October 24, 2008

The Meltdown and the Media

Percent of Newshole Politics of Bailout Details of Bailout Effect on Avg. Americans Stock Market Who is to Blame? Global Economy Affected
Talk Radio 48 10 8 2 18
Cable 38 15 6 10 8 1
Network TV 26 13 13 9 2 3
Online 23 15 9 12 3 3
News Radio 22 13 9 11 1 6
Newspaper 20 15 10 7 3 5

34%—Coverage of the economic crisis related to presidential candidates 

On Sept. 15, the Wall Street investment firm of Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy. Within days, the Bush administration proposed a $700 billion bailout as the depth and breadth of the economic crisis became apparent. In the six weeks since then, how have various media sectors covered the many aspects of a complicated story? An examination of PEJ’s News Coverage Index from Sept. 15-Oct. 26 suggests that different media are focusing on different narratives.

Two sectors that include a substantial amount of debate and opinion—cable news and talk radio—have paid particular attention to the political aspects of this story. In the Sept.15–Oct. 26 period, 46% of all the airtime examined on talk radio focused on the politics of the federal bailout; cable news was next at 36%. And when it came to assessing blame for the meltdown, 18% of the talk radio newshole was devoted to that topic with cable a fairly distant second at 8%

Coverage of the actual details of the bailout package was pretty evenly scattered among the outlets, but cable, which devoted 15% of its newshole to that subject, was No. 1. Network television news paid the most attention to the impact on average Americans, (13% of the airtime studied.) The affect on the global economy was most extensively covered by news radio outlets (8%). And the wild vacillations of the stock market in that period were most closely monitored in the online sector, which devoted 14% of its newshole to the ups and downs of Dow Jones.

Tricia Sartor and Dana Page of PEJ