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PEJ: Fox News and MSNBC Had Similar News Agendas in 2011

Cable operators had different definitions of news in 2011, though Fox and MSNBC were more on the same page, while one network newscast appeared to be delivering on a promise of taking a harder news edge.

That is according to a year-in-review report from Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, based primarily on content analysis drawn from PEJ's New Media and News Coverage indices.

According to that analysis, MSNBC and Fox were actually more attuned in their treatment of the worsening economy than either was with CNN. MSNBC gave the story 30% of the airtime studies, and Fox 21%, while CNN only gave it 14%. PEJ pointed out that both Fox and MSNBC have sibling business news channels, which might account for the amount of coverage.

The tables turned in terms of international coverage, with CNN, which has a sibling international channel, devoting 34% to international news, with only 20% for Fox and 14% for MSNBC.

Although historically the network newscasts have not had marked variations in coverage, says PEJ, but third-place CBS' signal it was looking to return to its hard news roots, appeared to be beginning to differentiate itself, said the report's authors.

CBS devoted 30% to two major stories, Middle East unrest and the economy, while ABC gave 24% of its news hole to those stoies, and NBC 23%.

CBS also spent less time on celebrity, lifestyle or sports stories -- 7% vs. 9% for ABC and 11% for NBC -- and less time on disaster coverage: 7% vs. 11% for ABC and 9% for NBC.

PBS' NewsHour distinguished itself by devoting far more space to international events and U.S. foreign policy at 39% of its news hole versus compared to 28% in the general media sample, 23% on cable news, and 24% on the network evening broadcasts. But even so, the general sample showed an over 1.3 jump in the number of international stories.

The top story of the year was the U.S. economy at 20% of the news coverage, followed by Arab Spring at 12% and the presidential race at 9%. President Barack Obama was the top newsmaker, while two of the top eight newsmakers got their by dying: Muammar Gaddafi (#2) and Osama Bin Laden (#8). Also in the top 10 were presidential hopefuls Herman Cain. Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich, at numbers 3-6. House member and assassination attempt-survivor Gabrielle Giffords was the seventh biggest newsmaker, with House Speaker John Boehner and House now-ex member Rep. Anthony Weiner at numbers 9 and 10, respectively.

The Year in the News report was based on analysis of almost 46,000 stories produced Jan. 1-Dec. 11, 2011 by 52 traditional news outlets from main five media sectors, cable, broadcast network newscasts, national radio, online and print.