Coverage of George Floyd's death and the ensuing protests this weekend completely dwarfed coverage of the coronavirus, even as the death toll from the pandemic ticked beyond 100,000 in the U.S., Axios' Neal Rothschild, Bryan Walsh and I write.
Why it matters: For months, Americans struggled to understand the severity of the pandemic, as hospitals needed to stay closed to outside visitors, let alone journalists with cameras. Now, the opposite is unfolding, with stark images and videos going viral around the protests sweeping the country.
By the numbers: Across the board, coverage of the protests and demand for that content is skyrocketing, overtaking news about the pandemic.
- On television, 2.5% of the combined Sunday airtime of CNN, MSNBC and Fox News mentioned the coronavirus or related words, while around 25% of the airtime mentioned the George Floyd protests or related words, according to data from the Internet Archive Television News Archive.
- On social media, interest in the fallout from the George Floyd killing took off as protests raged at the end of last week and surpassed coronavirus on Thursday, according to data from NewsWhip. By Saturday, there were 14x as many interactions on stories about the protests.
- On search, "George Floyd" overtook "coronavirus" as the most popular search in the U.S. on Wednesday evening and continued to outrank it through the weekend, according to data from Google Trends. "Minneapolis" overtook "coronavirus" on Thursday night.
- Online, articles about "police brutality" were 6.8 times more in demand than articles about "coronavirus," averaging 3800 views per article, according to data from web analytics company Parse.ly.
The big picture: The media has the ability to shape the outcomes of both crises, depending on the way that it covers them.
- The extensive visual coverage of the protests has reinforced the intensity of the wider #BlackLivesMatter movement, even if only a small percentage of Americans comparatively were actually involved in the demonstrations.
- The lack of visuals around the coronavirus, in addition to loosened stay-at-home restrictions, has made it easier for networks and the public to move on, even though some places in the country have an uptick in cases and/or deaths.
Be smart: Ideally, the media should have no problem paying attention to both issues, but pressure to keep viewers glued to their screens will make it difficult to avoid the unique visual opportunity that the protests present.
- As Axios' Scott Rosenberg points out, smartphones and social media deliver direct accounts of grief- and rage-inducing stories.
- Most news outlets have had to rely on charts and press conferences with health and government officials to explain the severity of the pandemic.
One constant across both issues is that the press itself was intimately hit.
- During the coronavirus, dozens of outlets faced layoffs or closures due mostly to the collapse of the ad market. Newsrooms and broadcasters also needed to reconfigure for remote work.
- During the protests, journalists faced record levels of police and protest brutality.