NEWSWHIP 2020

A year in review

Welcome to the NewsWhip review of the stories that captured the public’s attention the most in the last year, from the omnipresent coverage of Covid-19, to the Black Lives Matter movement’s fight for racial justice and equity, to the back and forths of the election season, to the mourning of celebrities that passed away this year.

Summary

2020 was an unprecedented year for a number of reasons, but this post will focus on the landmark levels of engagement to web content that have happened this year. As we have been increasingly living in a digital world as part of our new normal, engagement has gone through the roof, with a series of historic events occurring this year.

In this blog, we will look back at some of the key events from month to month, and look at the levels of engagements those events drove. 

If 2020 has taught us anything, it is to keep our expectations in check. But if there is a key takeaway to this data it is that things can change at a moment’s notice. That’s why, if we want to understand how things are changing, it’s crucial to have as much real-time data as possible to do so. The internet can see things change and narratives switch on themselves in the space of hours, if not minutes, with no more than a well-timed Tweet or new piece of reporting, as we saw multiple times this year.

Let’s dive in.

A year in Review

January

We begin the year with what feels like events from a different era. The three news stories that drove conversation from the beginning of the year were the forest fires in Australia, Trump being impeached, and Kobe Bryant’s sudden death.

January

Total interactions:
4.3 billion

Top story:
RIP Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant’s sudden death saw more engagement than any of the other major topics of the month.

December–January

Forest fires in Australia

The story that the year opened to was one of tragedy as fires raged in Australia, heavily impacting local wildlife populations.

Half a billion animals perish in Australian bushfires

nzhearld.co.nz 

935.6k total interactions

December–January

Trump impeachment

Interest in President Trump’s impeachment continued from the previous month. He was impeached by the House in December of 2019, and his trial was set for the Senate early in 2020.

Poll: Michigan majority still rejects Trump impeachment

detroitnews.com

4.05m total interactions

January 26

RIP Kobe

The world united in mourning after the death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna in a helicopter crash in California at the end of January.

Kobe Bryant reportedly killed in California helicopter crash

nypost.com

8.13m total interactions

A YEAR IN REVIEW

February

The political arena remained the focus in February, with Trump’s acquittal in the Senate a high point in terms of engagement for the month.

February

Total interactions:
4.68 billion

Top story:
Pelosi rips up Trump’s State of the Union

Trump’s acquittal saw a huge spike in engagement at the beginning of February.

February 4

Pelosi & state of the union

As is often the case, the internet was divided on Nancy Pelosi after she ripped up President Trump’s speech after his State of the Union address at the beginning of February.

Watch Pelosi rip up copy of Trump’s State of the Union speech

nbcnews.com

4.5m total interactions

February 5

RIP Kirk Douglas

Another celebrity caused an outpouring of memories at the beginning of February when actor Kirk Douglas passed away.

Kirk Douglas, Hollywood Icon and Spartacus Star, Dies at 103

people.com

3.82m total interactions

February 5

Trump acquitted

The day after his speech, Trump was acquitted in the Senate on what was almost a party line vote. Utah Senator Mitt Romney broke ranks with his fellow Republicans to vote to convict President Trump.

Senate acquits Trump on abuse of power, obstruction of Congress charges

foxnews.com

3.5m total interactions

A YEAR IN REVIEW

March

Covid-19 hit the headlines in a big way in March, with a number of different stories about how people coped with the rise of the disease seeing huge engagement. 

Harvey Weinstein’s sentencing was one of the non-Covid stories that broke through. 

March

Total interactions:
5.99 billion

Top story:
Washington Post’s Covid simulator

5.99bn

engagements is the highest engaged month of 2020

March 11

Harvey Weinstein jailed for 23 years

Harvey Weinstein was found guilty of the assault charges against him, and was sentenced to 23 years in jail at the end of February.

Harvey Weinstein jailed for 23 years in rape trial

bbc.com

814.9k total interactions

March 12

Virtual museums & galleries

Businesses adapted to the new normal, with museums setting up virtual tours when they couldn’t welcome guests.

Stuck at Home? These 12 Famous Museums Offer Virtual Tours You Can Take on Your Couch

travelandleisure.com

4.52m total interactions

March 15

Elderly shopping in supermarkets

Supermarkets created space for the elderly and at-risk to be able to shop in a safer way, introducing elderly shopping hours in many locations.

Woolworth’s Launches ‘Elderly-Only’ Shopping Hour To Ensure Seniors Get Supplies

hellocaremail.com.au

4.93m total interactions

March 16

San Francisco is first US city to enter lockdown

In mid-March, San Francisco became the first US city to go into lockdown, though it was swiftly followed by a number of others.

San Francisco Going on 24-Hour Lockdown for 3 Weeks

tmz.com

4.87m total interactions

March 27

You could have had COVID in December

As Covid exploded onto the national news scene, speculation abounded about its origins and whether it had been around longer than we knew.

Fact check: Could your December cough actually have been coronavirus? Experts say more research is needed

foxnews.com

6.28m total interactions

A YEAR IN REVIEW

April

April was a mix of continued Covid coverage and politics. Bernie Sanders dropping out of the presidential race, Kim Jong Un’s rumored death, and Trump’s suggestion of disinfectant to combat Covid were three notable stories.

April

Q2 had the most engagement it has seen for years with more than double the level of the previous year.

April 9

Covid recoveries

People looked for hope in the early days of the pandemic, with the Daily Mail reporting on the hundreds of thousands of people who had recovered from the disease.

More than 330,000 people have RECOVERED from coronavirus around the world

dailymail.co.uk

3.39m total interactions

April 16

Bernie Sanders drops out of US election

In some of the most consequential political news of 2020 to this point, Bernie Sanders dropped out of the presidential race in April, having won a number of the early state primaries. This all but confirmed Joe Biden as the Democratic nominee.

Bernie Sanders Drops Out of 2020 Democratic Race for President

nytimes.com

3.49m total interactions

April 16

Trump suggests using disinfectant to kill COVID

In a now infamous press conference, President Trump suggested the internal use of light and disinfectant in an attempt to combat Covid-19.

Trump suggests ‘injection’ of disinfectant to beat coronavirus and ‘clean’ the lungs

nbcnews.com

6.48m total interactions

April 25

Kim Jong-un reportedly dead

In a strange story, speculation ran rife about the health of Kim Jong-un in April, with rumors abounding among social media and some journalists that he may have died.

N. Korea Dictator Kim Jong-un Reportedly Dead After Botched Heart Surgery

tmz.com

4.64m total interactions

A YEAR IN REVIEW

May

The Black Lives Matter protests were the central theme of the month of May, with the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd resonating across America and the world.

May

For the first time since March, something other than the pandemic captured the public attention, as demands for racial justice and equity resonated across the nation and the world.

May 7

Father and son charged for murder of Ahmaud Arbery

The case of Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot and killed while running in Georgia, made headlines in early May when the two men accused were charged with murder.

Father and son charged with murder of unarmed black man Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia

abcnews.go.com

3.74m total interactions

May 26

George Floyd killed

The death of George Floyd, which sparked a vast movement demanding accountability and justice, was the moment that brought worldwide attention to BLM once more.

Video shows cop kneeling on a moaning, motionless man who later died

dailymail.co.uk

7.6m total interactions

May 31

Police kneel in solidarity with protestors

The most engaged article of the year involved police officers kneeling in solidarity with protestors in some cities.

In Some Cities, Police Officers Joined Protesters Marching Against Brutality

forbes.com

15.5m total interactions

A YEAR IN REVIEW

June

The reaction to the Black Lives Matter protests and calls for racial equity dominated June, while two notable Supreme Court cases also captured public attention.

June

NBC News had more than 130 million engagements to its content in June, the most any publisher has ever received in our rankings.

June 5

DC Mayor has ‘Black Lives Matter’ painted on street leading to White House

In response to the Black Lives Matter protests, many cities moved to commemorate the movement, and DC did so by having a BLM mural painted on a street leading to the White House.

D.C. mayor has huge ‘Black Lives Matter’ name painted on street leading to White House

nbcnews.com

13.3m total interactions

June 10

Germany sees largest BLM protest outside US

The protests extended worldwide, with major demonstrations occurring in Germany and the UK.

Germans Protest Anti-Racism, In Biggest Demonstration Outside of the United States

time.com

2.99m total interactions

June 15

Supreme Court rules to protect LGBTQ from job discrimination

SCOTUS also made the news in June, with two landmark rulings. The first was on protections for LGBTQ workers being written into law, while the second ruled that President Trump could not legally shut down the DACA program.

In landmark case, Supreme Court rules LGBTQ workers are protected from job discrimination

nbcnews.com

6.55m total interactions

June 17

Aunt Jemima to change name and remove image from packaging

Some brands moved to replace imagery and text that was seen as dated from their branding in response to the movement for racial justice, with Aunt Jemima being one such example.

Aunt Jemima to change name, remove image from packaging

nbcnews.com

5.21m total interactions

June 18

SCOTUS DACA ruling

Supreme Court rules Trump cannot end DACA in big win for ‘Dreamer’ legal immigrants

nbcnews.com

7.67m total interactions

A YEAR IN REVIEW

July

In July, Kanye West announced his presidential campaign. In Covid news, HHS confirmed that hospital data would bypass the CDC, and a doctor went viral for some controversial statements.

July

Total interactions:
3.8 billion

Top story:
Trump suggests delay to US election 2020

John Lewis’s death and his subsequent op-ed both resonated hugely with the public.

July 4

Kanye West announces presidential campaign

In a political twist, Independence Day in the US saw Kanye West announce his presidential campaign. Ultimately, it never really got off the ground.

‘Everybody that has a baby gets a million dollars,’ Kanye West says at 1st campaign rally

abcnews.go.com

1.44m total interactions

July 15

HHS to send hospital data to DC instead of CDC

There was some controversy over Covid-19 data tracking, as the HHS confirmed that the data would now bypass the CDC and be sent directly to the White House, in a move away from the previous practice. 

HHS confirms coronavirus hospital data will now be sent to DC instead of CDC

cnn.com

3.73m total interactions

July 17

Pentagon bans confederate flag from US military

After years of controversy over Confederate flags, they were finally banned from a number of military installations, though President Trump has repeatedly defended military bases named after Confederate generals.

Pentagon bans all Confederate flags from US military installations, housing and more

americanmilitarynews.com

1.5m total interactions

July 18

RIP John Lewis

The death of John Lewis sent shockwaves around the political world, as the civil rights giant was celebrated far and wide for his legacy of “good trouble”. In an op-ed released on the day of his funeral, he encouraged people to keep up the fight for civil rights.

John Lewis, Towering Figure of Civil Rights Era, Dies at 80

nytimes.com

2.07m total interactions

July 28

Trump’s new COVID doctor

A doctor who President Trump had signal boosted for promoting hydroxychloroquine as a Covid cure was found to have some odd views.

Trump’s New COVID Doctor Says Sex With Demons Makes You Sick

thedailybeast.com

2.16m total interactions

July 30

Trump calls for delay to US Election

Towards the end of July, President Trump floated what appeared to be a trial balloon about delaying the US election, which was reported by the BBC.

Trump calls for delay to 2020 US election

bbc.co.uk

5.81m total interactions

A YEAR IN REVIEW

August

Joe Biden’s selection of Kamala Harris as his running mate was the big political story in August. The death of Chadwick Boseman and the response to the explosion in Lebanon from UNICEF were two others of note.

August

Total interactions:
3.52 billion

Top story:
RIP Chadwick Boseman

54k

stories published about Kamala Harris

August 1

Trump to ban TikTok

Chinese social media app TikTok became a center of controversy in August. President Trump said it needed to be sold to a US company or risk being banned.

Trump says he will ban TikTok through an executive action

cnbc.com

1.57m total interactions

August 11

Kamala Harris selected as Biden running mate

History was made as Joe Biden selected Kamala Harris as his running mate for the election, making her the first woman of color to run for VP.

Joe Biden selects Kamala Harris as his running mate

nbcnews.com

4.07m total interactions

August 11

Explosion in Beirut

The tragic explosion in Lebanon saw grief from around the world, and UNICEF called to aid the country and explained some of the actions they were taking.

UNICEF responding to destruction in Lebanon

unicef.org

3.67m total interactions

Boseman’s last tweet is the most liked tweet in the history of Twitter

August 29

RIP Chadwick Boseman

Actor Chadwick Boseman was another loss this year, passing away after a years-long battle with colon cancer. His life was celebrated and many have called for him to receive a posthumous award for his performance in the movie version of ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’.

Black Panther Star Chadwick Boseman Dies at 43 Due to Colon Cancer

comicbook.com

4.88m total interactions

A YEAR IN REVIEW

September

September was a significant news month, with lots of highly engaged stories. The biggest narrative, however, was about the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

September

Total interactions:
2.2 billion

Top story:
RIP Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The top story in September was the death of the associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

September 2

Trump encourages North Carolina to vote twice in election

Vote by mail became a controversy as the election approached, with President Trump repeatedly complaining about the practice, and encouraging his supporters to vote twice in North Carolina.

Trump encourages North Carolina residents to vote twice to test mail-in system

nbcnews.com

1.69m total interactions

September 3

Trump calls Americans who died during war “losers” and “suckers”

Alleged comments by President Trump on veterans caused a stir this month, though he repeatedly denied the reporting.

Trump: Americans Who Died in War Are ‘Losers’ and ‘Suckers’

theatlantic.com

7.34m total interactions

September 5

Peaceful protests

TIME ran a piece talking about the BLM protests being largely peaceful, after there had been a focus in some quarters on the few protests that did not remain peaceful.

93% of Black Lives Matter Protests Have Been Peaceful, New Report Finds

time.com

1.66m total interactions

September 8

Trump nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

President Trump was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by a right-wing Norwegian parliamentarian, in the first of several nominations. He ultimately did not win, with the World Food Program winning.

Trump nominated for Nobel Peace Prize by Norwegian official, citing Israel-UAE peace deal

foxnews.com

2.49m total interactions

September 8

RIP RBG

The biggest story of the month by far was the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who passed away aged 87.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Champion Of Gender Equality, Dies At 87

npr.org

10.7m total interactions

September 26

Amy Coney Barrett elected to Supreme Court

Amy Coney Barrett was ultimately nominated by President Trump to replace Bader Ginsburg.

Trump announces Amy Coney Barrett as nominee for Supreme Court seat

foxnews.com

1.32m total interactions

September 27

Trump’s taxes shows losses and tax avoidance

The New York Times’s landmark investigation of President Trump’s taxes saw an unprecedented level of engagement on a single story for the publication, garnering more than 5 million engagements.

Trump’s Taxes Show Chronic Losses and Years of Income Tax Avoidance

nytimes.com

5.89m total interactions

A YEAR IN REVIEW

October

President Trump’s Covid diagnosis hit the headlines in October, while the deaths of Eddie Van Halen and Sean Connery were both huge stories.

October

Total interactions:
2.88 billion

Top story:
RIP Sean Connery

October 3

Trump gets COVID-19

President Trump’s Covid diagnosis was the major event of October.

Trump, first lady test positive for coronavirus; Pence tests negative

wafb.com

4.08m total interactions

October 5

#ProudBoys reclaimed by gay men

The Proud Boys became a topic of conversation as they were mentioned in the presidential debates, with a campaign to take back the concept of being a ‘proud boy’ occurring on Twitter.

The Proud Boys Are Furious That Gay Men Have Taken Over #ProudBoys On Twitter

forbes.com

1.14m total interactions

October 6

RIP Eddie Van Halen

The deaths of Eddie Van Halen and Sean Connery both occurred in October, and were responsible for millions of engagements as people recognized their respective artistic contributions.

Eddie Van Halen Dead at 65

tmz.com

3.59m total interactions

October 26

Senate vote on Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation

Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed by the Senate to the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September.

Senate voting on Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to Supreme Court

foxnews.com

1.24m total interactions

October 31

RIP Sean Connery

James Bond actor Sir Sean Connery dies aged 90

bbc.co.uk

4.75m total interactions

A YEAR IN REVIEW

November

Unsurprisingly, November was all about the election, with a number of different narratives going viral from November 3rd onwards. 

November

Total interactions:
2.42 billion

Top story:
Biden says it is time for the US to unite

November 4

AOC re-elected in US election

Election narratives dominated November. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s easy victory in NY-14 was some early news that went viral while the world awaited the final election results.

Ocasio-Cortez Wins 2nd Term in Costly Loss for Republicans

nytimes.com

910.4k total interactions

November 7

Biden wins election

Joe Biden was ultimately declared the victor, winning a record number of votes in an American election.

US Election 2020: Joe Biden wins the presidency

bbc.co.uk

2.13m total interactions

November 7

Harris becomes the first female, first Black, and first South Asian vice president-elect

This victory marked a number of historic firsts for Kamala Harris, who simultaneously became the first female, first Black, and first South Asian vice president-elect.

Harris becomes the first female, first Black and first South Asian vice president-elect

cnn.com

861.7k total interactions

November 8

RIP Alex Trebek

In non-election news, thousands mourned the death of Alex Trebek, the popular host of Jeopardy! who passed away after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

Alex Trebek Dead at 80 After Battling Pancreatic Cancer

tmz.com

1.94m total interactions

November 15

COVID-19: the third surge

Meanwhile Covid-19, though the public’s interest in reporting about the disease had faded somewhat, reached an all-time level of deadliness in the US, with the third wave putting unprecedented strain on healthcare workers.

The Third Surge Is Breaking Health-Care Workers

theatlantic.com

1.79m total interactions

A YEAR IN REVIEW

December

The election continued to resonate throughout the month of December, while Christmas and the alignment of Jupiter and Saturn also captured the public’s attention.

2.32bn

stories published in December

December 4

Congress passes bill to decriminalise cannabis

In the final month of 2020, Congress took up a bill to decriminalize cannabis at the federal level.

House passes historic bill to decriminalize cannabis

nbcnews.com

1.25m total interactions

December 11

RIP Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister

Actor Tommy Lister passed away in December. The ‘Friday’ star was 62 years old.

‘Friday’ Star Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister Dead at 62

tmz.com

2.58m total interactions

December 12

Supreme court rejects Texas and Trump’s bid to overturn election

In a highly publicized and anticipated case, the Supreme Court rejected attempts to overturn the results of the election in key swing states.

Supreme Court rejects Texas’ and Trump’s bid to overturn election

cnn.com

1.86m total interactions

December 17

36-page report released alleging election fraud

In December, Peter Navarro claimed to have evidence of election fraud that would swing the election to Trump, though none of what was released has been proven.

Peter Navarro releases 36-page report alleging election fraud ‘more than sufficient’ to swing victory to Trump

washingtonexaminer.com

1.87m total interactions

December 24

Jupiter and Saturn align for first time in 800 years

In a story that captured wide public interest, Jupiter and Saturn aligned for the first time in centuries to form what was colloquially called a ‘Christmas Star’.

Jupiter and Saturn Will Align to Create the First “Christmas Star” in Nearly 800 Years

popsugar.com

4.07m total interactions

A YEAR IN REVIEW

Final thoughts

Year in Review

Final thoughts

2020 has been an unprecedented year for content engagement, with politics, the coronavirus, and the fight for racial justice all major drivers of conversation this year, with billions of shares and comments on the stories written about those subjects.

The public interest in them and more is likely to continue into 2021 and beyond, and we’ll be here to show you what people are writing about and engaging with every step of the way. Thanks for reading, and happy new year!

Benedict Nicholson

Benedict Nicholson is the Managing Editor at NewsWhip. An Englishman in New York, he is interested in the intersection of PR, brands, and journalism, and the trends and innovation around that.

Email Benedict via benedict.nicholson@newswhip.com.

Roisin O'Flaherty

Roisin O’Flaherty is the visual designer at NewsWhip. After graduating with her MSc in Cyberpsychology, she has focused on communicating complex data in visually engaging and interesting ways. 

Email Roisin via roisin.oflaherty@newswhip.com.

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