When Michael Jackson died, I wondered how quickly the conversation about him would fade online and how long it would persist on TV “news.” Well, it didn’t take long to see the divergence: TV thinks we’re still buzzing about MJ. But online, we’re not.

Here’s Blogpulse on mentions of Michael Jackson:


Here’s the dropoff of Michael Jackson searches on Google Trends:


Michael Jackson and variants owned Twitter Trends when the news broke; now it is off the home-page list (MJ’s is there, but that appears to be the handiwork of a Twitter spammer [a “spitter”?].

See today‘s most-viewed videos on YouTube: Only one related video (a Michael Jackson dance video, ranked #14) in the top 10.

Digg’s not a very good measure since the half-life of buzz there is as fast as the single wing-flap of a bee, but on the front page as I write this is only one story about Jackson’s worth.

None of these measurements is perfect. But they all show that we had consuming interest in Jackson when the news came out but that quickly faded. Yet cable news and the network morning shows especially are still ODing on MJ. My theory is that if one is doing it, all do it until the first one has the courage to break off; it’s peer pressure. But out here, it doesn’t take us long to get sick of their obessions.

: Cases in point: Right now, Matt Lauer is giving a tour of Neverland and Michael’s closet – including a secret section of Michael’s closet. CBS is promising a special report on the women in Michael’s life. Oh, for someone on TV with a sense of irony.

: Pew says that two-thirds of Americans think the Jackson story got too much coverage.

  • Jarvis,

    Thanks for this post with its data. You’ve captured what I believe the reflect general consumer fatigue with stories that go on with little news “news” behind them. It seems to be endemic to TV news, reflecting both its business model -“hyping a big story for ratings” – and as you point out, an out-of-touch herd mindset.

  • Check the coverage on the three broadcast network’s weekday nightly newscasts and you will find that their news judgment closely tracks that on the blogosphere: out of a total newshole of 60 minutes, Jacko’s day-to-day coverage went Thursday 24, Friday 57, Monday 12, Tuesday 8.

    Just fancy that! It seems that the oldest of the old media have a similar judgment to the newest of the new. When Gail Nelson says the hyping is “endemic to TV news” she overlooks those TV newscasts that happen to have the largest ratings.

    • Andrew,
      Thanks. I was trying to find these stats on your site.
      The evening news is not as bad as the morning shows and cable, eh?

  • paulden

    { I wondered how quickly the conversation about him would fade online and how long it would persist on TV “news.” }


    OK, some Americans know that TV “news” is neither news nor journalism.

    But how would one define it correctly ?

    (…what do all those TV “news” people actually deliver ??)

  • Jeff – By these metrics, the top stories in the newscast should be:

    – According to YouTube most-played:
    *Unknown Lifeform in California Sewer
    *Family Guy – Dinner With Jesus
    *Cheerleader Fail
    *Peter Facinelli and Rob DeFranko Single Ladies Bikini Dance
    *Wisdom Teeth and Viktor Stood Me Up

    – According to Twitter Trending Topics
    *Michael Jackson
    *Jeff Goldblum
    *Air France

    -According to BlogPulse Key People for July 1, 2009
    1: Michael Jackson
    2: President Obama
    3: Farrah Fawcett
    4: Harry Potter
    5: Mark Sanford
    6: Karl Malden
    7: Sarah Palin
    8: Billie Jean
    9: Diana Ross
    10: Britney Spears

    So, firstly, I’d say MJ as a story is far from dead, but second, which of these alternatives would you like to see in your newscast? Other than a number of BlogPulse’s top people — for which MJ’s #1 and his fictional character is #8 — there’s not a lot there I’d like to see.

    • I think your confusing causation and correlation sir. It seems to me that Jeff is arguing that the internet is no longer covering the story to the extent that the TV ‘news’ is covering it. Where internet coverage has peaked, TV news has likely plateaued.

      Your own “YouTube Most Played” list show that there are no Jackson videos being watched.

      Twitter trending topics suggests that the Iran Election, Air France, Wimbledon, and Jackson are all topics worth discussing.

      And though limiting the BlogPulse Search to people is a bit confusing to me, I see 8 other names there that could be talked about.

      The point is that Jeff’s data isn’t trying to suggest what should be covered, just what that one subject shouldn’t.

      • Yes, and the Iran election, Air France, and Wimbledon are definitely being covered. But the point is pretty clear: looking at viral metrics to give an idea of what should be covered as news wouldn’t be a good guide for deciding what to put in a newscast. So why should it be a metric for what to exclude?

  • Tom Wolper

    If any TV news outlet, whether network, cable, or local, thinks a big story will need followup feature pieces, it’s going to take a few days to put together the pieces and get them shot.

    • Tex Lovera

      And there, precisely, is the problem: “it will take a few days”.

      In the meantime, I’ve already read/seen/heard all I need to know via blogs/internet. TV can only dredge up “Entertainment Tonight” vault crap.

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  • The data is helpful, but I’d posit another theory about the difference. It’s very difficult to produce cable “news” pieces, and it’s very easy to produce blog posts and tweets (relatively speaking, anyway). When the TV people get a topic they can keep making pieces about, they ride that horse until it falls over.

    You can keep iterating MJ stories all day long if you can back it up with some visuals, an interview with someone tangentially connected, and a recitation of his career achievements.

    Not to say that doesn’t really make for unwatchable TV, but that’s another topic… :)

  • Alex

    Interesting post, though if you really want to round off your argument, you could try and find the figures for viewing numbers on tv news. If you’re right, the numbers should be lower than average now as people would be switching off the MJ stories.

    • Hi – interesting thoughts, however alex’s post above is something worth pursuing.

      Most TV execs and news editors are pretty good at what they do. The moment they sensed (and a good editor CAN sense these things) or saw (the overnights and weekly adjusted figures provide the bald facts) their audiences tiring of schlocky, endless, banal MJ stories would be the moment they stopped.

      The disparity between the internet trending data and the TV news running order suggests each is targeted at an “audience” which, although it has significant overlaps, wants different things.

      Nick (a UK-based TV reporter)

  • “Spitter” — zing! Curse you and your catchphrasely skills, Jarvis!

  • Oooh, just you wait. Once the Nielsen numbers come out, in like a week or so, you’ll get your comeuppance. I’m sure the specials are very popular.

  • This bullshit means literally nothing. Just because people don’t mention his name as much doesn’t mean they aren’t mourning the loss and remembering a great man.

    Plus, nothing will ever beat the sheer number of searches/tweets when he was initially pronounced dead. Nothing will ever be as shocking/worth discussing.

    Your data means jack shit.

    • Well, aren’t you a sweetheart? Sorry you’re apparently so distressed you can’t be civilized. That’s what’s bullshit, my friend, an anonymous fool who can’t just make his fucking point.

    • Tex Lovera

      WTF, Charlie?? What do you mean by “nothing will ever beat”? Is this a contest to you?

  • nikki

    it still is coming up in general conversation with my friends and myself. right now i am watching a cnn report on mj, while listening to his on youtube. i noticed how every song i played had pages and pages of comments left within the past few 6 seconds to 20 minutes! that says something. im not even a crazy fan. i say you are off the mark

  • Lots of complaints about excessive coverage here in the UK:

    “The BBC said today [July 1st] it had received 748 complaints, with one senior source revealing that there were 10 to 15 times more complaints from viewers about Jackson than about BBC executives’ expenses, which were published last week.”


  • It seems that perhaps we online users are less interested in the gossip than the other forms of media definitely are.

    When ever I turn on the television there is at least one report or mention of Michael Jackson still on a daily basis (sometimes even every couple of hours if I manage that much time to sit and watch).

    I guess for those of us who have other things to do the interest is fading, as it would appear with the graph information you have supplied, however I would have to say that as this blog is about MJ himself then perhaps the information is not entirely true.

    Either way, whatever media the more shocking the information the more interest there is likely to be. Yes?


  • Liz

    Your facts aren’t indicative of the world’s pulse and how it feels about Michael Jackson. I, for one, am getting my MJ info on television now as opposed to the net when he first passed. I don’t need to google, watch a YouTube video etc when I have all I need or want via my t.v. remote control. Your stats just show the television coverage has replaced the Internet option for the time being.

  • I think the Michael Jackson after-death phenomenon will continue to be highly significant in both MSM and the online world for months. After next week’s funeral service we’ll see thousands of hours of video appearing on YouTube, etc. Then, as revelations are made about toxicology reports, the will, child custody, surgical procedures, etc., etc. the “newsy” blogs and tweets will crank up to dissect (sorry) every detail. Look for two to three months of that kind of info.

    Meanwhile, the mash-ups and tributes will continue, fueled by a genuine connection with Jackson (as seen in millions of people watching videos and purchasing his music) and the ongoing MSM (especially cable network) feeding frenzy. As we get closer to 2010, we’ll see plenty of “story of the year” recaps taking up big chunks of airtime. Of course, any huge revelations regarding Jackson’s demise will spike the coverage.

    I look at the Jackson’s as the first disruptive death in the Internet age. The numbers we saw that day (especially the truly remarkable Google numbers leading them to believe themselves under attack) were unprecedented. No single event has affected Web traffic this significantly http://bit.ly/wpKhb. These numbers, the growth of Twitter, the remarkable #Iranelection phenomenon, and imagining what will happen the next time a disruptive global event takes place (e.g., major city disaster), must have led to a lot of revised contingency planning in data centers all over the world. To me it’s truly amazing that one single person’s death could lead to the expenditure of this much human energy.

  • Jeff, check this out. Charts the TV coverage – http://bit.ly/109oId

  • Great analysis Jeff. The only thing, playing Devil’s Advocate, is that I would suggest people still watching cable news are not necessarily the folks blogging or participating in the online discussions.

  • Hi Jeff,

    wait till tuesday and he will buzz again, as LA goes down


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  • Anita

    Hi Jeff,

    I agree with Liz & Tony G. Michael is a global phenomenon and will continue to dominate the news, irrespective of device and platform, for a long time and would perhaps be among the highest news “trend” for 2009, albeit on a very sad note.


  • On today’s evening news broadcasts, stories on the arms accord, the heaviest day of casualties in Afghanistan in a year, and the death of Robert McNamara (a man of true historical importance), the programs were still dominated by Michael Jackson, with Katie Couric even broadcasting live from the Staples Center. Even if you acknowledge his contributions as an entertainer, this is overkill, pure and simple. Of course, here I am writing about it on this blog and on my own adding to the overkill.

  • Ambrose Pierce

    Jeff, I would highly suggest you take a statistics and research methodology class before you go drawing conclusions about data. Once again, your half-baked theory has fallen flat on its face. Why? Because you’re not thinking critically. You are interpreting the data in a way that fits your personal bias. Sooo old school.

    Of course there is going to be a spike in interest and then a steep decline. How long, exactly, did you expect people to maintain interest? You would need to compare the spike and decline to another historic event of equal magnitude to draw any reasonable conclusions. TV is basically ignoring Flogpost and Twit numbers because they like to think they have their own audience. Are they right? Are the same dopes who are surfing the internet also watching television? How much overlap is there between the two groups? There is no way to tell because the groups are in constant flux. Are we comparing apples with oranges? There is no way to tell. These are questions you need to ask yourself before drawing conclusions. The problem is that there are too many unknowns.

    In the meantime, you need to put on your clown boots, do a jig for us, and post it to Youtube.

    30 million viewers doesn’t sound to me like anyone has lost interest in MJ, except maybe one spoiled, grumpy, middle-aged blogger with nothing better to do:


    -Ambrose Pierce

    • “Ambrose,”
      And I suggest you take courses in basic civility, etiquette, and intelligence before making comments. You can make you points without be an ass, you know. It’s possible. Really, it is.

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