It’s rare for a single event to dominate news coverage for days, let alone weeks on end. Even for tragedies as jarring as deadly hurricanes or mass shootings, media attention typically tapers off in the scramble to jump on the next news cycle.
Yet news coverage in the two weeks after America’s latest mass shooting — in which 17 people were gunned down at a Parkland, Fla., high school — tells a different story.
News coverage of the Parkland tragedy has so far outlasted coverage of other mass shootings over a 14-day period, according to data compiled from cable news networks and national media outlets. Compared with coverage after the mass shootings in Sutherland Springs, Tex., Las Vegas, Orlando and San Bernardino, Calif., the sustained focus on Parkland wavered little as the surviving students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School vowed to push for harsher gun regulations until lawmakers chose to act.
“I think that this has been building as a story,” said Jane Hall, a professor at American University’s School of Communication. “What has happened with the Parkland story is the eloquence of the young people coming forward immediately after this happened, speaking for themselves, and speaking with anger and saying, ‘It is time for the grown-ups to do something about this.’ ”
Sustained coverage of mass shootings can be looked at in a few ways. We analyzed data compiled by Media Cloud, an open-source archive collecting content from 60,000 digital publications each day. We also mined data from the Internet Archive's TV News Archive to take stock of cable news coverage.
First, let's look at two week's worth of coverage on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. In that time, coverage of Parkland on all three networks was relatively sustained.
Now let's compare that with coverage on those networks after other mass shootings, which tended to bottom out at the two-week mark.
With help from researchers at Media Cloud, we saw the Parkland coverage also stood apart in stories published by a collection of 48 top online media sources. Those sources included local and national newspapers, such as the San Francisco Chronicle and the Dallas Morning News, and online sites such as Business Insider, HuffPost and Slate.
Here are some of the highlights:
- U.S. media outlets ran more than 7,900 stories online about the Parkland shooting in the two weeks after the shooting.
- That compares with nearly 2,600 stories about the Sutherland Springs shooting, about 4,200 stories on the Las Vegas shooting, and nearly 4,500 stories about the San Bernardino shooting, all in a period of two weeks.
- The only shooting that showed more online stories in the subsequent two weeks was Orlando at 8,097.
- But, as you'll see below, the Orlando shooting generated only one peak in the amount of media coverage in the two weeks after the shooting. That compared to three distinct peaks in media coverage on Parkland.
So why is this?
Sasha Costanza-Chock, an associate professor of civic media at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the teenage activists deserve credit for keeping Parkland in the news. In contrast to the victims of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, the survivors of Parkland are old enough to talk about their own experience to demand change.
“They have organizational support from existing organizations, as well as personal experience,” Costanza-Chock said. “And they grew up with social media. They've given hundreds of interviews to print and TV journalists, so within a couple days they learned how to do that, and how do you use talking points with a reporter.”
News coverage carrying the voices of survivors has also stood apart in another way, said Timothy Johnson, the guns and public safety program director for Media Matters for America, a left-leaning media watchdog group. Johnson said that in the wake of the Parkland shooting, there has been more coverage focusing on policy discussions compared with the shooting in Las Vegas, in which 58 people were killed.
While there was some discussion over outlawing “bump stock” devices after Las Vegas, there was much less talk of an assault-weapons ban or other solutions-oriented discussions, Johnson said.
“I credit that to the students who survived,” Johnson said.
Calls for assault-weapons bans and stricter gun reform have yet to result in new policy within state or federal governments, but some retailers and other companies have helped keep the story alive by acting on their own. After Parkland, the viral hashtag “#BoycottNRA” demanded that companies reconsider their ties to the gun industry or the National Rifle Association.
Over the past few weeks, a cascade of companies — from Delta Air Lines to MetLife — has ended discount programs with NRA members. Retailers that sell rifles and other firearms, including Dick's Sporting Goods, Walmart and Kroger, have changed their sales policies.
It's hard to predict when media coverage of the Parkland shooting might begin to taper, Johnson said, adding that he “would have guessed that it would have already.”
With the March for Our Lives scheduled for March 24 and new companies continuing to take a stance on the gun debate more than two weeks after the Parkland shooting, the story may not be over yet.
“It's very hard to separate media from the impact of what happens,” Hall said.