PEJ News Coverage Index: June 15 - 21, 2009, Iran Dominates as the Media are the Message

  • June 23, 2009

The violent unrest in Iran exploded onto the news landscape last week as the rapidly evolving crisis became the biggest international story—other than Iraq—in more than two years.

The events triggered by the disputed June 12 Iranian elections filled 28% of the newshole from June 15-21, according to the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. That more than quadrupled the coverage from the previous week (6%). Even more notably, it marked the most weekly attention to any international event other than the Iraq war since PEJ began its weekly News Coverage Index in January 2007. (No. 2 was the August 2008 war between Russia and Georgia, at 26%).

Several elements combined to drive the coverage of a nation that does not normally generate significant attention in the U.S. press. Those included dramatic and occasionally bloody scenes of unrest in a country where the geopolitical stakes are very high. They also included a narrative with a clear protagonist (protestors demanding reform) and antagonist (forces allied with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad). There was a healthy dose of U.S. domestic politics here, too. And a momentous media story was at play as a subtext to the main narrative—the role of social outlets in organizing and documenting the uprising.

“The Revolution Will Be Twittered” declared Atlantic Media blogger Marc Ambinder. In truth, the social networking site Twitter became a kind of symbol for several forms of citizen media—tweets, blogs, Facebook and homemade video—that have proven instrumental in chronicling events that the Iranian government tried to suppress. Indeed, mainstream outlets—whose journalists faced major restrictions on reporting from Iran—were flooded with the images and words from this homegrown, new-tech media.

Read the full report Iran Dominates as the Media are the Message on the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism Web site.