Driving & Plane Crash Media Coverage

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Driving & Plane Crash Media Coverage

A firsthand analysis of two news aggregation sites resulted in an estimated 438 media articles for every 1 commercial plane crash fatality (438:1), and about 106 media articles for every 1 car crash fatality (106:1) as of 2018. In other words, there is approximately 4x the number of media articles published about commercial plane crashes as compared to car crashes. According to a 2018 academic report, media coverage decisions of these topics are driven primarily by a commercial drive for media outlets to publish negative stories, the need to pick and choose which stories to publish (as media outlets don't have the resources to discuss all newsworthy events), and a focus on publishing stories about events that happen infrequently, as these are seen as more noteworthy. Overall, negativity, proximity, and unexpectedness are all factors that news outlets consider when deciding which stories to publish.

Amount of Media Coverage: Plane Crashes vs. Car Crashes

  • Google News returned 190,000 results about commercial plane crashes in 2018, and 132,000,000 results about car crashes in 2018.
  • NewsLookup returned 53,336 results about commercial plane crashes in 2018, and 1,742 about car crashes in 2018.
  • In 2018, there was a total of 556 deaths as a result of plane accidents.
  • About 1.25 million people die in road crashes globally each year.
  • A study published in 2018 conducted a longitudinal content analysis from 1991 to 2015 which revealed that media attention related to aviation accidents increased over time despite the fact that the total number of aviation incidents declined during this same period.

Drivers of Media Coverage Decisions

Factor 1: Commercial Drive to Publish Negative Stories

  • A 2018 report notes that "media are frequently skewed toward the negative side if it comes to selecting news items."
  • The reason for this is that negative news stories are "believed to garner the highest ratings," according to the report.
  • Some scholars believe that the media is under commercial pressure, therefore, their drive to publish negative and exceptional stores has increased over time. As such, 'negativity' has become "the most dominant selection criteria of today's media logics."

Factor 2: Not All Events Can Be Covered

  • A 2018 study notes that "media and journalists often struggle to completely cover what happens in society." As such, they have to be selective about which events they cover. This is because media organizations are restricted in terms of resources.
  • The study notes that media organizations "aim to reduce the complexity and simplify news selection with the use of certain standardized news production processes". These selection heuristics include values such as negativity, proximity, and unexpectedness.
  • This selection process makes way for bias preference of certain types of events and issues that will garner the most attention.

Factor 3: Focus on Infrequent Incidents

  • A 2018 report notes that "since news is by definition about the extraordinary and exceptional, media are commonly found to portray infrequent and isolated incidents."
  • Because of this, the infrequency with which certain events occur serves to explain, in part, why those events tend to receive more attention.

Research Strategy

To conduct this research, a firsthand analysis of media articles relating to airplane and car crashes in 2018 was conducted in order to provide a sampling of the number of media articles published in a year about this topic. Google News and NewsLookup were used to gather this data as these resources allow for targeted searching of articles containing specific keywords and also show the total number of results returned. Next, research was conducted to understand the number of fatalities that occurred in 2018 for car and plane crashes. While a hard figure was obtained for plane fatalities (globally), only an annual average could be obtained for car crash fatalities (globally). The reason why fatalities were analyzed instead of total number of crashes is because these figures were more readily available. Nonetheless, we used this collective information to calculate the ratio of media articles per every one fatality. The results of these calculations show that there are about 438 media articles for every 1 commercial plane crash fatality, and about 106 media articles for every 1 car crash fatality. (Calculations are shown below).

It should be noted here that prior to conducting this first-hand analysis, our team also conducted research across academic studies, surveys, and trusted media articles in order to find a precompiled answer to this question. However, aside from the data already presented in the initial research for this project, we were only able to find some interesting related insights, but no direct answer that shows exactly how much more media coverage do commercial plane crashes get as compared to car crashes.


190,000 + 53,336 = 243,336 media stories about commercial plane crashes in 2018.
132,000,000 + 1,742 = 132,001,742 media stories about car crashes in 2018.
243,336 / 556 plane crash fatalities in 2018 = About 438.
132,001,742 / 1,250,000 car crash fatalities (annual average) = About 106.