PEJ News Coverage Index: June 22 - 28, 2009, Media Swing from Protests in Iran to the Passing of the King of Pop

  • June 30, 2009

In the age of 24 hours news, sometimes it's hard to know how to measure time.

Last week the news narrative careened through three distinct, often dramatic phases, and ended overwhelmed by a celebrity story that echoed coverage from more than a decade ago. 

As the week began, the continuing protests in Iran, now into their third week, dominated the media. But as the Iranian government began to drive the protests underground, coverage began to recede—even if the tensions in the country had not—a sign that street protests may be easier to cover than political maneuvering behind closed doors. 

By Wednesday afternoon, media attention was already shifting from protest to disgrace when South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford made a stunning admission of having an extra-marital affair after having gone missing for several days.

Then, late Thursday afternoon, the reports ricocheted across Twitter, celebrity gossip Web sites and mainstream media alerts that Michael Jackson, the self-described “King of Pop,” had been rushed to the hospital in cardiac arrest. The tabloid celebrity Web site was the first to report that he had been pronounced dead. The Los Angeles Times soon confirmed, and within a few hours, Jackson's demise proved to be the biggest celebrity story in perhaps a decade, something akin to the death of John F. Kennedy, Jr. in 1999 and perhaps even that of Princess Diana in 1997. 

For the week, the protests in Iran ended up being the biggest story, totaling 19% of the newshole studied during June 22-28 by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. Though he died Thursday night, Michael Jackson's death was nearly as big, filling 18%, and Governor Sanford's story, which fully broke on Wednesday, was third at 11%.

Read the full report Media Swing from Protests in Iran to the Passing of the King of Pop on the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism Web site.