Irene Hyped? Not Compared to Others

10: Rank of Hurricane Irene coverage by major news sources among all Atlantic Hurricanes since since 1980.

There’s been much discussion about whether Irene was overhyped. It’s true that from Friday through Sunday it seemed we were blanketed with every nuance about the storm but Nate Silver, the New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blogger, digs into past coverage to gain some perspective.

What he discovers after a search through NewsLibrary.com, a database of news articles and transcripts, is that 2004’s Hurricane Ivan was the US media’s most covered storm. This is while the storm was actually taking place, not additional stories published about its aftermath. By comparison, Katrina comes in 14th place with fairly mundane coverage until the New Orleans levees actually broke.

Writes Silver:

It’s easy enough to conduct a series of searches on NewsLibrary.com in order to determine how much press coverage past Atlantic hurricanes have received. The only tricky part is that the further you go back in time, the fewer sources the database has available, so we’ll have to adjust for this.

We’ll accomplish this by creating a statistic which I’ll call the News Unit (or NU). This is defined by taking the total number of stories that mentioned the storm by name (for instance, “Hurricane Hugo” or “Tropical Storm Hugo”; either one is considered acceptable) and dividing by the average number of stories per day that were available in the NewsLibrary.com database during that period. I then multiply the result by 10 just to make things a little bit more legible — so essentially, a News Unit consists of one-tenth of all the stories published on a given day.

For instance, there were 13,326 stories published that used the term “Hurricane Gustav” or “Tropical Storm Gustav” during the period when that storm was active, from Aug. 25 through Sept. 4, 2008. And on average, there were 56,200 stories published per day during that period in the NewsLibrary.com database. Dividing 13,326 by 56,200, and then multiplying by 10, gives a result of 2.37. So Gustav produced 2.37 News Units worth of coverage while the storm was active.

Irene’s score by this measure is 2.25 News Units, which is on the high side but not extraordinary.

Specifically, it ranks 10th from among the 92 named tropical cyclones that made landfall in the United States since 1980.

This, of course, is just a raw measurement of how many news stories there were. For thoughts about what hype actually is, see Julie Moos’ article at Poynter: The 6 criteria for hype & why Hurricane Irene coverage does not meet them.

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