Media trends from the Top 100 People of 2018

January 31, 2019
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore

Just like most stories from the past three years, this too is a Trump story.

Donald Trump ended 2018 as the most mentioned person by U.S. media of the year.  Not much shock there— between his controversial political, personal and editorial choices, President Trump provided more than enough material for journalists to work with. What’s more interesting is the volume of coverage related to him compared to the people and issues unrelated to him last year.

We used Media Cloud to examine all of the stories published by over 10,000 United States media sources in 2018. From the mentions of the top100 talked about people of the year, Donald Trump accounts for one-third of all mentions, with 2.8 million mentions (see graph 1.) He comes up in about 7% of all US news stories (graph 2,) which has been his average for the past three years, however, the gap between his percentage and that of the second most mentioned person of the year doubled since 2016.

Additionally, the people related to him, specifically to the Russian collusion investigation, were mentioned at a disproportionate rate to everyone else in 2018. Illustrated in the graph 3, nearly half of the mentions of the top100 people belong to the19 people on the list related to the Mueller investigation. Incessant updates on the administration and the investigation warranted the horde of coverage publishers dedicated to them. But looking at the data makes us wonder: what important figures and stories fell through the cracks of Trump-mania?

Looking past the president, another thing to note about the list is the absence of women. There are only 14 women on the list total. Women appear in two of the seven roles the top 100 occupy, having the highest count in politics, at 14 (graph 4.) Although 2018 was a year of empowered women spearheaded by the Me Too and Time’s Up movements, the central figures of these narratives as reported by the news media were men. That's likely due to one man being linked to many women, like with Bill Cosby (number 91 the list) or Harvey Weinstein (number 29). However, for Brett Kavanaugh, the fifth most mentioned person by U.S. media last year, one woman, Christine Blasey Ford, is connected to most of the dialogue around him. She is listed as the 23rd most mentioned person of the year.

In a reprieve from government officials, the media turned to athletes as the second largest group of the top 100 (graph 5.) Lebron James was the most mentioned athlete of the year and the eleventh most mentioned person overall. Last year’s sports coverage is consistent with the two years prior, with just about the same number of figures and percentage of all U.S. stories. However, the same cannot be said for culture. Figures in culture have been on a gradual decline in public discourse since Donald Trump took office. In 2016,12 of top 100 people were in the culture category. In 2017 that number dropped to eight. Last year it was six (note: three of those six cultural figures have sexual allegations against them.) The West/Kardashian/Jenner clan had an eventful 2018 but none of them made the list. Neither did Cardi B, pop culture’s it-girl of the year.  There was an abundance of culture material media could have covered, so why the drop in attention? Our off the cuff theories are that the media figured there were more important things to pay attention to or that the turbulence of the administration gave the audience the gossip fix celebrity life used to.

We expect politicians to keep their reign of top mentions in 2019, but look forward to more diverse names making the list following the historic mid-term elections last year and as campaigns gear up for the 2020 election.

Check out the queries used to pull the data from this post by following the links: 2018, 2017 and 2016.