Today marks the beginning of what is likely to be a closely watched courtroom battle—the murder trial of George Zimmerman for the fatal shooting of 17-year old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida on February 26, 2012.
While there has been ongoing coverage of the case and the run-up to the trial, it may be hard to remember just how big—and polarizing—the racially charged story was when it broke more than a year ago. In the five years that Pew Research Center tracked weekly news coverage (January 2007-May 2012), the Martin killing received the highest level of sustained coverage of any story with a major racial component. And public interest in the story broke down along racial and partisan lines, with blacks and Democrats paying much more attention to news about the case than whites and Republicans.
While the shooting death of Martin quickly began generating attention on social media, mainstream media coverage started slowly, taking several weeks after the February 26 killing to build.
That partisan divide seems to have been reflected in some of the cable coverage last year. A study of cable news during part of the peak coverage period—from March 19-28, 2012—found very different levels of attention on MSNBC and the Fox News Channel. On the former, with its liberal-leaning prime time lineup, the Martin killing accounted for 49% of the airtime studied during that period. Fox, with its conservative-tilting prime time hosts, devoted only 15% of its airtime to the case. (On CNN, the story accounted for 40% of the airtime studied.)