Winter 1990 // Volume 28 // Number 4 // Feature Articles // 4FEA6

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How Newspapers Reported Extension's 75th Anniversary


Patricia Calvert
Deputy Director
Communication, Information, and Technology
ES-USDA, Washington, D.C.

Mildred A. Konan
Consulting Sociologist
Falls Church, Virginia

Judith A. Bowers
Head Public Affairs
Communication, Information, and Technology
ES-USDA, Washington, D.C.

  • How is Extension portrayed in the media?
  • Are the new initiatives receiving attention?
  • What can Extension personnel do to improve the image of the Cooperative Extension System and its programs?

To seek answers to these questions, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Extension Service (ES-USDA) asked a national clipping service to collect articles from weekly and daily newspapers during May 1989. At this time, the Cooperative Extension System (CES) was celebrating its 75th anniversary. Throughout the United States, Extension Services in each state were organizing special events and making concerted efforts to obtain media coverage. Many newspaper articles reported the anniversary and Extension's history and programs.

ES-USDA communications personnel in Washington took a number of actions to facilitate media coverage. They provided state media personnel with information packets containing historical and current information. They had a logo designed for the 75th anniversary and commissioned a book on the Cooperative Extension System. They publicized the theme, "Investing in America's Future," and also organized a national video teleconference that included time for call-in questions from state and county field staff.

During May 1989, the clipping service collected almost 2,500 newspaper articles from weekly and daily newspapers around the United States. Within the Communication, Information, and Technology (CIT) staff at ES-USDA, a team of eight reviewers conducted a content analysis, reading and coding the clippings on selected characteristics.

This report presents the analysis and provides insights into the way newspapers portrayed Extension at the time of the 75th anniversary celebration. Further, it suggests ways in which Extension personnel at all levels - county, state, and national - can strengthen the media image of CES and its programs.


Clippings were organized into groups, by state, and divided among eight reviewers who coded them according to a set of pre-selected categories.1 The clipping service searched for articles that mentioned Extension in 1,900 daily and Sunday papers, 8,000 weekly papers, and 6,500 trade and consumer magazines in both Canada and the United States. Reviewers coded photos according to their emphasis (personnel, open house, historic, or program), and the articles themselves according to type of content (historic, historic and new, new, or other).

The data represent newspaper coverage of Extension at one point in time and can't be viewed as evidence of any continuing pattern. Nevertheless, the findings provide insights into how newspapers covered the 75th anniversary events, what Extension and staff writers chose to emphasize, and what might be done in the future to improve newspaper coverage of CES activities and programs.


Here are some of our major findings:

  1. Weekly newspapers provided more coverage than small/medium or large dailies. Table 1 shows the distribution of articles in the four regions by type of newspaper. Coverage was most extensive in weekly newspapers that were rural and community-based. In the country as a whole, six percent of articles were from large daily newspapers, 35% were from small or medium dailies, and 59% were from weekly newspapers. Of the 2,333 articles coded, 1,992 were published in the North Central and Southern regions, a pattern that reflects the abundance of both agricultural and Extension resources in these two regions.

  2. Photo coverage focused predominantly on Extension personnel and celebration activities such as open houses and proclamations, and gave little attention to program activities. In the country as a whole, most photos fell into two categories: photos depicting Extension personnel (39%) and photos showing open house activities or public officials signing proclamations (29%). Photos depicting Extension personnel were often static, head-and-shoulders shots or photos of groups of people standing in a line facing the camera. Photos of open house activities often showed Extension personnel launching balloons, standing by while a proclamation was signed, or balancing cups and cakes at a reception.

    The remaining photos were of historic scenes (22%) and program activities (10%). Many articles included several historic photos, but few articles had more than one or two photos of current program activities. Thus, overall, few photos drew attention to the current programs through which Extension promotes and contributes to change.

  3. In content, more than half of the articles simply announced the 75th anniversary celebration and provided little additional information.

  4. Among articles that included substantive content, new initiatives and current programs received significant attention in all regions. To look more closely at substantive topics included in clippings, Table 2 focuses on the 1,045 articles that included substantive material and omits announcements. In the whole country, 37% of substantive articles focused on historic topics, 43% addressed both historic and new topics, and 20% discussed new initiatives or current programs. New initiatives and current programs received some attention in all regions.

    Patterns differed among regions. In the Western region, 42% of substantive articles addressed new initiatives and current programs, and only 27% focused exclusively on history. In the Northeast, 34% of articles addressed new topics and 28% discussed historic issues. North Central and Southern regions gave less coverage to new issues and more coverage to historic topics than the other two regions.

  5. Newspaper coverage rarely included the 75th anniversary logo, rarely mentioned the theme and book, and, except for one region, rarely referred to the teleconference.

Table 1. 75th anniversary articles in four regions by type of newspaper.

Type of



Big daily 9%
Weekly or
Total 100%
(614) (
Note: Big dailies are defined as newspapers with a circulation of 100,000 or more; newspapers with smaller circulation are defined as medium/small; newspapers that are published weekly or biweekly make up the third category, regardless of size.


The content analysis illustrates considerable variety in the way the Cooperative Extension System is portrayed in the media. How can Extension staff at all levels of the system work to improve Extension's image and programs? Here are several recommendations for action:

  1. Federal and state communications personnel should work together to identify ways to improve coverage in daily papers with large circulations. The content analysis showed widespread coverage of the 75th anniversary in weekly and daily newspapers, but minimal coverage in big daily newspapers. Since Extension is working more and more in urban areas, communications and program personnel should become familiar with the demographic characteristics of subscribers and, if appropriate, build networks to connect with the big daily newspapers.

  2. Federal and state communications personnel should work together to improve the quality of visual material available on Extension programs. The content analysis showed that current program activities and initiatives received little attention in photographs. Communications and other Extension staff should supply media with good photographs to illustrate articles on new initiatives or program approaches or work with local media in providing photo opportunities for them. Federal and state personnel should work together to emphasize the need for good program photos and encourage the development of this photographic material.

  3. Extension staff nationwide should identify training needs and develop materials, information exchange mechanisms, and workshops to integrate new initiatives into program activities and reflect this in what's communicated to the media about the organization at all levels. New initiatives were often presented as peripheral to existing programs or as areas Extension will be emphasizing in the years ahead. The process of integrating new initiatives into existing programs is difficult and may require dropping some long-standing programs. As states make these difficult decisions, Extension staffs at all levels will need guidance, training, and help in integrating new initiatives into program activities and reflecting this change in how they communicate with the media and clientele.

Table 2. Substantive content of articles in newspaper coverage of 75th anniversary.

Type of



Historic 28%
Historic/new 38%
New 34%
Total 100%
Note: Articles that simply announced the anniversary
were defined as nonsubstantive and excluded from this table.


Extension's 75th anniversary celebration offered the system a rare opportunity for nationwide media coverage. Our research indicates that most of the information offered to the media during this period focused on Extension's past and, to a slight degree, its current activities. Less fully explored were our future directions, either through actual events celebrated and photographed by the media or through program descriptions in news releases or interviews for the media. Much must be done to increase our visual and verbal presence nationwide.


1. For purposes of analysis, states were grouped into the four regions used by CES (Northeast, North Central, South, and West). Data for the Northeast region includes clippings from: Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania. In the North Central region, data were available for: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. In the South, data were available for: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. Data for the West includes clippings from: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. No clippings were available for Connecticut (available too late for analysis), District of Columbia, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, and Idaho.