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A media event, as loosely defined by evolving modern usage, is an occasion or happening, spontaneous or planned, that attracts prominent coverage by mass media organizations, particularly television news and newspapers in both print and Internet editions.The element of immediacy (as in "breaking news") is crucial in spontaneous media events, while in planned events like a major speech by a national leader or a public demonstration against a government action, the prime importance of the subject matter itself is relied upon to elevate the occasion to true media event status. When individuals or groups attempt to generate publicity for themselves through a contrived media event, the occasion almost never captures widespread interest in the way a "naturally" occurring event does—such attempts are usually thought of as instances of "spin" or media manipulation, despite the use of the term "media event" by advertising agencies or other planners.


Media events in the serious contemporary sense of the term have been happening roughly since the early 1940s, when the ubiquity of movie-house newsreels joined with the established presence of newspapers and commercial radio to form a communications convergence able to give the man-or-woman-on-the-street the sense that everywhere he or she looked or listened, the same "story" was before them. This media saturation was greatly furthered by television, invented in the late 1920s and reaching millions of households by 1950. Starting around 1980, 24-hour cable television news operations debuted with great fanfare, with their signature use of new civilian satellite links that made on-camera live or near-live reporting from almost any spot on earth feasible while the event was still underway or its immediate aftermath continued to affect those involved. Finally, the emergence of the World Wide Web in 1994, allowing for instant global reporting, debating, polling and blogging, completed the communications environment of today, wherein a media event of global significance, or even one of limited geographical scope but consisting of particularly unusual or affecting content, can literally claim the time and attention of most of the world's people as events unfold.

Media events can hold sway on many levels, from a small city television viewership up to the entire planet, sometimes occupying a smaller audience non-stop while a larger audience is fed sporadic updates. For instance, the dramatic twists and turns of Viktor Yushchenko's 2005 bid for the Ukrainianmarker presidency, featuring poisoning plots, voter intimidation, outraged citizens demonstrating in the capital city and other tense, "newsworthy" developments, easily constituted an extensive media event within Ukraine itself even as international mass media followed it closely but did not grant it uninterrupted coverage. By contrast, the September 11, 2001 attacks did reach the plateau of a sustained, planet-wide media event, due mostly to the unprecedented realtime visuals, the involvement of citizens and perpetrators from many different countries and cultures, and a single-day intentional taking of human life not seen at such levels in the developed world since the end of World War II.

The coverage of global and national media events has become a pillar of large news organizations, which often operate at scant profitability in-between these major occurrences. Public opinion, and even baseline attitudes of one culture towards another, can be largely determined by what is seen and heard during a major media event, and the entire careers of journalists can be made (or un-made) by their conduct during these iconic situations. In the United Statesmarker, the first full bore post-WWII media event was the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedymarker, and it, to a great extent, determined the unwritten hierarchy of American journalists and "news personalities" for the succeeding 40 years. The development of "glasnost" and the ensuing fall of Communism in Russia was a similar determinant for journalists there.

Parallel instances for almost every nation or region can be found, with the major media event corresponding to the shared memory of a "defining moment" often felt in personal, yet nationalistic, terms. The fall of the Berlin Wallmarker in November, 1989 was such a moment for Germans on both sides; the resolution of the Chinese Civil War in 1950 still resounds in that nation; the achievement of independence from Great Britainmarker in 1980 by Zimbabwemarker (formerly Rhodesia) was a defining moment which dominated news reporting on several continents at the time; the invasion, starting on March 20, 2003, that deposed Iraqmarker's Saddam Hussein was one of the few modern media events capturing the attention of a majority of the planet's adults and will likely be commemorated in Iraq, in celebration or infamy, for generations, accompanied by news footage first transmitted that day. The distinguishing characteristic of all these is a day or other short period of time during which changes of great importance came to a head, lending themselves to breaking news-style media coverage.


General Sources

Daniel Dayan and Elihu Katz, Media Events: The Live Broadcasting of History (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992)

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