By Brian Stelter
The 10-year-old war in Afghanistan remained just a blip on the American news media’s radar in 2011.
Of all the news content in newspapers and on the Web, television and radio this year, Afghanistan accounted for about 2 percent of coverage, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism, an arm of the Pew Research Center.
Six other subjects were given more sustained attention than the war there. In descending order, they were the economy in the United States; the unrest in the Middle East; the 2012 presidential election; the earthquake, tsunami and ensuing nuclear disaster in Japan; the killing of Osama bin Laden; and the shooting in Tucson in which six were killed and Representative Gabrielle Giffords, Democrat of Arizona, was critically injured.
The figures come from the project’s weekly monitoring of 52 major papers, news Web sites, TV networks and stations, and radio stations. The project uses that sample to show what is atop the national news agenda, and what is not.
In a year-end report last week, the project’s researchers noted that “despite a drop in coverage of the war in Afghanistan,” there was an increase in international news over all, owing largely to the war in Libya and the protests in Egypt, Tunisia and other countries. The United States’ withdrawal from Iraq accounted for less than 1 percent of all news coverage.
Since Pew started its weekly monitoring in 2007, the war in Afghanistan has never accounted for more than 5 percent of all news coverage on an annual basis. In 2010, Afghanistan accounted for 4 percent of all news coverage.
The United States has about 91,000 troops in Afghanistan now. For much of this year and last, about 100,000 United States troops were in the country.
The news executives that pay for bureaus in Afghanistan have had to contend with tight news-gathering budgets, safety concerns and, in some cases, a perception that American audiences are not interested in the situation.
The relative dearth of coverage has brought occasional criticism in the United States, particularly from those who recall vigorous coverage of the Vietnam War. “Other than in its early stages in 2001-2002, the American press has greatly underreported this war,” John Hanrahan, formerly the executive director of the Fund for Investigative Journalism, wrote in an essay for Nieman Watchdog in August.
“This paucity of reporting — the almost total reliance on just a few reporters — has stark implications for how the war is perceived back home,” Mr. Hanrahan wrote. “The fewer the reporters, the fewer the first-hand accounts needed for citizens to form knowledgeable opinions of the war.”