April 6, 2011

The Year of the Mega Story

# of Events
2011 3
2010 1
2009 1
2008 1
2007 1

3 – Number of stories filling at least 50% of the weekly newshole in 2011 

On March 11, 2011, an earthquake and tsunami devastated parts of Japan, leaving more than 25,000 dead or missing and triggering the biggest nuclear radiation scare since the Chernobyl disaster 25 years earlier. From March 14-20, earthquake coverage accounted for 57% of the  newshole, making it not only the biggest foreign story since PEJ began its News Coverage Index in 2007, but one of only seven news events to account for more than half the coverage in a given week.

But if a story that generates that much press attention is rare, that hasn’t been the case this year.

Indeed, the crisis in Japan is the third event in 2011 to account for more than 50% of the weekly newshole in the first quarter of the year. That is all the more remarkable given that, from 2007 through 2010, only one event each year generated that level of coverage.  

The other mega-stories in 2011 include Middle East turmoil, which accounted for 56% of the newshole from January 31-February 6, when images of the massive protests in Egypt began to stream in from journalists on the ground. And the January 8 Tucson shooting spree, which left six people dead and Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords severely wounded, filled 57% from January 10-16. (There was a near miss the week of March 21-27 when the Mideast unrest, this time driven by fighting in Libya, accounted for 47% of the newshole.)

In 2010, the only story to pass the 50% threshold was the November 2 midterm election. That event—which saw Republicans win the U.S. House and make major gains in the U.S. Senate and in state houses throughout the country—accounted for 57% the week of November 1-7.

In 2009, coverage of the faltering U.S. economy—fueled by news that insurance giant AIG had paid out millions in bonuses after taking a major taxpayer bailout—accounted for 53% of the newshole from March 16-22.

The historic 2008 presidential election produced several weeks of massive coverage, generating more than 50% on eight different occasions. The biggest week, at 69%, occurred from August 25-31, when the Democrats nominated Barack Obama at their Denver convention and John McCain stunned the political world by selecting a then-unknown Sarah Palin as his Republican running mate. The Palin phenomenon then continued to generate major coverage (58% from September 1-7), making that the second biggest week of campaign news.

In 2007, the only story to top 50% of the newshole was the April 16, 2007, Virginia Tech massacre when 32 students and teachers were killed before gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, committed suicide. Coverage accounted for 51% of the newshole the week of April 15-20.

Tricia Sartor of PEJ