April 4, 2007

Anna Nicole Smith - Anatomy of a Feeding Frenzy

The Feverish First Days

Smith died on the afternoon of February 8 and events unraveled quickly. The next morning, her mother was telling “Good Morning America” that Smith had partied too heavily as she raised the specter of a drug overdose. An initial autopsy report came to no definitive conclusions about the cause of death. A judge declined to order on emergency DNA test on the deceased. And the paternity sweepstakes got more crowded when the husband of actress Zsa Zsa Gabor emerged to announce that he too might be the father.

In those first two days, cable devoted 55% of its time to the case. But for that moment in time, coverage was extensive everywhere—though still not to the extent of cable. Seventeen percent of newspapers’ February 9 front-page space, 32% of the radio airtime, and 25% of the online coverage dealt with Smith.

Anna Nicole Smith Coverage: The First Two Days

All Outlets Combined and by Medium, Feb 8 -9, 2007

PEJ 

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Overall, across all media sectors studied, the celebrity better known for her measurements than accomplishments accounted for 30% of the coverage in those first two days. By means of comparison, the first two days of Smith coverage roughly matches the coverage of the Scooter Libby verdict the day of and day following the March 6 announcement that he was guilty of perjury and obstruction.

Some news people were quick to disparage the attention. On his February 8 nightly newscast, NBC’s Brian Williams disapprovingly noted that “This may say a lot about our current culture of celebrity and media these days, when all the major cable news networks switched over to live coverage [of Smith’s death] this afternoon…” But even the three commercial network nightly newscasts turned over 11% of their collective newshole to the story on February 8 and 9. Their morning show siblings did considerably more, spending nearly three out of every five minutes (59%) on the subject on February 9.

After those frantic first few days, however, many media outlets would dramatically reduce their interest in the story.