Casey Anthony Verdict Beats Out Debt Crisis As Top TV Story Last Week

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The Project for Excellence in Journalism’s weekly coverage index offers an interesting contrast in the priorities of television news versus their radio, print and online counterparts.

Fueled by the deepening debt crisis, the economy was the top story for the week of July 4-10, 2011, filling 24 percent of the news hole across the 52 different outlets from five sectors (print, online, network TV, cable TV and radio) that PEJ surveys.

But while the Casey Anthony verdict was the No. 2 story overall, consuming 17 percent of the news hole, it was the top story for television news outlets. Anthony accounted for 17 percent of the week’s airtime on network TV and a whopping 38 percent across cable news.

The dramatic not guilty verdict prompted public outrage and boosted ratings on cable news outlets, especially HLN, which saw tune-in jump almost 2,000 percent on the afternoon of the verdict. It was also the most covered verdict, by a wide margin, since PEJ introduced its weekly news index four years ago.

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“The intense interest in the Anthony case last week drove it far past other trials in terms of coverage of a verdict,” according to the PEJ report. “Since January 2007 when PEJ began monitoring news, the next biggest story involving the conclusion of a case was when Ponzi scheme mastermind Bernie Madoff pleaded guilty to bilking his investors during the week of March 9-15, 2009—an event that accounted for 7% of the newshole.”

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Anthony herself was also the dominant newsmaker of the week, showing up in 12 percent of all stories, while President Obama – who held his first-ever Twitter town hall – was relegated to No. 2 with 8 percent.

The No. 3 story for the week overall was the shuttering of The News of the World amid the growing hacking scandal engulfing Rupert Murdoch’s News International. But it was a distant third with only 6 percent of overall coverage. (It accounted for 10 percent in the internationally oriented online news sector.) Still, the hacking scandal beat the final Space Shuttle mission (5 percent) and the 2012 presidential election (3 percent).

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