Student Media Watchdog Association

Year in Review

In Editorial on February 7, 2012 at 5:43 pm

By Kyle Saukas

In 2011, it seemed as if a major story developed every month and left the American public with a high demand for news content in all forms of media. To the best of their ability, the news media met the demand. We should recognize the news media for their efforts this past year to satiate the public’s unrelenting thirst for news. With the largest covered story being the economy and a tremendous spike in international coverage, the media not only directed our attention to important and consequential events at home, but abroad as well. The media also covered the largest amount of major stories in the past five years- possibly even setting an all-time record. Because of this, we must commend the media and their social networks that provided the up-to-date coverage on the issues that mattered to Americans.

The largest story of the year was the United States economy. From the debt ceiling crisis to the vacillating employment rate, news coverage of the economy took up 20% of the entire newshole, the percent of coverage of news in a week across all media channels, according to the Pew Research Center’ Project for Excellence in Journalism. Of the big three news media powerhouses, MSNBC spent almost 30% of its airtime on stories that were focused on the economy, FOX news spent 22%, and internationally-minded CNN devoted nearly 15% of its airtime to the American economy.  The only other topic that had more airtime on CNN was the uprisings in the Middle East.

However, 2011 wasn’t just dominated by the economy. The past year was filled with high-profile news stories that kept the nation entertained week after week. This past year also set another record with the largest number of news stories to consume over 50% of all news media in a single week. For five weeks out of the past year, stories like the death of Osama Bin Laden (taking up nearly 70% of all news media the week of May 2-8), the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, the Japanese earthquake and resulting tsunami, unrest in the Middle East, and the American economy each dominated a week of news with over 50% of all print, television, and internet news attention focused on them. This is the first time, in the past five years of research conducted by PEW, that there has been more than one story breaking the fifty percent mark in a week- with the exception of the three stories breaking fifty percent in the 2008 presidential election. Even more astounding, before the year 2011, only three stories managed to achieve this 50% mark in the past five years. These five weeks in 2011 were also joined by thirteen other weeks out of the year in which a single news story dominated more than 25% of the total news that week.

While 2011 was a year for big news in America, surprisingly the news media also expanded its coverage of foreign news  more consistently than ever before. Due to big stories like the Tunisia and Egyptian revolts, the Libyan rebellion, the death of Osama Bin Laden, and the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the percentage of foreign news coverage increased dramatically, from 11% to 18%, to over a third of what it was in 2010. This signifies that not only has America had a much bigger role in the world and its affairs, but also that the American media understood that there were more stories developing beyond our border that affected the U.S. citizen than just stories with direct American involvement, such as the European economy. Granted, many of these stories directly affected America. For example, these stories came from locations where we had interest in the exportation of oil where we were involved in war,  where our most wanted enemy had been hiding, or where one of our greatest allies had been devastated by a major natural disaster. Yet, this should not diminish the fact that the news media felt it was necessary to provide a broader picture of the news on an international level to the American public.

This past year was important for the news media because of the stories it chose to cover and its potential to broaden Americans’ perspective on the world and on the American economy. Yet most importantly, 2011 should be remembered as a year where the deliverers of the news got it right- a year where the media told the right stories at the right time. It was a year where the major networks had a finger on the pulse of the American desire for news and fed us the information we desired. Examples of this are the weeks of breaking coverage for the Japanese earthquake/tsunami, the death of Osama Bin Laden, the shooting of Representative Giffords, and the U.S. economy. The following table shows the percent of the newshole the stories took up in particular weeks, and the percent of people that followed the story very closely. It is easy to see that the numbers match almost spot on which means the providers of our news media have gotten much better at knowing what the public wants to know about and interesting

STORY Percent of People Following Story Percent of Total News Coverage in a Week

Japanese Earthquake/tsunami



Death of Bin Laden



Representative Giffords






The past year was full of intense and consuming stories. With so many major stories to focus on, it was a year where the media could have easily lost touch with the populace’s desires. But in 2011, the media pulled through. They provided us the information we needed about our most pressing stories, kept up with a tremendous amount of new material, broadened their perspectives to keep us in tune with foreign news which had important implications for us, and kept us informed on issues that mattered to us all. For these reasons, I conclude that 2011 was a successful year for the news media, and I am excited to see what is in store for us in 2012.

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