PEJ News Coverage Index: May 24-30, 2010: Oil Spill Coverage Engulfs the Media

  • June 02, 2010

Six weeks after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, the Gulf disaster generated its highest level of coverage since the story broke, completely dominating the news agenda.

As the drama of devastation, containment and finger-pointing continued to unfold, the mainstream media devoted 38% of its newshole to the spill during the week of May 24-30, according to the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. This marks the sixth week in a row the disaster has made the roster of top stories. And last week's coverage easily exceeded the previous high water mark (20%) during the week of May 3-9.

Moreover, it represents the most attention to any subject since the week of March 22-28, when Congress passed the health care bill and that story filled 45% of the newshole.

Last week the term “top kill” entered the lexicon, as BP tried again—unsuccessfully—to stop the flow of oil from the undersea well. It was also the week when the Obama administration took formal responsibility for mistakes along the way. But even with the president's press conference as a significant newsmaker, the biggest chunk of the coverage still focused on the growing dimensions of the spill and the sputtering effort to stop the flow of crude into the Gulf of Mexico.

No other story came close to matching the spill coverage. The No. 2 story was the 2010 mid-term elections (10%) with much of the attention focused on revelations about White House efforts to get Pennsylvania Democratic Senate candidate Joe Sestak to back off of a challenge to incumbent Arlen Specter. (Sestak defeated Specter in the May 18 Democratic primary.)

The No. 3 story was the economy, as global jitters revolving around fragile European markets impacted stock values at home. It generated 6% of the week's coverage.

Read the full report, Oil Spill Coverage Engulfs the Media on the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism Web site.