The Year in News 2010
Top 10 Stories of 2010
No one story dominated the news in 2010. The biggest story, the economy, commanded just 14% of the news studied, the lowest number for a top story of the year since PEJ began its comprehensive real-time study of the news agenda in 2007.
While rarely an overwhelming focus of coverage, the economy demonstrated remarkable staying power in 2010. And in so doing, the economic narrative that began in the fall of 2008 with the collapse of Lehman Brothers was the No. 1 story for the second year in a row.
The No. 2 story of 2010 was the midterm election season (10%), followed by the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill (7%). The debate over health care reform (5%) and the war in Afghanistan (4%) rounded out the top-five stories.
The economy was a staple of the news agenda in 2010. It registered as the No. 1 or No. 2 story in 39 of 50 weeks studied. The high water mark, 41%, came late in the year, the week of December 6-12, when President Obama and the Republicans struck a deal on extending tax cuts.
One major reason for the steady drumbeat of attention was the large number of economic indicators and storylines—from the health of the job market to the housing market to the financial sector. Coverage of the second-biggest economic storyline, the employment picture, (the leading storyline was tax policy) remained fairly high throughout most of the year.
But other key themes spiked at different points in 2010. Attention to the financial sector, for example, peaked in the first quarter (at 17% of the economic newshole). The concern then focused on the financial health of banks and the implementation of new credit card rules. The subject of federal oversight peaked during the second quarter (22% of the economic newshole) when Congress tackled the Wall Street reform legislation.
Recession fears took up the slack in the third quarter (8% of the economic coverage). Growth numbers were revised downward, and analysts started talking about a “double dip” recession. Attention to the job market also jumped to a high water mark (20%) in those three months. In the last quarter of 2010, the subject of taxes took off (35%) as Obama and the Republicans hammered out the compromise on the Bush-era tax cuts.
The economy generated somewhat less interest on television news than in other sectors. It generated the most attention in newspapers (16% of the front-page coverage), followed by radio (also 16%) and online (14%). The subject accounted for 12% of the airtime studied on cable and 11% on network news.
Since the economic crisis exploded into public view more than two years ago, newspapers have consistently devoted the most coverage to the subject. But several factors may help explain the lower levels of TV attention. For one thing, subjects such as national debt and employment and budget issues don’t readily provide television-friendly graphics and visuals.
On cable, which thrives on ideological combat, the lack of pitched political battles over the economy—in contrast, say, to the major stimulus fight in early 2009—may have contributed to the relative lack of coverage in 2010.
The Year in News 2010