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MSNBC Aired More Initial Coverage of Ferguson Turmoil Than Fox News, CNN: Study

NBCUniversal’s MSNBC cable outlet spent more time covering the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., than rivals CNN or Fox News Channel in the first week the story broke, according to a new study.

In the six days after Brown’s Aug. 9 death, Fox News devoted about half the airtime that MSNBC did to events in Ferguson, with CNN’s coverage clocking in at around 73% of the MSNBC total, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of media coverage released this week. The organization noted that its previous analysis of the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin, another news story involving the shooting death of a black teen, found similar treatment by the three cable channels.

Last month, MSNBC’s ratings slipped to fourth among the cable news networks behind Fox News, CNN and HLN with an average of 316,000 daily viewers.

According to Pew, over the course of 18 hours of primetime programming from Sunday through Friday of last week, MSNBC spent a total of 5 hours and 42 minutes on Ferguson, more than CNN’s 3 hours and 59 minutes and twice as much as the nearly 3 hours Fox News spent on the story. However, Fox News increased its attention to the story and its coverage time was on par with CNN’s by Aug. 15, according to Pew.

“The decision by Fox News to devote less time to the events in Ferguson than the other networks did was similar to how the channels covered the controversy surrounding Trayvon Martin’s shooting in March 2012,” Pew senior researcher Paul Hitlin said in a blog post.

Meanwhile, Pew found that the Ferguson story emerged on Twitter before it was picked up by the cable news nets, which quickly caught up. On  Aug. 10, the day after Brown’s death, there were about 146,000 tweets posted on the subject. On the following, both Fox News and MSNBC devoted time to the story during their evening primetime lineup, but CNN did not. By Aug. 12, all three cable channels budgeted significant time to the story after two nights of protests had led to confrontations with police.

For the study, Pew analyzed three hours per day of primetime news programming on the three major cable news channels from Aug. 10-15. For Fox News, the hours examined were 8-11 p.m. Eastern; for MSNBC, it was 7-10 p.m. Eastern; and for CNN the hours were 7-9 and 10-11 p.m. Eastern.

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