May 19, 2010

The Flood the Media Missed

Percent of Newshole
2008 Midwest Flood Jun 16-22, 08 16
2008 Midwest Flood Jun 9-15, 08 10
2007 Midwest Flood Aug 19-24, 07 7
RI, MA Floods Mar 29- Apr 4, 10 6
ND Flood Mar 23-29, 09 5
TN Flood May 3-9, 10 4

#5 – Rank of the Nashville disaster among most-covered U.S. floods since 2007

The early May floods that brought death and destruction to the Southeast, particularly Tennessee, did not generate much media coverage. A reported 30 people were killed, making it the deadliest U.S. flood in the past three years. And Nashville Mayor Karl Dean has predicted the damage to his city will cost at least $1.5 billion. But the disaster filled just 4% of the newshole from May 3-9, and was overshadowed by the failed Times Square bomb attempt (25%) and the Gulf oil spill (20%).

The lack of coverage even became part of the media narrative, mostly notably when CNN’s Anderson Cooper acknowledged, on air, the national media’s failure to cover the flooding more aggressively.

Not only did coverage of the Tennessee floods pale in comparison to the other top stories that week. Even though the death toll was the highest of any of them, the disaster ranks as only the fifth-most covered U.S. flood since PEJ began tracking this in January 2007.

The biggest flood story occurred in June 2008, when several rivers in the Midwest overflowed. Thirteen people were killed across Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin. The weeks of June 9-15 and June 16-22, attention to the flooding in those states filled 10% and 16% of the newshole respectively.

In August 2007, rushing water across Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin killed 18 people. That story filled 7% of the newshole the week of August 19-24, 2007. The week of March 29-April 4, 2010, floods in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut resulted in no deaths, but caused major damage and registered at 6% of the newshole.

Rounding out the list is the Red River flooding in North Dakota (5% of the newshole) the week of March 23-29, 2009. Most of the coverage focused on disaster preparations as the river did little damage in the U.S, but killed three in Canada.

Tricia Sartor and Dana Page of PEJ