The cable news networks have proven extremely committed to the George Zimmerman trial over the past week, often to the exclusion of nearly every other major story.
On Monday, for instance, 19 firefighters died in Arizona, President Obama was in Africa, Nelson Mandela was still in critical condition in the hospital, and Egypt was going through an immense--and, with its huge crowds of protesters wielding green laser pointers and blasting President Mohammed Morsi, an extremely TV-friendly--upheaval. On CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, though, there was almost no time for any of those stories.
Instead, viewers saw hours of testimony and video from the trial of the man who killed Trayvon Martin. When they weren't airing the trial itself, the networks were talking to a rotating cast of legal analysts about the trial. Few of the broader contextual stories about the case and its racial and sociopolitical overtones were discussed.
It was only when there was an extended break, or when the trial ended in the afternoon, that other stories could be contemplated for any period of time.
Viewers could watch the network's tickers to see what stories they were missing; CNN, for example, had lots of news about Egypt and Edward Snowden in its crawl.
Tuesday morning's newspapers showed just how skewed the networks' focus was. The New York Times led its front page with a four-column headline about Egypt. Zimmerman didn't make the cut. He didn't even make the front page of the Miami Herald or the Tampa Bay Times, which are much closer to the location of the trial. (The Orlando Sentinel did put the trial on A1.)
The Zimmerman trial is certainly a major news story that deserves coverage, and it's far from the first time that viewer-hungry networks have trained their attention on one story. Moreover, the coverage appears to be paying off in the ratings. In the Internet age, it's also something audiences may see more and more. When viewers can get the big news in a million places, networks could very well decide to focus on a much smaller number of stories they don't think people can easily get elsewhere.