Sources (Terrorism Coverage)




journalism research, actors, automated content analysis


Sources describe the actors quoted by journalists to support or refute their argumentation or to introduce new aspects into a discussion. Sources might be used for direct or indirect quotes and can be attributed to a variety of actors, such as government officials, witnesses or PR sources. In terrorism coverage, the media tends to mostly rely on official sources such as the government or police officials.

Field of application/theoretical foundation:

Content analyses focus on journalistic sources beyond terrorism coverage. Such analyses are often based on “Agenda-Setting” theories (McCombs & Shaw, 1972), models conceptualizing the relationship between journalists and PR, power hierarchies, or studies on working routines of journalists.

References/combination with other methods of data collection:

Similar analyses in the context of “Automated Content Analysis” try to grasp news “Actors”, of which news sources might be one, automatically (for example Burggraaf & Trilling, 2020). In addition, interviews with journalists can shed light on their sourcing routines (Larsen, 2018).

Two studies are of particular value when analyzing sources used in terrorism coverage since they analyze a large variety of different sources and will hence be discussed in the following section.

Example studies:

Larsen (2019); Venger (2019)


Information on Larsen, 2019

Author: Larsen (2019)

Research question: How are radicalization and violent extremism framed in the news, including the sources used in these articles?

Object of analysis: Online news from four Norwegian news outlets (Aftenposten, NRK, TV2, and VG)

Time frame of analysis: 2014–2015 

Info about variables

Variable name/definition: Sources

Level of analysis: News stories

Variables and values: 27 different values, namely (1) no source, (2) police, (3) security services, (4) national politician in position, (5) national politician in opposition, (6) local politician, (7) bureaucracy/administration, (8) lawyer, (9) military/intelligence, (10) expert/researcher, (11) journalist/editor, (12) “extreme Islamist”, (13) “right-wing extremist”, (14) acquaintances, (15) NGOs, (16) international organizations, (17) religious leaders/spokespersons, (18) members of the public, (19) health, (20) education/school, (21) private sector/business, (22) prison administration, (23) affiliation not mentioned (i.e. anonymous), (24) think tank, (25) public prosecutors, (26) judge/court of Justice, (27) other

Reliability: Cohen’s kappa: .895


Information on Venger, 2019

Authors: Venger (2019)

Research question: How did the use of sources in news on the London bombings differ across newspapers published in countries with different media systems?

Object of analysis: Newspaper coverage in the UK (The Guardian, The Times), the US (The Washington Post, The New York Times), and Russia (Izvestiya)

Time frame of analysis: July–August 2005

Info about variables

Variable name/definition8 different values, including (1) local government officials of the newspaper’s country, (2) foreign government officials, including officials of international agencies, (3) local experts, (4) international experts, (5) foreigners not associated with any government, (6) private citizens (of the newspaper’s country), (7) citations for local newspapers, (8) citations for international newspapers.

Reliability: Rust and Cohen’s PRL reliability index, minimal value of any variable in study: .85


Table 1. Measurement of “Sources” in terrorism coverage.






Bennett (2016)

Online news articles

12 different sources, ranging from “domestic media” to “eyewitnesses”

Not reported

Not available

Douai & Lauricella (2014)

Newspaper articles

5 different sources, ranging from “Western media sources” to “official/government Muslim sources”

Percent agreement across all variables: 94.25

Not available

Du & Li (2017)

Online news articles

7 different sources, ranging from “NGOs” to “laws, orders, and documents”

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

Not available

Fahmy & Al Emad (2011)

Online news articles

5 different sources, ranging from “US sources” to “Al Qaeda sources”

Scott’s pi: .92


Gardner (2007)

Newspaper articles

7 different sources, ranging from “analyst/academic” to “friends and family of the terrorist”

Holsti across all variables: .87

Not available

Larsen (2019)

Broadcasting programs and online news articles

27 different sources, ranging from “security/intelligence” to “religious spokespersons”

Cohen’s kappa: .895


Li (2007)

Broadcasting programs

10 different sources, ranging from “airlines officials” to “witnesses”

Scott’s pi: .84

Not available

Matthews (2013)

Newspaper articles

16 different sources, ranging from “police sources” to “experts”

Minimal value for all variables in study: .8


Matthews (2016)

Newspaper articles

7 different sources, ranging from “friends” to “survivors and witnesses”

Not reported

Not available

Venger (2019)

Newspaper articles

8 different sources, ranging from “local experts” to “citations for international newspapers”

Rust and Cohen’s PRL reliability index, minimal value of any variable in study: 85

Not available

Zhang & Hellmüller (2016)

Online news articles

10 different sources, ranging from “ISIS/insurgent groups” to “ordinary people”

Krippendorf’s alpha: .8





Bennett, D. (2016). Sourcing the BBC’s live online coverage of terror attacks. Digital Journalism, 4(7), 861–874. doi:10.1080/21670811.2016.1163233

Burggraaff, C., & Trilling, D. (2020). Through a different gate: An automated content analysis of how online news and print news differ. Journalism, 21(1), 112–129. doi:10.1177/1464884917716699

Douai, A., & Lauricella, S. (2014). The ‘terrorism’ frame in ‘neo-Orientalism’: Western news and the Sunni–Shia Muslim sectarian relations after 9/11. International Journal of Media & Cultural Politics, 10(1), 7–24. doi:10.1386/macp.10.1.7_1

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

Fahmy, S. S., & Al Emad, M. (2011). Al-Jazeera vs Al-Jazeera: A comparison of the network’s English and Arabic online coverage of the US/Al Qaeda conflict. International Communication Gazette, 73(3), 216–232. doi:10.1177/1748048510393656

Gardner, E. (2007). Is there method to the madness?: Worldwide press coverage of female terrorists and journalistic attempts to rationalize their involvement. Journalism Studies, 8(6), 909–929. doi:10.1080/14616700701556799

Larsen, A. H. (2018). Newsworthy actors, illegitimate voices: Journalistic strategies in dealing with voices deemed anti-democratic and violent. Journalism. Advanced online publication. doi:10.1177/1464884918760865

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

Matthews, J. (2013). News narratives of terrorism: Assessing source diversity and source use in UK news coverage of alleged Islamist plots. Media, War & Conflict, 6(3), 295–310. doi:10.1177/1750635213505189

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

McCombs, M.E., & Shaw, D. L. (1972). The agenda-setting function of mass media. Public Opinion Quarterly, 36(2), 176–187. doi:10.1086/267990

Venger, O. (2019). The use of experts in journalistic accounts of media events: A comparative study of the 2005 London Bombings in British, American, and Russian newspapers. Journalism, 20(10), 1343–1359. doi:10.1177/1464884919830479

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). Sources (Terrorism Coverage). DOCA - Database of Variables for Content Analysis, 1(2).



News/Journalism: Variables for Content Analysis