April 4, 2007

Anna Nicole Smith - Anatomy of a Feeding Frenzy

Anna in the Morning (Mostly on CBS)

If the signature nightly newscasts were reticent about Smith, their morning show cousins took up the slack, giving over 15% of their first half hour of programming to the story.

Network Morning News
Percent of Newshole Devoted to Top 5 Stories
Feb 9 – March 2, 2007
Story %
Anna Nicole Smith

15

Campaign 2008 11
Snowstorms 11
Iraq Policy Debate 6
Iran 6
Source: PEJ News Coverage Index

One way to evaluate interest in the death of Anna Nicole Smith is to compare that coverage with the two biggest ongoing stories.

Taken as a whole, the three broadcast network morning shows, CBS’s “Early Show,” NBC’s “Today” show and ABC’s “Good Morning America” in their newsier first half-hour of programming devoted more attention to her than to the crowded 2008 presidential race (11%). It also exceeded their coverage of Iraq during this time. Just 6% of airtime was spent on the policy debate surrounding the war, and if you combine all three areas of Iraq coverage—policy, homefront and events in Iraq which add up to 11%—Anna Nicole still came out ahead.

Yet even these across-the-board numbers for the morning shows don’t tell the whole story. Some networks were far more interested than others. From February 8 to March 2, CBS’s “The Early Show,” with anchors Harry Smith and Julie Chen, filled 20% of its time with Smith-related stories. That’s almost double the play given to the presidential campaign (11%) and to Iraq (11%).

NBC’s “Today” show was not far behind. On the program fronted by Matt Lauer and Meredith Viera, Smith coverage accounted for 17% of the newshole. That narrowly topped its coverage of the Presidential campaign (15%) and significantly exceeded the attention given to the war (10%).

ABC’s “Good Morning America” hosted by Diane Sawyer and Robin Roberts evinced considerably less enthusiasm for the saga. It filled 10% of its time with news about Smith. That still represented more coverage than the 2008 campaign generated (8%), but less than the 13% devoted to all aspects of the Iraq conflict.