June 19, 2008

Violent Weather is Bigger on Broadcast Networks

Midwest Violent Weather Tornado at scout camp
Morning Network 18.8 16.4
Evening Network 18.1 5.3
Online 14.2 4.3
Cable TV 8.8 5.1
Radio 6.5 1.1
Newspaper 4.4 0.4

35.2%-Amount of morning network news devoted to the storms the week of June 9-15.

News about disastrous weather generated major headlines, filling 13.5% of the overall newshole as measured by PEJ’s News Coverage Index the week of June 9-15, 2008. The rain pounding the Midwest and the subsequent flooding affected seven states and left a reported 13 people dead. In addition to the flooding, a tornado tore through a Boy Scout camp in eastern Iowa on June 11, killing four teenage scouts.

These deadly events generated significant coverage across all media sectors. But the amount of coverage on network morning news stood out. Good Morning America, Today and the Early Show spent 35.2% of the airtime studied on the violent weather and tornado. The three major evening network newscasts followed, devoting 23.4% of their newshole to the storms. Online (18.5%), cable (13.9%), radio (7.6%), and newspaper front pages (4.8%) trailed the network coverage.

An analysis of news coverage suggests that attention to these storms reflects a larger trend. Despite cable news’ attraction to breaking events, disasters—both man-made and natural—tend to get the most coverage on broadcast news, particularly the morning shows. According to the NCI, in the first six months of 2008, morning network news shows spent 7.3% of their overall airtime covering disasters—which include bad weather, fires, natural events, and man-made accidents. That is followed by evening network news and online coverage (4%); cable (2.4%), radio (1.6%), and the newspaper sector (1.1%).