February 26, 2009

Detroit’s Troubles Make Big News … Sometimes

% of Newshole
10/27 0.8
11/3 0.7
11/10 5.3
11/17 15.1
11/24 2.2
12/1 17.1
12/8 18.2
12/15 8.7
12/22 2
12/29 1.5
1/5 2.1
1/19 0.6
1/26 1.5
2/2 1
2/9 1
2/16 6

6% – Percentage of newshole devoted to Detroit’s latest plea for money

The week of Feb. 16-22, General Motors and Chrysler asked Washington for another bailout, reported to be about $22 billion, in an effort to avoid bankruptcy.  This was in addition to the $17 billion the Bush Administration approved back in December.  According to PEJ’s News Coverage Index, last week’s coverage of the Detroit depression saga filled 6% of the newshole and was the No. 2 story, albeit well behind coverage of the larger economic meltdown.

Last week’s jump in auto industry news, the largest weekly level of coverage since mid-December, came after a substantial drought. In the previous four weeks, attention to Detroit accounted for only 1% the newshole. In general, the auto industry seems to be a major newsmaker only when it comes to the federal government with hat in hand. But not every bailout drama is treated equally. Last week’s coverage paled in comparison with the levels of attention the story generated late last year.

Coverage began to build (to 5%) the week of Nov. 10-16, 2008 as talk of a bailout grew in Washington. It tripled—to 15%—the next week when the CEOs headed to Congress to plead for help. (The fact that they arrived by private jet did not help engender sympathy.)  The next burst of coverage (17%) occurred from Dec. 1-7, when the automakers returned to Washington, this time in hybrid cars, to outline their plans. The following week, when the bailout package faced votes in Congress, coverage increased to a high water mark of 18%. From Dec. 15-21, when Bush approved a bailout package, coverage fell to 9%. And it kept plummeting after that, until last week.

Tricia Sartor of PEJ