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Methodology: Use News Insights to Prepare Your Campus Comms Strategy

Details on research methodology, exclusions, and sources.

Campus Sonar is dedicated to helping higher ed institutions reestablish the public trust by supporting on-campus strategies for success through the delivery of strategic insights derived from social listening data.

Social listening as a research method is similar to archival ethnography (and in some circles, social listening is known as netnography), positioning the researcher within an archival environment to gain the cultural perspective of those responsible for the creation, collection, care, and use of records and, at times, quantify findings to describe or explain phenomena of interest. The records, in this case, are online social data. 

The Campus Sonar research team used enterprise-level social listening software for this report, which provides access to 100 million online sources and over 1.3 trillion individual mentions for querying. For this higher ed news report, analysts collected three months of online conversation data (January 1, 2021–March 31, 2021) that emerged from a selected list of online news sources, limited to topics and terms related to higher ed. Writing and using a custom Boolean query in the social listening software, analysts collected data for the purpose of descriptive analysis that speaks to the content and trends behind higher ed news coverage.

Within that dataset, analysts segmented data by four recurring topics of conversation (athletics, admissions, first amendment and freedom of speech, DEI, and Title IX), and by news source. Conversation topics were identified using related key words as well as phrases and titles.

Only publicly-available news mentions were collected; some sites that require a subscription service, personally delivered news digests such as newsletters, or any source behind a paywall may not have been collected and analyzed.


Certain groups of online news mentions were excluded from analysis. Our analysts removed political mentions and mentions related to COVID-19 from this analysis because of the polarizing and overwhelmingly voluminous nature of these topics to avoid confusing sentiment trends with political opinions as well as to view news trends outside of the socio-political events that took place in early 2021.

In addition to these topics, news mentions that referenced higher ed in a way that did not truly reflect on the industry or add relevant content to this report were excluded from analysis. Examples include text that references an alumni “who attended this university” or articles of “a study that came from this university.” News mentions about college athletics that did not have any implications for the industry as a whole were also excluded, including reports of game scores and general sports journalism.

Mentions originating from outside of the U.S. were excluded as well, including mainstream sources from other nations such as BBC or modified URLs on news sites such as “ca.news.yahoo.com.” Additionally, some segments of online news sources were excluded due to irrelevant content, such as “answers.yahoo.com.”

Lastly, mentions related to other stages of education were excluded, including news stories related to primary or secondary education. There was a small degree of overlap in admissions-related news mentions between secondary and post-secondary education, which was included in analysis.


We assembled the list of top news sites to analyze from two sources—the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2020 and the methodology section of Pew Research’s News Consumption study. The final list of news sources includes: CNN, New York Times, Fox News, Huffington Post, Washington Post, Buzzfeed, NBC News, MSNBC, NPR, ABC News, CBS News, USA Today, Vox, The Guardian, The Hill, Time, Business Insider, Wall Street Journal, New York Post, Forbes, CNBC, Reuters, Politico, Bloomberg, and US News

We excluded news mentions from Yahoo and MSN due to the duplication of content reposted from other sources.