Here’s How US Sites Have Covered Terrorist Attacks Since 2015


By   |   February 8th, 2017   |   Reading time: 3 minutes Digital Journalism

What does US media coverage of terrorist events look like? We took a deep dive into the data, to see how much coverage there has been of ten notable incidents since 2015. 

On Monday, the White House released a list of 78 global terror attacks that it said has been under-reported by media outlets in recent years. 

This came after President Trump stated that there had been terror attacks across the world, but “in many cases the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it”.

We were curious to see if NewsWhip’s data can be used to check that claim. Our technology tracks the output hundreds of thousands of websites, blogs and social pages globally, and monitors the spread of that content on social media. We store all the data, amounting to hundreds of millions of news stories from 60 countries.

Through our Analytics product, it’s possible to analyse high level stats about coverage of specific events, in specific countries, over different time ranges.

We picked out ten of the incidents listed by the New York Times earlier this week to analyze the level of coverage. As a note up front, the incidents we analyzed had a higher causal nexus with the US, generally those that involved multiple casualties or involved US citizens.

We then searched for key terms relating to each attack in the headline or description text of stories published within four weeks of the incident. For this analysis, we restricted results to English language coverage from US-based sites only, as we presume President Trump’s criticism was geared toward US media.

This chart shows the total article count of stories mentioning key terms around each event.
US Media Coverage of Terrorist Incidents, 2015 - 2016

Each attack generated thousands of articles, peaking with the Orlando attack in June 2016, for which we recorded over 130,000 relevant articles.

The reason for the high number of articles in each case can vary. For large scale attacks, such as Paris in November 2015, numerous breaking news stories were published as events unfolded.

In terms of the articles – many of the biggest on social were breaking news around events, and a large number were follow up stories focused on event aftermaths. (For instance, the Dodo’s story about a charity that flew dogs to Orlando to comfort survivors in the wake of that attack had around 57,000 engagements on Facebook.)

NewsWhip Analytics

As we’ve previously noted on this blog, there has traditionally been strong engagement with hard news coverage on Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms. This is true of coverage of these attacks, content relating to the November 2015 Paris attacks by US sites saw almost 20 million social engagements across Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Pinterest.

Of all the attacks listed, coverage of the Orlando nightclub shooting in June 2016 saw the most engagement on social media, with almost 22.5 million interactions on articles from US media alone.

These numbers reflect the depth of coverage and interest around each of these incidents in the US media. While some will naturally elicit more attention than others due to a variety of factors (geographical proximity, fatality count, American citizen involvement), the above data reflecting hundreds of thousands of individual news articles seems to indicate of a high degree of media coverage.

Whether it’s high enough is in the eye of the beholder.

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