Key issue (Terrorism Coverage)




news topic, frames, issue salience, issue ownership


“Key issue” describes the main issue or perspective an article focuses on when reporting on a news topic. There might be different key issues for the same topic: When reporting on terrorism, articles can for example concentrate on the incident itself, the perpetrator behind it, victims and/or political reactions to terrorism.

Field of application/theoretical foundation:

Key issues share similarities with other variables such as news “frames”, “issue salience” or “issue ownership” that also try to identify different perspectives for the same or different news topics. Therefore, studies based on “Framing” (Entman, 1993) work with similar variables to analyze what issues journalists focus on and many studies cited here use the concept of framing to identify key issues, for example Li (2007) or Zhang & Hellmüller (2016).

References/combination with other methods of data collection:

Studies for example combine content analysis and interviews with journalists to shed more light on dynamics and structures of terrorism coverage, including key issues (Larsen, 2019).

Example studies:

Li (2007); Matthews (2016)


Information on Li, 2007

Authors: Li (2007)

Research question: How did television outlets frame 9/11 during the first 24 hours of coverage and how did this framing change over time?

Object of analysis: News coverage by five TV outlets (ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and FOX news)

Time frame of analysis: 24 hours after attacks on September 9 2001 occurred

Info about variables

Variable name/definition: Coverage frame: “The coverage frame is defined as the aspects of a perceived reality identified through a story that makes these aspects more salient in the news coverage” (Li, 2007, p. 676).

Level of analysis: News story (TV)

Variables and values: Political coverage frame, economic coverage frame, criminal coverage frame, environment coverage frame, safety coverage frame, human interest coverage frame, religion coverage frame, disaster coverage frame, other coverage frame

Reliability: Scott’s pi: .8


Information on Matthews, 2016

Authors: Matthews (2016)

Research question: How did newspapers react in the immediate aftermath of the London bombings 2005?

Object of analysis: News coverage by nine UK newspapers and their Sunday equivalents (The Star, The Sun, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, Daily Express, The Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian and The Independent)

Time frame of analysis: July 8 2005 to July 15 2005

Info about variables

Variable name/definition: Story themes

Level of analysis: News article

Variables and values: Reconstruction and reaction, bombers’ identities, police investigation, victims/the missing, heroism and survivors, London’s reaction


Table 1. Measurement of “Key Issue” in terrorism coverage.






An et al. (2018)

Articles from terrorist websites

31 different key issues, ranging from terrorist attacks to their political consequences

Average Holsti value for all pairwise comparisons: .66


Du & Li (2017)

Online news articles

6 different key issues, including “description and updates of the incident itself”, “causes of the incident”, “consequences of the incident”, “conflicting viewpoint related to the incident”, “condemn the terrorist behavior and discuss the punishment/reprisal”, and “background/history knowledge of the incident areas”

Scott’s pi for all variables in study: between .798 and 1


Haußecker & Jirschitzka, 2010; Jirschitzka et al., 2010

Broadcasting programs

11 different key issues, ranging from war against terror to communication of terrorists

Average Holsti value for all pairwise comparisons with five coders and one main coder: .66


Larsen (2019)

Broadcasting programs and online news articles

3 different key issues, including “threat of terrorism”, “countering and prevention”, and ”terrorism as phenomenon”

Cohen’s kappa: .782


Li (2007)

Broadcasting programs

9 different key issues, including “political”, “economic”, “criminal”, “environment”, “safety”, “human interest”, “religion”, “disaster”, and “other” coverage frame

Scott’s pi: .8

Not available

Li & Izard (2003)

Broadcasting programs and news articles

10 different key issues, including “business”, “World Trade Center”, “Pentagon”, “safety (concerning future attacks)”, “government and U.S. president, “criminal activity and terrorism,” “personal story”, “American public”, “U.S. Arab community”, and “past events”

Scott’s pi for all nominal variables in study: between .78 and .96

Not available

Matthews (2016)

Newspaper articles

6 different key issues, including “reconstruction and reaction”, “bombers’ identities”, “police investigation”, “victims/the missing”, “heroism and survivors”, and “London’s reaction”

Not reported

Not available

Zhang & Hellmüller (2016)

Online news articles

8 key issues, sorted in the overarching categories “geopolitics” (consisting of “failing state”, “political opportunism”, “strategic game”, “geopolitical alignment”) and “existential threat” (consisting of “ISIS prowess”, “human rights crisis”, “economic consequences”, and “ISIS propaganda”)

Krippendorf’s alpha: .73




An, Y., Mejía, N. A., Arizi, A., Villalobos, M. M, & Rothenberger, L. (2018). Perpetrators’ strategic communication: Framing and identity building on ethno-nationalist terrorists’ websites. Communications, 43(2), 133–171. doi:10.1515/commun-2017-0057

Du, Y. R., & Li, L. (2017). When press freedom meets national interest: How terrorist attacks are framed in the news in China and the US. Global Media and China, 2(3–4), 284–302. doi:10.1177/2059436418755761

Entman, R. M. (1993). Framing: Toward clarification of a fractured paradigm. Journal of Communication, 43(4), 51-58. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.1993.tb01304.x

Haußecker, N., & Jirschitzka, J. (2010). Mediale Konstruktion I: Methodisches Vorgehen—Inhaltsanalyse der Terrorberichterstattung in deutschen Fernsehnachrichten [Media construction I: Methods – content analysis of terrorism coverage in German TV news]. In W. Frindte & N. Haußecker (Eds.), Inszenierter Terrorismus [Staged terrorism] (pp. 67–89). VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.

Jirschitzka, J., Haußecker, N., & Frindte, W. (2010). Mediale Konstruktion II: Die Konstruktion des Terrorismus im deutschen Fernsehen Ergebnisdarstellung und Interpretation. [Media construction II: the construction of terrorism in German TV - results and interpretation]. In W. Frindte & N. Haußecker (Eds.), Inszenierter Terrorismus [Staged terrorism] (pp. 81–119). Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.

Larsen, A. G. (2019). Threatening criminals and marginalized individuals: Frames and news conventions in reporting of radicalization and violent extremism. Media, War & Conflict, 12(3), 299–316. doi:10.1177/1750635218769331

Li, X. (2007). Stages of a crisis and media frames and functions: U.S. television coverage of the 9/11 incident during the first 24 hours. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 51(4), 670–687. doi:10.1080/08838150701626578

Li, X., & Izard, R. (2003). 9/11 Attack coverage reveals similarities, differences. Newspaper Research Journal, 24(1), 204–219. oi:10.1177/073953290302400123

Matthews, J. (2016). Media performance in the aftermath of terror: Reporting templates, political ritual and the UK press coverage of the London Bombings, 2005. Journalism, 17(2), 173–189. doi:10.1177/1464884914554175

Zhang, X., & Hellmüller, L. (2016). Transnational media coverage of the ISIS threat: A global perspective? International Journal of Communication, 10, 766–785.



How to Cite

Rothenberger, L., & Hase, V. (2021). Key issue (Terrorism Coverage). DOCA - Database of Variables for Content Analysis, 1(2).



News/Journalism: Variables for Content Analysis