Case Study: Comparison of Two Articles Covering Alex Trebek’s Heart Attack

June 26, 2012

By Tasha Frankie, Ph.D.

Alex Trebek recently suffered a heart attack, from which he is expected to fully recover. Several news outlets covered the story. Here, EffectCheck® is used to perform a lexical comparison of two stories on Trebek, using Entertainment News as the category of communication.

CBS News Article

Overall EffectCheck Scores

The first article analyzed lexically is from CBS News, written by Jessica Derschowitz (original article found at: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-31749_162-57459668-10391698/alex-trebek-in-good-spirits-after-heart-attack). The results from EffectCheck are shown in Graph 1.



CBS News EffectCheck Score

Graph 1: EffectCheck results for the CBS article on Alex Trebek
using the Entertainment News category.



Since the story is covering a heart attack, an event that many people fear, the very high levels of words that evoke anxiety are expected, and come from such words as {jeopardy, heart attack, ruptured, suffering, spirits, suffered, burglar, injured, hospital}. Also, note that the lexical analysis does not distinguish the word "jeopardy" (meaning danger) from the game show "Jeopardy!" (hosted by Alex Trebek), so mention of Trebek’s job contributes to the very high level of anxiety. The word "jeopardy" likewise contributes to the high score for depression, along with words such as {suffering, suffered, broke}. Hostility scores slightly higher than typical, with words such as {ruptured, suffered, suffering, injured, burglar} contributing to the result.

On the flip side, Trebek is expected to recover, so the story is relatively high in happiness {good, spirits}, and relatively typical in confidence {good, spirits} and compassion {spirits, good}.

Scores Over Time

It is also interesting to look at the progression of EffectCheck scores as the story progresses (see Graph 2). Note that in the timeline, the 30-word moving window starts at a given word, and uses the next 30 words to determine the time-progression score (the title was included in the analysis for these articles). This article starts with a between typical and high amount of depression because of the word {suffering}. This quickly becomes a very high level when the word {Jeopardy} enters the window, and then drops again when the word {suffering} exits the window. By the time of the 40th word in the article ("Saturday," in the second paragraph), the 30-word window does not contain any words that contribute lexically to depression, so the score drops to Very Low. In this section of the article, Derschowitz discusses the expectation of full recovery and return to work. However, Derschowitz continues the article by listing some negative occurrences in the last five years of Trebek’s life, and the score for depression increases rapidly back to Very High, as expected.

A similar progression can be traced for the happiness category. The score starts out Very High, with words like {good, spirits, expected, full, recovery, mild} in the first 30-word window. Discussion of the heart attack and the resulting medical care requires use of words that do not lexically evoke happiness, so the happiness score drops to between Very Low and Low. The score returns to Very High as the expectations of recovery are detailed, then drops again to Very Low during the listing of negative occurrences in Trebek’s life. Finally, the discussion of Trebek’s expected future work and the mention of the award won by Jeopardy! leave the happiness score at Very High.

It seems Derschowitz intended to end the article on a positive note, as evidenced lexically by the increasing scores for confidence, compassion, and happiness at the conclusion of the article, and the decreasing scores for hostility and depression. Had the score for anxiety decreased more at the end, the upbeat ending of the article may have been even more effective.



CBS News Effect Check Score Over Time

Graph 2: EffectCheck Scores for CBS article as story progresses.



Hollywood Reporter Article

Overall EffectCheck Scores

The second article analyzed is from the Hollywood Reporter, written by Todd Gilchrist (original article found at: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/jeopardy-alex-trebek-heart-attack-341331). The EffectCheck Score is seen in Graph 3.



Hollywood Reporter Effect Check Score

Graph 3: EffectCheck Score results for Hollywood Reporter article
using the Entertainment News category.



The overall results are similar to the CBS article, but with the score for happiness one category lower. The words evoking anxiety {jeopardy, heart attack}, hostility {pursuing, suffered, suffers, burglar, suffering, injured}, and depression {jeopardy} are similar to the ones seen in the CBS article. However, the words evoking confidence {iconic, his}, compassion {according, game, recover, back, host, spirits, admitted, may, released}, and happiness {game, awards, show}, are different than those in the CBS article.

Scores Over Time

When reading the articles side-by-side, it is obvious that the content is covered in the same order in each article, just with different choices of wording. A comparison of the timelines is especially interesting because of this. The timeline for the Hollywood Reporter article is in Graph 4.



Hollywood Reporter Effect Check Score Over Time

Graph 4: EffectCheck Scores for Hollywood Reporter article as story progresses.



The score for depression begins between High and Very High because the title of the article contains the words {Jeopardy, suffers}. In contrast to the CBS title ("Alex Trebek ‘in good spirits’ after heart attack"), the Hollywood Reporter article title ("’Jeopardy!’ Host Alex Trebek Suffers Heart Attack") lexically evokes more depression in readers. The article launches with a byline and first paragraph in this negative viewpoint, and the score for depression remains above typical until much of the second paragraph is included in the 30-word window. At this point, the article discusses Trebek’s expected recovery, and depression dips to Very Low, before quickly reaching above High again during the listing of negative events in Trebek’s life. At the end of the article, the score for depression dips back to just above Low, as Gilchrist writes about positive awards for Trebek.

The score for happiness starts out just above Typical, with words like {host, game, show, personality} evoking happiness despite the news of the heart attack. The second paragraph, describing the positive recovery outlook, brings the happiness score to Very High. As expected, during the listing of negative events in Trebek’s life, the happiness score drops almost to Very Low before picking up again to just above Typical at the end of the article.

Like Derschowitz, Gilchrist also ends the article on a positive note. Gilchrist is successful in ending with increasing scores for confidence, compassion, and happiness, and decreasing scores for anxiety, hostility, and depression.

Summary

Both the CBS News article and the Hollywood Reporter article cover the same material, but do so in lexically different styles. Using the EffectCheck score-over-time feature, it’s evident that although the overall scores are very similar, the choice of words used results in different progressions of scores, lending a different lexical feel to each article.