December 6, 2007

Terrorism, Tight Credit, and Tragedies Emerge in the News in Third Quarter

General Topics: Winners and Losers

Aside from individual stories, be they running themes like the war or a breaking news event like a mine disaster, there is another way to look at the news agenda of the media. That is broader topic categories. The war in Iraq, for example, is part of the larger coverage category of U.S. foreign affairs. Generally speaking, the race for the White House falls under the umbrella topic of elections/politics. Such broader groupings also can tell us how much coverage there was a given topic, science, or health where they may not be a few major stories but hundreds of smaller disconnected ones.

 We also see some shifts in the media agenda in the third quarter in these broader groupings.

In some areas, there was little change. The top three categories—U.S. foreign affairs, foreign events not involving the U.S., and politics—accounted for about 41% of all the coverage in the third quarter as compared with 39% in the second quarter.

But some categories varied noticeably from their second quarter totals. Due largely to the Minnesota bridge tragedy and the Utah mine accident, for instance, coverage of disasters more than doubled, to 7% of all story topics up from 3% in the second quarter. The real estate crisis and its aftershocks helped increase the amount of coverage of the broader topic of the economy to 4%, up from 2%.

And on the flip side, crime fell from 10% in the second quarter to 6%.

Some of the softer more feature-oriented categories showed little movement between the spring and summer months. Lifestyle coverage remained about the same in the second and third quarters at about 3%. That was also true for health and medicine at 4% and celebrity and entertainment at 2%. Some of the lower ranked categories encompassing subjects that might be expected to generate more attention also remained static. Education registered at 1% in both the second the third quarter as did science and technology, transportation and religion.

Finally, if one is looking for self-referential coverage in the news industry, there is always talk radio. In the third quarter, the broader topic of the media themselves finished in 14th place at 2% of the newshole. (That’s a drop from eighth place and 4% in the second quarter.) But on talk radio, the media were the second hottest general topic of the quarter, at 16%. Only elections/politics at 22%, got chewed over more on the talk radio microphones, where many hosts do enjoy the sound of their own names.