“COULD IT HAPPEN IN AMERICA?”:
CNN’S BREAKING NEWS COVERAGE OF THE 2005 BRITISH SUBWAY ATTACKS
Cristina M. Mayer
(Dr. Brooke Barnett) School of Communications

American journalists entered a new era of breaking news coverage as they watched and reported on the September 11 terrorist attacks. Previous research documented this breaking news model, but did not account for how American journalists cover terrorist attacks that happen abroad.
Previous research showed that during the September 11 coverage, journalists broke traditional journalistic rules. Four years after September 11, did CNN cover the terrorist attack in London with more objectivity than the September 11 attacks?

This study attempts to answer that question with a content analysis of the breaking news coverage after explosions rocked London’s transit system on July 7, 2005.

CNN’s first five hours of breaking news coverage on July 7, 2005 was coded for quantitative categories such as reporting anonymous sources and rumors and the amount of time spent working outside of the traditional journalistic role. This coverage was compared with a previous September 11 study that used the same coding sheet. The data show that CNN journalists who covered breaking news of both terrorist attacks broke out of traditional journalistic norms, reporting rumors, using anonymous sources and including personal references in their reporting.

This study also revealed differences in CNN’s coverage of domestic terrorist events as compared to those abroad. Preliminary results show the reporters violated traditional journalistic norms less often during the coverage of the subway bombing. Potential reasons for this difference such as lessons learned from the September 11 coverage, the need to be more patriotic during the domestic threat, and an ethnocentric frame of the events will be discussed.

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