Tow Center

After Pittsburgh shooting, national outlets relied on local papers, and vice versa

November 6, 2018
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newsroom. Photo: Michael Fuoco.

On October 27, a mass shooting, took place at the Tree of Life–Or L’Simcha Congregation in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. The hours and days immediately following the shooting saw local and national news organizations relying on each other’s published pieces to investigate and verify facts, provide in-depth analysis, and debunk rumors about the rapidly developing story.

We looked at approximately five hundred stories posted on Twitter between October 27-29 across a total of forty news organizations—both national as well as those local to Pennsylvania—in an attempt to identify patterns when news outlets linked to one another. We note that most linkbacks cite original reporting, but occasionally, they bolster or criticize the reporting or perspective of the referenced piece.

Some trends and patterns were predictable. News organizations typically linked to their own previously published pieces, though there were some noteworthy exceptions. In one “Perspective” piece, The Washington Post linked to The New York Times’s coverage of previous shootings in South Carolina and Wisconsin, even though the Post had covered both incidents extensively.

Links from national news organizations to local news organizations mostly referenced street-level reporting, such as the suspect’s background, reactions from locals, the mayor’s statement, or context around the community and culture. Not only can we see this with both The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the most linked-to local news organizations (by national outlets as well as local outlets), but there are other examples in our dataset too: an opinion piece in The Washington Post cited the original reporting of The Louisville Courier-Journal when it examined the shooting earlier the same week in Kentucky.

From the local news perspective, the Post-Gazette only linked to national news organizations’ retrospectives, essays, and editorials, which were aggregated in a single piece: “What the world is writing about Pittsburgh and Squirrel Hill.” For other local news organizations, links to national news organizations were, perhaps unsurprisingly, around either quotes from elected officials or larger policy issues.

There are, however, relationships that this graph fails to identify. For example, it doesn’t show the role we observed the Associated Press playing in covering the event as the news was breaking. While there are few links back to the AP’s website, numerous local and national news stories had bylines or contributions from the AP shared with their own reporters’ write-ups. Additionally, as the news broke, initial reports by news organizations were republished from the AP. Similarly, even though the Post is prominent in the graph, it doesn’t account for its stories syndicated throughout the country, such as this one. (This data doesn’t include the many links to social platforms in the articles.)

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The data is presented below in a network map. To manipulate the map yourself, click on the image. Readers can enlarge or shrink the graph with the mouse wheel or with a two-finger drag on the trackpad while the cursor hovers over the graph. For a larger view, click the full-screen button in the lower left corner. The nodes can be dragged outside the graph’s default circle form; doing this with the node labeled “” will show how many outlets cited the Pittsburgh local’s reporting with arrows pointing toward the node. Arrows pointing away from a node represent citations of the connected outlet’s reporting. Click on each node for a list of the outlets citing its work.

For researchers, fellow journalists, and the curious, a list of the news stories is available below may be downloaded here and reused under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.

This post has been updated.

Priyanjana Bengani is a Tow Computational Fellow at Columbia Journalism School's Tow Center for Digital Journalism.