Critical analysis and comment (News Performance)




news coverage, investigative journalism, watchdog reporting, criticism


Field of application/theoretical foundation:

Studies of critical analysis and comment are theoretically linked to news performance and the watchdog function of the media (Donsbach, 1995; McQuail, 1992). This construct is related to the normative expectation that the news media should critically analyze and comment on cases of abuse of power, incompetence, failures and grievances in government institutions, non-profit organizations, or the private sector (Downie & Schudson, 2009).

References/combination with other methods of data collection:

The analysis of critical reporting and comment is complex and requires an understanding of the context and the references made by the journalist. Furthermore, it is empirically demanding to distinguish between critical reporting in the sense of the watchdog function and criticism in the sense of negativity or sensationalism (Humprecht, 2016). Due to this complexity, automated approaches have hardly been employed so far.

Example studies:

Benson (2010); Humprecht (2016)

Table 1. Study summaries



Unit of Analysis



Benson (2010)

Content type: immigration news coverage (all articles focused on broad immigration trends, policy making and politics, or individual immigrants)

Outlet/ country: 14 newspapers from two countries (FR, US)

Sampling period: 1991/1994; 2002/2004; 2006)

Sample size: N= 1088

Unit of analysis: critical statements in news articles (from sources/ journalists)

Critical statements are classified according to their target, substantive focus, and sources

Target (government; dominant left parties; dominant right parties; minor political parties; civil society organizations; business; foreign or international organizations)

Focus (administrative, character, truth, ideology, policy, and strategy)

Administrative criticism (e.g., corruption, incompetence, mismanagement)

Truth criticism (e.g., evidence to demonstrate the falsity of claims)

Character criticisms (e.g., attacks on personal characteristics of powerful individuals in public life)

Policy criticism (e.g., logical coherence, feasibility, empirical justification, evidence supporting any pro- posed policy)

Ideology criticism (e.g., criticisms of fascism, racism, sexism, other worldviews)

Strategy criticisms (negative assessments of effectiveness of a particular idea/ action; normative criticisms of political strategies)

Holsti = 0.85

Humprecht (2016)

Content type: Political routine-period online news

Outlet/ country: 48 online news outlets from six countries (CH, DE, FR, IT, UK, US)

Sampling period: June – July 2012

Sample size: N = 1660

Unit of analysis: Political news items (make reference to a political actor, e.g. politician, party, institution in headline, sub?headline, in first paragraph or in an accompanying visual)

Story shows critical perspective towards authorities/power holders

Story raises probing questions at actors responsible for a problem

Story discovers new, previously unknown information about a problem of social/political relevance; story may unveil a ‘scandal’

Cohen’s kappa:

critical perspective = 0.74

probing questions = 0.67

unveiling scandals = 0.81




Benson, R. (2010). What Makes for a Critical Press? A Case Study of French and U.S. Immigration News Coverage. The International Journal of Press/Politics, 15(1), 3–24.

Donsbach, W. (1995). Lapdogs, Watchdogs and Junkyard Dogs. Media Studies Journal, Fall 1995, 17–30.

Downie, L., & Schudson, M. (2009). The Reconstruction of American Journalism.

Humprecht, E. (2016). Shaping Online News Performance. In Palgrave Macmillan. Palgrave Macmillan UK.

McQuail, D. (1992). Media Performance: Mass Communication and the Public Interest. Sage Publications.



How to Cite

Humprecht, E. (2021). Critical analysis and comment (News Performance). DOCA - Database of Variables for Content Analysis, 1(2).



News/Journalism: Variables for Content Analysis