The BWPI is designed specifically to measure coverage of world problems in selected Australian newspapers. The index covers five world problems as selected by The Backbench:
- International health
- International security
- The environment
- The global economy
- World poverty
Basically, the BWPI will go up when any of these issues are mentioned in the headlines of selected newspapers, and go down if not mentioned. The BWPI will fall even further if headlines are dominated by topics deemed non-newsworthy as selected by The Backbench (for example, Jennifer Aniston’s latest hairstyle).
I think this is a clever idea, but the index will be affected by two main things: (a) editorial decisions and (b) world events. I reckon they’d be better off comparing newspapers with one another, to highlight just the editorial decisions. There’s a good argument for spotlighting Aussie papers that ignore big world events, but it’s not clear who we should be cross at when nothing big is happening in the world, and the papers turn elsewhere to fill their pages.
While they’re in the business of quantifying the way foreign news is reported, the lads might also want to have a go at estimating one of the more interesting statistics in international journalism: how many foreign deaths need to occur to get the same coverage as one local death. Justin Wolfers and I had a crack at estimating this number for the US, and put it at somewhere between 10 and 100. But a more precise analysis on the Australian media would probably yield different ratios for UK deaths, Indian deaths, etc. We know these numbers would be greater than 1 (and that’s probably not unreasonable), but knowing how much greater than 1 would be a useful exercise.