories.

Time stood out for the space devoted to science and technology, but that is largely due to a cover issue on DNA.

The three publications were virtually identical in their coverage of military and foreign affairs and the situation in Iraq, averaging 29 percent of the space (and 18 percent of stories).

If one looks at the topics in these four issues by number of stories rather than space, the findings are quite similar. The only significant difference is a lower percentage when it comes to the number of domestic and foreign affairs stories and a higher percentage when it comes to the number of lifestyle stories. In other words, there are fewer domestic and foreign affairs stories, but they are longer. There are more lifestyle stories but they are shorter. All other categories are virtually identical in volume and stories.

Story Length

One area where the differences between the magazines may not be quite so predictable was story length. Here, the in-depth four-week study showed that the three magazines had a similar overall space or news hole (averaging 27,000 to 28,000 words per issue). And at all the magazines short stories dominated, more than half being less than 500 words.

In the examination of the data for length, there were no statistically significant differences in the three magazines.


The Project also looked at whether stories were built around a single character or an institution, as opposed to no central protagonist. Who or what, in other words, were the stories emphasizing, if anyone or anything? As a group, the news magazines built 27% of their stories around a single personality, 5% less than newspapers.

Here U.S. News again stood out. It was the least likely to make its stories character-focused, doing so just 19 percent of the time, versus 35 percent for Time and 27 percent for Newsweek.

The news magazines were even less likely to focus their stories around institutions (only 9 percent of stories).

Similar to the findings in other news media, President Bush was not the main protagonist much of the time in the news magazines. Indeed, Time and Newsweek were both more than twice as likely to be focused on an entertainment celebrity as on the president as a main protagonist. This was not the case at U.S. News, where one was about as likely as the other. Bush did not even dominate political coverage at any of the news magazines. The three publications were twice as likely to build their political stories around some other federal official or politician as they were around the president. Apparently, while popular and highly effective politically, Bush is not the kind of character who makes for compelling magazine copy.


In general, readers of the news magazines are told who the sources are. Only 20 percent of all the stories studied contained anonymous sourcing, and many of those were the shorter pieces.

In contrast, more than a quarter of stories (28 percent) contained the highest level of transparent sourcing we counted — four or more sources where the reporter not only identified them by name but also attempted to explain the source’s bias or relationship to the subject.

There are some differences among the magazines in sourcing, but only some. Again, reflecting its more traditional or fact-heavy character, U.S. News was the most likely to run stories with four or more fully identified sources (36 percent). Newsweek was the least likely (21 percent).

Iraq Coverage

How did the news magazines cover the situation in Iraq during the weeks studied in depth? None of the issues studied were during combat operations, though two fell in the weeks surrounding battle, February 17 and April 7. (The other two weeks studied were June 16 and October 6.) In these four issues, the war in Iraq accounted for more than a fifth (22 percent) of all stories and roughly a third (32 percent) of all the space.

These stories were also more likely than others to be long and in depth. Fourteen percent of the Iraq stories were longer than 2,000 words, compared with 6 percent of stories overall. Only a third (34 percent) were 500 words or fewer (versus half overall).

As with the coverage overall, these stories were not generally framed around an institution or a person. Only 3 percent of the Iraq stories in each magazine cast President Bush in the role as protagonist in the story and only 5 percent cast his administration generally as the protagonist. The most likely protagonist was some other federal politician or government official (9 percent).

There were also differences in the way that the three magazines covered the situation. Time devoted the most space to the war, 37 percent, compared to 34 percent for Newsweek and 24 percent for U.S. News. And again, Time had more long stories (seven stories in the four issues studied were more than 2,000 words). Newsweek ran six long stories in the four issues studied and U.S. News ran two long stories.

Time magazine, then and now

Click here for metholodogy information.

Click here to view content summary tables.


1. Hall’s Reports research. Unpublished data.


3. Ibid

4. Ibid

5. Ibid

6. Ibid

7. “Changing Definitions of News,” The Project for Excellence in Journalism, March 6, 1998.

8. Changing Definitions of News, Chart “Subject of Front Page and Cover Stories”