March 3, 2010

The Olympic News Count–Vancouver Was No Beijing

2010 Vancouver Olympics 2008 Beijing Olympics
Week 1 Feb 8-14, 2010 August 4-10, 2008 5 11
Week 2 Feb 15-21, 2010 August 1-17, 2008 8 14
Week 3 Feb 22-28, 2010 August 18-24, 200 7 10

36% – How much less news the 2010 Olympics made compared to the 2008 games

The 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver generated significant news coverage from February 8-28, filling 7% of the newshole over the three-week period. From February 8-14, a focus on the lack of snow in Vancouver and the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvile during a training run helped the games fill the 5% of the overall newshole.  

News coverage in the next two weeks was filled by medal counts and a focus on U.S. athletes, including skiers Lindsey Vonn and Bode Miller and figure skater Evan Lysacek. Another storyline focused on Joannie Rochette, a Canadian figure skater who placed third despite the sudden death of her mother two days before competition. During the final two weeks, the Olympics filled 8% (February 15-21) and 7% of the newshole (February 22-28).

By way of comparison however, the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing generated considerably more news coverage overall, filling 11% of the newshole during the three-week period from August 4-24, 2008. There are a number of possible reasons for that, including significant coverage of non-sports issues such as human rights and protests in host country China two years ago.

But another element in the bigger focus on Beijing may have been the Phelps factor. In 2008, Michael Phelps’ unprecedented harvest of eight swimming gold medals made him a superstar and the focal point of U.S. news coverage. Indeed during those games, he was a lead newsmaker in 61 stories, four times the amount of coverage that top Vancouver newsmaker Vonn received, at 15 stories. (Someone must in appear in at least 50% of a story to register as a lead newsmaker.)

It’s also worth noting that while the host network of both Olympics (NBC) devoted roughly an equal amount of coverage (about 40% of the news airtime studied) to covering the 2008 and 2010 games, there was a significant difference in how much attention they generated on the rival networks. In 2008, 15% of the news coverage on ABC and NBC in those weeks was devoted to the Beijing competition. In 2010, that number dropped almost in half, down to 8%.

Tricia Sartor of PEJ