September 23, 2010

The Economy as a Media Mainstay

% of Economy Newshole
Unemployment 18
Financial Reform 12
Banking and Credit Markets 12
Global Economy 7
Effect on State and Local Govt 7

1 – Number of weeks the economy has not been one of the top three news stories in 2010

Coverage of the economy exploded in the fall of 2008 when the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy helped trigger a crisis in the financial sector.  In the next seven months (September 2008 – March 2009), the economy filled a whopping 30% of the newshole, as the country worried about a possible second Great Depression.

And even as the level of coverage has diminished dramatically since that peak period, the state of the battered economy consistently continues to generate substantial attention.

For the week of September 13-19, for example, news about the economy accounted for 16% of the newshole, making it the No. 2 story behind the 2010 elections.  And thus far in 2010, the economy has been the No. 1 story in the mainstream media, filling 12% of the newshole studied, according to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism’s News Coverage Index. The next biggest story, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, accounts for 9%.

While the coverage has decreased, the story of the troubled U.S. economy has real staying power. The most convincing evidence is the fact that in 2010 to date, there has been only one week in which the economic crisis has not been among the top-three news stories in a given week. And in that week, from July 26-August 1, it registered as the No. 4 story, at 10%.

Several key economic storylines have driven the coverage this year.

With the unemployment rate still near 10%, the tough job market has been the biggest economic storyline in 2010. Fully 18% of the economy newshole has focused on unemployment numbers, jobless benefits and efforts to create jobs—such as President Obama’s “green jobs” initiative.

Following unemployment was coverage of efforts to reform Wall Street (12%), which focused on the bill that was signed into law in July. Attention to  the credit and banking markets, such as an overview of banking business and new credit card rules, also filled 12%.

Other economic storylines that generated significant news include the global economic crisis, including the problems facing Greece and the EU, and how the nation’s financial troubles are affecting state and local governments (both at 7%).

Tricia Sartor of PEJ