April 28, 2010

Tragic Accidents in the Headlines

% of Newshole
Minneapolis Bridge Jul 29-Aug 3, 07 25
WV Mine Accident Apr 5-11, 10 17
Utah Mine Accident Aug 5-10, 07 13
DC Metro Crash Jun 22-28, 09 5
Buffalo Plane Crash Feb 9-15, 09 5
Oil Rig Sinks Apr 19-25, 10 5

No. 2 – Rank of the West Virginia mine tragedy among most covered man-made disasters since 2007

With President Obama delivering the eulogy at the April 25 memorial service for the 29 miners killed in the April 5 West Virginia accident, that story accounted for 2% of the newshole from April 19-25. That is two weeks after coverage peaked (from April 5-11) when the tragedy accounted for 17% of the newshole and registered as the second-biggest disaster story inside the U.S. since the News Coverage Index began in January 2007. (These disasters do not include criminal acts, terrorism or natural phenomena such as weather or earthquakes.)

Last week (April 19-25), another deadly accident—the April 20 burning and sinking of a Gulf Coast oil rig that left 11 workers missing and presumed dead—filled 5% of the newshole, ranking as the No. 6 disaster, in terms of coverage.

Both of those tragic incidents fell well short of generating the media attention devoted to the No. 1 accident story—the August 7, 2007 rush-hour collapse of an eight-lane bridge in Minneapolis that killed 11 and injured 145. Coverage of the initial accident and tales of heroism and survival filled a full quarter of the overall newshole (25%) the week of July 29-August 3, 2007.

The following week, August 6, 2007, a cave-in at a Utah coal mine left six workers trapped. Coverage of the cave-in as well as efforts to save the miners filled 13% of the newshole from  August 5-10, 2007, making it the No. 3 disaster story. Ten days later, three rescue workers were killed trying to reach the miners. Shortly after that event, recovery efforts ended.

The No. 4 story was the Washington D.C. Metro train accident that killed eight commuters and the driver on June 22, 2009 and accounted for 5% of the coverage from June 22-28, 2009. Coming next, as the fifth-biggest story, was the February 12, 2009 Continental Connector plane that crashed in Buffalo, NY killing all 49 onboard the plane and one on the ground (5% from February 9-15, 2009). One year later, NTSB investigators concluded the crash was due to pilot error.

Tricia Sartor of PEJ