Media Cloud

Blog

News and Updates

2020: A Year in News Coverage

What did the year 2020 look like in US news coverage? We analyzed over 27 million stories from over 10,000 US-based news sources published during 2020 to answer this question. Per our typical Media Cloud research methodology, we pay special attention to the events driving coverage, the top words used in coverage, and the top people mentioned in the news.

Top Stories

As the top words used in coverage reveal, there were three major stories dominating news coverage in 2020: the coronavirus pandemic, the presidential campaigns and election, and issue of police brutality against people of color, as exemplified by the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the ensuing protests. 

Top 100 most frequently used words in US news stories from 2020 (sample of 10,000 stories)

Top 100 most frequently used words in US news stories from 2020 (sample of 10,000 stories)

  • Top words from the thread of coverage on coronavirus include: “coronavirus,” “covid,” “pandemic,” “virus,” “hospital,” “masks,” “infected,” “deaths,” “outbreak,” “vaccine,” “crisis,” “distancing,” “quarantine,” and “symptoms.”  

  • Top words from the thread of coverage on the election include: “Trump,” “democratic,” “election,” “Biden,” “campaign,” “Republican,” “district,” “ballots,” “senate,” “poll,” “presidential,” “rally,” “Sanders,” and “supporters.”

  • Top words from the thread of coverage on the police brutality protests include: “protests,” “Floyd,” and “George.”

Coronavirus pandemic

Over one-third (37%) of stories in 2020 referenced the coronavirus pandemic. During the first surge in spring, nearly 75% of stories were about the virus. This is an unprecedented level of attention to a singular topic. For context, the day of and after election day, only one-third of stories mentioned the election.

Volume of stories over time matching [coronavirus OR covid OR pandemic OR virus] for 2020, charted as normalized percent of all stories

Volume of stories over time matching [coronavirus OR covid OR pandemic OR virus] for 2020, charted as normalized percent of all stories

State and local news outlets had slightly lower levels of attention to the pandemic, at 36% of stories compared to national sources, at 43%. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci was the 11th most frequently mentioned individual in coverage, included in 0.7% of stories for the year. He was the second most mentioned non-politician, after George Floyd who ranked third. Andrew Cuomo, who while a politician was included in the news primarily in the context of New York’s coronavirus response, was the 13th most mentioned person, also with 0.7% of stories. 

2020 election

10% of stories in 2020 mentioned the election and preceding campaigns. Election coverage appears to have increased the total number of stories published as the election drew near in late fall. In the chart below, of stories published per month, there is a marked increase beginning in September that continues through the end of the year.  

Story volume over time for all US news stories in 2020, charted by month

Story volume over time for all US news stories in 2020, charted by month

Donald Trump was the most mentioned individual in the news last year, with 8% of articles referencing him. Joe Biden was second most mentioned, at 4% of stories. Several Democratic presidential hopefuls were also among the top mentioned individuals for the year. 

Police brutality against people of color

George Floyd was the third most mentioned individual in the news in 2020, following only Donald Trump and Joe Biden. He was mentioned in 2% of stories, and his name was among the top 100 most frequently used words in coverage for the year. On May 31, nearly one week into the protests following his death, George Floyd was mentioned in 36% of news stories. 

Breonna Taylor, who was also killed by police during 2020, while not mentioned in the top 100 words, was the 15th most frequently mentioned individual, included in 0.4% of stories. 

Stories that mentioned George Floyd were frequently framed in language connecting his death to wider issues of racial injustice and related protest, with words like, “systemic,” “injustice,” and “inequality” included in the top used words for this coverage. 

Top 100 most frequently used words in stories mentioning George Floyd

Top 100 most frequently used words in stories mentioning George Floyd

Newsmakers

As in previous years, politicians were by far the most mentioned individuals in US news coverage in 2020, with 73% of the top 100 individuals. State governors comprised a good amount of these politicians, in the context of their coronavirus pandemic responses as well as in political and election contexts. 

Contextual categories of top 100 most frequently mentioned individuals 

Contextual categories of top 100 most frequently mentioned individuals 

Individuals from categories outside of politics and government were as follows. 

  • International Affairs (8): Boris Johnson, Vladimir Putin, Emmanuel Macron, Xi Jinping, Angela Merkel, Benjamin Netanyahu, Qassem Soleimani, Jair Bolsonaro

  • Sports (7): Tom Brady, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Michael Jordan, Cam Newton

  • Police Brutality (4): George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Derek Chauvin, Jacob Blake

  • Coronavirus (4): Anthony Fauci, Deborah Birx, Robert Redfield, Alex Azar

  • Religion (2): Pope Francis, Jesus Christ

  • Other (2): Martin Luther King Jr., Mark Zuckerberg

Do your own exploration into the news in 2020 using this link to our Explorer tool. If you are interested in the coverage a certain term or topic got within the year, simply replace the asterisk with your specific keywords. 

Media Cloud