Cook, Scott J. and Nils B. Weidmann. "Lost in Aggregation: Improving Event Analysis with Report-level Data"
Most measures of social conflict processes are derived from primary and secondary source reports. In many cases, reports are used to create event-level data sets by aggregating information from multiple, and often conflicting, reports to single event observations. We argue this pre-aggregation is less innocuous than it seems, costing applied researchers opportunities for improved inference. First, researchers cannot evaluate the consequences of different methods of report aggregation. Second, aggregation discards report-level information (i.e., variation across reports) that is useful in addressing measurement error inherent in event data. Therefore, we advocate that data should be supplied and analyzed at the report level. We demonstrate the consequences of using pre-aggregated event data as a predictor or outcome variable, and how analysis can be improved using report-level information directly. These gains are demonstrated with simulated-data experiments and in the analysis of real-world data, using the newly available Mass Mobilization in Autocracies Database (MMAD).
Hellmeier, Sebastian, Nils B. Weidmann and Espen Geelmuyden Rød. "In the Spotlight: Analyzing Sequential Attention Effects in Protest Reporting”
During waves of contention, international media attention can be of crucial importance for activists and protest participants. However, media attention is a scarce resource and the competition over news coverage is high. While some emphasize the agenda-setting power of news outlets and argue that receiving coverage is determined by factors outside the protest movement, others suggest a dynamic relationship between media attention and activism where social movement organizations are assumed to have some agency to make it to the news. In this paper, we contribute to the latter and analyze how protest can endogenously trigger more coverage. Building on insights from communication science, we argue that widely covered protests attract media attention and temporarily lower the selection threshold for subsequent incidents. Using fine-grained data on anti-regime protest in all authoritarian countries between 2003 and 2012, we find robust empirical evidence for this hypothesis. We also show that this effect becomes weaker and eventually disappears with increasing spatial and temporal distance from a highly salient event. These findings are important for research in contentious politics, since they allows us to gauge the extent to which protest activity on the ground may under certain circumstances be over-reported in the media.