In a week when the U.S. withdrew in Iraq and attacked in Afghanistan, when the governor of California declared an economic emergency and the governor of Alaska stepped down, it was Michael Jackson who drove the news agenda.
The dominant story ever since he died on June 25, the fascination with Jackson's life and death filled 17% of the newshole from June 29-July 5, according to the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. That narrative was driven by several storylines. While part of the coverage continued to focus on his legacy as an entertainer and his still vibrant fan base, more ominous strains emerged including growing questions about whether drugs played a role in his death and the prospect of a legal wrangle over his estate and children.
In that respect, the Jackson narrative conjured up one other celebrity death that registered as a major story since PEJ began its News Index two years ago. Media attention to Anna Nicole Smith's sudden demise in February 2007 was also fueled by the mysterious circumstances surrounding her death and a bruising court fight. (Although the Smith melodrama generated substantial coverage for several weeks, the Jackson story has thus far received about twice as much attention.)
As was also true in the Smith case, the Jackson frenzy has largely been a television story—due in no small measure to the plentiful footage documenting his career. (Last week, concert promoters released video of Jackson rehearsing two days before he died.) The Jackson story filled 30% of the airtime studied on network news and 28% on cable news last week. Within the network news universe, the more feature-oriented morning shows spent more than half their time (56%) on the story compared with 20% in the evening.
Heavy TV attention will likely continue this week (not included in this report) thanks in part to coverage of the memorial service in the Staples Center and the presence of the network anchors who are traditionally dispatched from the studio to cover what are deemed the most newsworthy events.
Read the full report As the Plot Thickens, the Jackson Saga Dominates on the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism Web site.