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People Want News About Iran, But The News They Get Is About Canada

Canada gets the most foreign news coverage in U.S. newspapers, but Iran gets searched on Google much more often by Americans.

We checked which countries get the most newspaper coverage last month, as part of a look at the popularity and importance of France in the U.S. France ranked fourth in volume of coverage in major U.S. newspapers in the 12 months through October, with 5 percent of all articles about countries other than the U.S., according to Nexis.1 That covers a period before the recent terrorist attacks on Paris.

We’re now running our full list of newspaper coverage by country. The numbers vary widely: Canada was the subject of nearly 40,000 articles, roughly 100 times the number on Luxembourg, which itself was the subject of about 100 times the number of articles on Tuvalu.

We also checked to see how closely other countries’ newspaper coverage corresponds to how often people in the U.S. search for news about those countries on Google.2

For each set of data, we’ve set the No. 1 country (Canada in the Nexis data, Iran in Google’s) to 100 and rounded because of the approximate nature of the data:



What newspapers are covering and what Google users are searching for has a lot in common. Each of the eight most-searched countries ranked in the top 18 for newspaper coverage, and the 10 countries that received the most newspaper coverage ranked in the top 30 for Google News searches.3 There are some big deviations, though: Germany ranked third in newspaper coverage but just 30th in searches, while Yemen ranked 10th in searches but tied for 40th in newspaper coverage.

Then again, we shouldn’t expect perfect correlation between newspaper coverage and Google News searches, for a few reasons:

  • Google News is an imperfect proxy for online-news interest.
  • Some people probably are searching for news about countries they can’t read about in their newspapers.
  • Our newspaper data covers only English-language newspapers; some countries probably are being covered in U.S. newspapers published in other languages.
  • Newspapers have only so much room for international news; a country that is consistently the 10th most interesting to newspaper readers might never get covered if there are daily slots for only nine stories about other countries.
  • Newspapers’ (dwindling) budgets for bureaus in other countries are driven by other factors as well as reader interest, such as language, cost and security.
  • Editors use other criteria besides reader interest when selecting articles, such as their assessment of a topic’s news value.

Nate Silver contributed research.

Footnotes

  1. The data is from English-language newspapers published in the U.S. that rank in the top 50 in circulation. It excludes duplicates, such as wire-service articles printed in many different newspapers.

  2. We ran a series of Google Trends searches (here’s one example), covering news searches in the U.S. in the same period that our Nexis data covered. We searched for the country, not the search term; Google groups searches by topic for its trends data. Trends allows just five searches at a time and provides only relative, not absolute, search volume, so we used common search terms to rank all countries by search interest. Google Trends results are approximate and the relative volume of searches between the same two terms can vary slightly in two separate Trends queries. They are most useful for showing the rough extent of interest.

  3. The correlation between the number of newspaper articles and relative Google News searches is fairly strong, with an r-squared of 0.3.

Carl Bialik was FiveThirtyEight’s lead writer for news.

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