May 21, 2008

When Natural Disasters Make News

CA Wildfires Oct 21-26 2007
Myanmar Cyclone May 5-11 2008
China Earthquake May 12-18 2008
Hurricane Dean Aug 19-24 2007
Winter Storms Feb 11-16 2007

13%-Percentage of newshole filled by the earthquake in China May 12-18, 2008.

On May 12, a 7.9-magnitude earthquake shook central China. The earthquake killed 40,075 people and left 32,000 missing, according to media reports. Just 10 days earlier, a cyclone devastated Myanmar, reportedly leaving more than 133,000 people there dead or missing. The cyclone accounted for 15% of the newshole the week of May 5-11, and the China earthquake followed at 13% the week of May 12-18. That makes them the second- and third- most heavily covered natural disasters since PEJ began the News Coverage Index in January 2007. Still, by way of comparison, the U.S. presidential campaign accounted for 46% of the newshole from May 5-11 and 37% of the newshole from May 12-18.

The Myanmar and China coverage also pales in comparison with the most heavily covered natural disaster in the PEJ Index—the wildfires that struck Southern California in October 2007. They took nearly three weeks to fully extinguish and media accounts put the casualty count at 1,500 homes destroyed and nine dead. In the week that the story broke (October 21-27), the California wildfires captured a stunning 38% of the newshole.

Rounding out the five top natural disasters since January 2007—in terms of weekly coverage—was Hurricane Dean (8% of the newshole), which struck Mexico in mid-August 2007, leaving at least 44 dead and nearly $7 billion in damage in its wake. The No. 5 natural disaster, at 7%, was a blast of winter snow and ice storms in the Eastern and Midwestern U.S. in February 2002 that resulted in a reported 30 deaths.