July 31, 2008

Crime Time on Cable News

Network TV

7.2%-Amount of cable airtime devoted to crime coverage.

The case of Caylee Anthony, the two-year-old missing for two weeks in Florida, got the attention of the news media last week. It filled 2% of the overall newshole, according to PEJ’s News Coverage Index, making it the sixth biggest story for July 21-27. At the same time, the Post’s 13-part series on Chandra Levy helped make that one of the top 20-stories of the week.

In general, coverage of crime is a staple of mainstream media coverage, if not a dominant feature. From Jan. 1-July 27 2008, coverage of the broad topic of crime—which includes everything from trends to white collar felonies—accounted for 3.7% of the news coverage examined. The raid on the polygamist ranch in Eldorado Texas has been the year’s biggest crime story so far, followed by the sex-and-prostitution scandal that led to the resignation of former New York Governor Eliot Sptizer. The shooting at the Northern Illinois University, which killed six people in February, was the third-biggest crime story this year.

But not every media platform treats crime equally. According to PEJ’s News Coverage Index, cable news spends more time on the topic than any other sector. From January 1 – July 27, stories about crime have consumed 7.2% of the cable newshole. (Last week, the Caylee Anthony case filled 6% of the cable airtime studied, making it the No. 2 story on cable behind the presidential campaign.) Online news, which has a distinct international flavor, followed closely behind with 7% of its newshole devoted to crime—a good chunk of that focused on criminal events abroad. Network TV was next with 5.3% of its coverage concerning crime. The two sectors that devoted the least attention to the subject were newspapers (3.7%) and radio (2.0%).

Tricia Sartor of PEJ