Worldpress.org February 20, 2009
Both in the United States and internationally, the presidential election victory by Barack Obama dominated the headlines in 2008. The landmark result of the national vote saw the ascension of the first African-American to America’s highest office, justifying for many the country’s democratic promise. The story was chosen as the top news item of the year by U.S. editors and news directors voting in The Associated Press’ annual poll.
This judgment was shared by the annual “Year in Review” Tyndall Report, which monitors the weekday nightly newscasts of the three American broadcast television networks. The report noted that Campaign 2008 earned more news coverage than any of the last five presidential contests. Obama himself attracted twice as much coverage as an average nominee.
Observers outside of the United States were also following the story closely. The Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, based in Toyko, Japan, determined that Obama’s election was the top international news item as voted on by 11,877 readers in an worldwide poll. Noting that the campaign was characterized by a theme of “change,” the Shimbun further stated: “His efforts to unite the Democratic party and people of all races energized voters, including previously politically apathetic young people.”
The newly-elected Obama, along with heads of state all around the world, are currently grappling with 2008’s other news story of primary importance; the global economic meltdown. The Pew Research Center, which follows the intensity of the public’s interest in leading news stories, found that the economy was the most closely followed subject in the United States. As the nation’s financial crisis deepened during the third quarter, 70 percent of respondents said they were following news about the economy very closely, which ranked among the highest levels of news interest for any story in the past two decades. The rising cost of gasoline and debate about the Wall Street bailout, two more economic concerns, were second and third in the Pew Research poll at 66 percent and 62 percent. At 61 percent, the presidential election was the fourth most closely followed story.
The Beijing Olympics found its way onto a number of top ten lists. The story held fourth place in the Shimbun poll, grabbed the fifth spot on the AP survey, and was ninth on the Tyndall Report. Judged to be an overall success, the Olympics were especially noted for the spectacular opening ceremony that was participated in by a record 204 countries and territories. China won the most gold medals, 51, and the games were highlighted by record-breaking performances by American swimmer Michael Phelps and Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt. However, the heavy-handed security measures drew criticism from media observers.
Top Ten Lists — 2008
The Associated Press survey of US editors
1. U.S. Election2. Economic Meltdown3. Oil Prices4. Iraq5. Beijing Olympics6. Chinese Earthquake7. Sarah Palin8. Mumbai Terrorism9. Hillary Clinton10. Russia-Georgia War
The Pew Research Center: Top News Interest Stories of 2008
1. Conditions of the U.S. economy2. Rising price of gasoline3. Debate over Wall St. bailout4. 2008 pres. general election5. Major drops in U.S. stock market6. Falling price of gas and oil7. Hurricane Ike8. Wall St. financial crisis hits9. Obama transition10. 2008 pres. primary election
Yomiuri Shimbun: The Top 10 International News Stories
1. Barack Obama elected U.S. president2. Over 60,000 die in Sichuan earthquake3. U.S. financial crisis spreads across globe4. Beijing hosts 29th Olympic Games5. Crude oil prices reach all-time high6. Myanmar ravaged by Cyclone Nargis7. Terrorist attacks in Mumbai8. Large-scale riots erupt in Tibet9. Olympic torch relay hindered by protests10. Bird flu death toll passes 100
The Tyndall Report: Year in Review 2008
1. 2008 Obama campaign2. 2008 McCain campaign3. 2008 Rodham Clinton campaign4. Financial industry federal bailout5. Crude oil, gasoline prices6. NYSE-NASDAQ market action7. Iraq: US-led combat continues8. Automobile industry in trouble9. Beijing Summer Olympics10. 2008 GOP VP Palin nomination
Time Top Ten Underreported Stories — 2008
1. The Pentagon’s latest nuclear snafu2. Civil war displaces a million Congolese3. Sri Lankan conflict deadlier this year than Afghanistan4. A victory for mental-health advocates5. Genetically modified meat: coming soon to a grocer near you?6. Southern Baptists decide against pedophilia database7. More Mexican immigrants move home8. A gap in genetic non-discrimination law9. U. S. ships sand from Kuwait to Idaho10. Venezuela’s potty-mouth President
Doctors Without Borders: Top Ten Humanitarian Crises of 2008
· Somalia’s humanitarian catastrophe worsens · Critical need of assistance in Ethiopia’s Somali region· Critical health needs in Myanmar remain unmet· Civilians killed and forced to flee as fighting intensifies in Northwestern Pakistan· Health crisis sweeps Zimbabwe as violence and economic collapse spread· No end in sight to violence and suffering in Sudan· Civilians trapped as war rages in Eastern Congo· Iraqi civilians in urgent need of assistance· Millions of malnourished children left untreated despite advances in lifesaving nutritional therapies· H.I.V./TB co-infection poses health battle on two fronts
Following closely behind the Olympics story was the horrific earthquake in May 2008 that killed more than 70,000 people in China’s Sichuan province and left more than 5 million homeless. The story earned the second position in the Shimbun list and sixth place in the AP poll. Prominently featured in the news coverage was the toll that the quake took on children, with more than 7,000 classrooms were destroyed. Some of the parents of the children killed, who alleged that the school collapses were due to shoddy construction, were precluded from suing the local government for ignoring safety rules.
Terrorism was a big part of the year’s news, with the Mumbai, India attacks as the lead story. On November 26, the heart of India’s financial center was rocked by gunfire and explosions. In the aftermath, over 160 people were killed and more than 300 wounded. Because the attackers were allegedly sponsored by a terrorist organization based in Pakistan, tensions between the two nuclear-armed rivals rose significantly, but a war was avoided. The AP survey ranked the story as the eighth most important of the year, while the Shimbun poll placed it at number seven in their list.
Two prominent women in the political arena, presidential aspirant Hillary Clinton and vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, garnered their share of attention. Palin topped Clinton in the AP poll (#7 to #9), and was also named by The Tyndall Report as the most “newsworthy” woman of the year. Unsurprisingly, the most newsworthy man was Obama.
Away from the major news media’s spotlight, there were important developments around the globe, many of them positive but some were tragic. In their annual list, Doctors Without Borders named its top humanitarian crises of 2008, which focused on massive civilian displacements, high numbers of fatalities and grossly unmet medical needs in locales such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Iraq, Sudan, Pakistan, Myanmar and Zimbabwe.
Other issues that did not receive much press, according to Doctors Without Borders, were the millions of malnourished children left untreated despite advances in lifesaving nutritional therapies, and the H.I.V./TB co-infection health battle. Of the latter, it was stated: “While the treatment of HIV has received substantial global attention, people living with both HIV and TB have slipped mostly under the radar mainly because sensitive diagnostic tools are lacking and treatment for co-infected patients is complicated.”
Time Magazine, in its Top Ten Underreported Stories list placed the Congolese conflict, which has displaced over one million persons, at number two. At number three was the civil war in Sri Lanka, which was deadlier in 2008 than the conflict in Afghanistan.
Another widely missed story involved the mass exodus of Mexican immigrants back to their native country due to America’s economic crisis and rising unemployment. Mexicans also sent home 12 percent less cash in August of 2008 than in the same month in the previous year, which was the largest such decline in over a decade.
Iraq, which held the third position in 2007’s AP top stories list, dropped to number four in 2008. The continued combat operations there also appeared on The Tyndall Report (#7). Though the general level of violence declined, the country remained volatile with daily reports of bombings and new fatalities.
Another conflict, this one between neighboring countries Russia and Georgia, rated the number ten position on the AP list. Initiated by a Georgian attack on the breakaway South Ossetia region, the devastating Russian response carried their troops deep inside of Georgia before a cease-fire was declared. The brief war exacerbated tensions between the United States, which supported Georgia, and Russia.
In summary, despite a widespread sense of optimism at Obama’s election, 2008 was a year of turmoil, especially in the global financial arena. The top ten lists were dominated by news stories that dealt with different aspects of the worldwide economic meltdown. This sentiment was shared by Linda Cunningham, a voter in the AP poll, who wrote: “As far as I am concerned, there were only two stories this year, global economy collapses (sending every country into financial, political and personal chaos) and Obama elected U.S. president.”