To paraphrase Vladimir Lenin, there are decades where nothing happens and years where everything happens – 2020 has certainly been the latter.
As many of us around the world have spent extended time with limited physical interactions with people outside our homes or bubbles, social media and traditional media have played an even more dominant role in shaping our perceptions of the world.
So, what did the English language media focus on this year (to the end of November)?
COVID-19 – No one will be surprised to learn that COVID-19 has been far and away THE story of 2020. Indeed 40% of all articles have referenced the virus. No other story this year (or indeed in any year since online records made the analytics that I’m running possible) has any other story come close to this level of pervasiveness.
But of course, there were plenty of other big stories in 2020.
Donald Trump – With the incredibly high-profile American presidential election, 4.3% of all media stories in 2020 referenced Donald J. Trump.
Climate change received just one third the coverage that Trump achieved – just 1.5% of articles. To many, this statistic might be perceived as an indictment of the priorities of the media. After all, how can one person (regardless of their position) deserve three times as much coverage as an issue that threatens everyone on earth? But before we jump on the far too popular bandwagon of people condemning the media and journalists, let’s remember that journalists have to cover stories that people actually read and having Trump in the headline gets more clicks than climate change – it’s at least partly our collective fault for what we choose to click on.
Brexit in 2019 was referenced in nearly 2% of global English language coverage; however, this year as many observers warn that the United Kingdom is hurtling towards the precipice of a no deal exit from the European Union, just 0.5% of all articles in 2020 have made any reference to the unfolding situation.
And what about our industry?
Shipping never dominates the global headlines (at least not for long) but people, including myself, who believe that our sector would benefit from a higher profile, will be pleased to learn that coverage of our industry has been slowly trending up over the last few years. In 2019 our industry was covered in 0.32% of articles which increased to 0.43% in 2020.
In a year dominated by massive stories as 2020 has been, this uptick is somewhat surprising, and I think attributable to a mix of factors both positive and negative.
Negative: Mainstream coverage of the Wakashio oil spill in Mauritius and the explosion in Beirut, Lebanon generated thousands of stories about our industry that were predominantly negative.
Positive: The crew change crisis and the voices of those in our industry who have spoken out about the issue have done more to raise awareness of the contribution that our industry makes to society than any other issue in recent memory. While a hugely problematic issue for our industry and especially for seafarers and their families, the crew change crisis has on the whole improved public perceptions of our industry (a small thin silver lining).
More generally, I believe that companies in our sector are investing more (it doesn’t take much) in speaking about the contributions that our industry makes and the innovations in our sector.
I hope this trend will continue. I believe it will.