“Civil Rights”

Civil rights in the NYT from 1851Erik Strohmeyer, a student in one of my grad seminars, is writing about how key phrases are shaped in political rhetoric. One of those phrases he is looking at is “civil rights.” He just did a search of the phrase in the New York Times index over the last century-and-a-half. I took a look at the first article in that index, from 1851, when the phrase was already being used in the context of the abolitionist movement. He is looking at phrases like “cut and run” within this context of the ever-shrinking sound-nibblet. Will be interesting to see what he makes of it for his final paper.

The final papers are due in a week of so, after which we will have a round of co-editing on the wiki. If you have interests in this area, you might contribute at that stage to his paper.

Perhaps most interesting is the dip after 2001.

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  1. Posted 11/18/2006 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

    Those results are interesting, particularly the dip after 2001. I’m not sure exactly what it means, though. The attacks gobbled up so much of the news hole at the time that I would venture to guess that any search term you’d care to choose would suffer in comparison. It would be interesting to see whether there the dip was unique to the term “civil rights” or whether the frequency of other non-terrorism-related terms fell off as well. In fact, I’d venture to guess that “civil rights” fared better than many other terms, since it was at least part of the post 9/11 discussion.

  2. alex
    Posted 11/19/2006 at 12:40 am | Permalink

    Erik actually asked about this, and you are right.

    Not only the events after 9/11, but lots of other things can affect the size of the news hole and the direction of coverage. And yes, one way to fix this would be to use a control word (“president,” “America,” etc.) as a balance.

    Nonetheless, it is suggestive. And given recent accusations that civil rights violations have gone under-investigated, the reasons for the dip may be less relevant than the fact that it has dipped.

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