Terrorist Organizations in the News: A Computational Approach to Measure Media Attention toward Terrorism


Media play a vital role in shaping public perceptions of political violence, including terrorism. By covering extremists, media grant terrorists organizations access to a global audience. While they delegitimize their actions they also empower extremists’ standing as influential actors in international conflicts. Extending research on terrorist attacks as events of political violence, this study analyzes media attention toward terrorist organizations as actors of political violence. Specifically, we focus on how news values connected to groups and their actions explain media attention. We use computational methods, specifically an automated content analysis of media coverage of 30 terrorist organizations in the US and the UK (N = 18,536). Results illustrate that terrorists can prompt media attention through newsworthy events, specifically by perpetrating lethal attacks on civil targets. The news value of continuity leads to follow-up coverage once a group has secured media attention, while other characteristics such as group ideology or governmental designations are not consistently associated with coverage. By highlighting the role of news values and the capitalization of such by terrorist organizations, the study critically reflects on journalism’s role in covering extremists.

Mass Communication and Society