Afro-pessimist or Africa Rising?

Is media coverage of Africa systematically negative or increasingly positive? Several scholars have argued that too little empirical evidence exists to address the debate between “Afro-pessimist” and “Africa Rising” perspectives. We contribute to this discussion by analyzing 139,012 articles drawn from The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today over the 25-year period between 1 January 1994 and 31 December 2018. We find modest support for the Afro-pessimist viewpoint: Articles mentioning Africa are negative on average, are even more negative during peak periods of coverage, and have not become more positive over time. In addition, we examine the thematic coverage most strongly associated with negativity and positivity. Stories that reference conflict, government, and specific African countries account for a significant portion of the negativity in our corpus. Conversely, stories related to culture and education constitute a subset of positive articles. Overall, our analysis not only sheds light on an ongoing debate about the tone of coverage of Africa, it also provides a better understanding of prevalent negative and positive thematic coverage in four major US newspapers.