The blizzard on the East Coast last week was a major news event covered by every national media outlet.
The event had the same objective facts and every news organization had access to what was happening in real time, as it unfolded.
And yet, that same event was reported quite differently by different news organizations. Let’s look at a test case of three of them: BuzzFeed, the New York Times and Fox News.
Initially, each homepage featured the snow story among its top news articles, along with a photo, a summary and a link to the full article. Fox News and the New York Times opted to go with straight-forward weather photos, while BuzzFeed showed a photograph of National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini next to a pun on the phrase “Risky Business.”
Later, the BuzzFeed photo and headline changed its headline to “Apocalypse Plow” while the New York Times opted for a weather map graphic that showed snow fall totals.
What differences do you see?
Here are some of my observations.
Fox News seems to play up the danger of the storm, using big, bold block letters in its headline and quoting someone (it’s unclear who) about the “life and death” nature of the event.
The New York Times is on the other end of the spectrum, and from its headline and language the reader might infer the snow is not a big deal. Its headline and photo are smaller, sandwiched between several non-breaking news stories, and the warning from the official is in normal size font, almost buried.
Between these extremes lies BuzzFeed, which has headlines that are meant to be entertaining. It’s hard to tell if it’s serious or making fun of the over-the-top seriousness of some headlines. The photo of the weather director obviously looks concerned, but he also looks somewhat cartoonish, which could be influenced by the entertainment-focused headlines surrounding him. It’s also clear BuzzFeed loves pop culture puns, which you can see in the Twitter feed of BuzzFeed Front Page Editor Gavon Laessig, whose bio says “sorry about the puns.”
— Gavon Laessig (@gavonl) January 22, 2016
BREAKING UPDATE: more puns.
And that’s just the headlines. The articles diverge even more from there.
What similarities and contrasts do you see in the coverage of these three outlets?
Which do you think is most accurate?
Which best serves its audience?
Tim Cigelske (@TeecycleTim) is the Associate Editor of MetricShift. He has reported and written for the Associated Press, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Budget Travel, Adventure Cyclist and more. Today, he is the Director of Social Media at Marquette University as well as an adjunct professor teaching media writing and social media analytics. You may also know him as The Beer Runner blogger for DRAFT Magazine.