The Pains of Government Technology: An Investigation into the Rollout of Healthcare.gov

Reviewed by Gabriella Levy

May 11, 2015

Priyang Shah, in his Undergraduate Honors Thesis at the Sanford School of Public Policy in Duke University, examines the tone of media coverage surrounding the rollout of the Healthcare.gov website in the fall of 2013. The author firstly theorizes that media coverage can serve as a proxy for debate in the wider public sphere. He then hypothesizes that both media ideology and subject matter will influence the tone of public discourse.

Analyzing articles and broadcasts covering the website rollout over a six month time span, Shah categorizes and catalogues his sources by media ideology, tone, and by criteria value. Media ideology can either be right-leaning or left-leaning. Similarly, tone can be positive, neutral, or critical. Criteria values refer to subject matter; specifically, the values include the various components of the Layne and Lee model of e-government, a model which describes the functionality of government technology. Other criteria values concern commentary about the Affordable Care Act, State Exchanges, and other discussions pertinent to the website. Shah then analyzes each criteria value by media

Shah finds that right-leaning sources were more critical than left-leaning sources, whose coverage was more positive. Democratic sources had an approximately equal distribution of positive, neutral, and critical portrayals of the rollout, whereas Republican media sources had a higher percentage of critical content than neutral or positive coverage. However, the percentages of neutral coverage were approximately the same. Media ideology thus does influence the tone of public discourse.

His second significant finding is that subject matter influences the tone of media coverage, and therefore of public discourse. There was little overlap between the top five criteria values eliciting the most positive coverage and the top five eliciting the most critical. However, the one criteria value to appear in both lists was the Affordable Care Act, suggesting a strong ideological bias on the topic. Interestingly, all of the five most neutral criteria values related to the technical Layne and Lee model. It was too narrow and technical to fully capture the tone of the debate, much of which centered on more salient and controversial matters.

See the full paper here!

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