How coronavirus redefined blanket coverage

For years, people have used adjectives like ‘wall-to-wall’ or ‘blanket’ to describe media coverage that is at saturation point. But until now that has been a lie.

Because we now know what a story running at near-saturation levels looks like.

Coronavirus has reached an unprecedented level of modern media dominance by both being immensely newsworthy in itself, but also by undermining every other significant topic of interest.

As shutdowns associated with the virus broaden, the range of other topics available to media narrows.

Coronavirus cases around the world

Consider how COVID-19 has gradually infected sections of your average newspaper: starting in the world section, it then moved up front, before spreading to business, opinion, travel, sport, entertainment and food.

Streem often defines a big story by its proportion of prominent coverage - for example how frequently it’s been found in the 10 lead items on a homepage, or its proximity to the front page of print. But that has become useless with coronavirus as it’s now effectively running at 100% all of the time.

So this week we looked at the proportion of ALL news stories in major online media mentioning COVID-19. It has appeared in a staggering 81 per cent of stories written on some days. That is, there are four times more stories mentioning coronavirus than there are all other stories combined.

By way of comparison, in an above average week Scott Morrison might appear in 5 per cent of stories. The bushfires were mentioned in fewer than 30 per cent of total stories, even when they were at their absolute worst.

That’s because, while the bushfires stopped the odd cricket match, the rest of the sports section could continue as normal. Same too every other section of the paper. Not with coronavirus. It is overwhelmingly the only story in town.

The flipside is there’s almost nothing to advertise against that’s not coronavirus related. Which is no doubt contributing to the immense pressure on media companies, who are already struggling as companies freeze their marketing budgets.

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