SAN DIEGO, July 13, 2013 – As jurors deliberate in the trial of George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida, television networks are preparing for coverage of the verdict reminiscent of the O.J. Simpson trial verdict 18 years ago on October 3, 1995.
Jurors had reached their verdict the previous afternoon after just four hours of deliberation, but Judge Lance Ito held the announcement until the next morning, giving news media ample time to prepare their personnel and promote their special coverage of the verdict.
It isn’t likely Judge Debra Nelson will give the media that much lead time before the jury’s verdict is announced. It could even come during a weekend when the broadcast and cable news organizations’ big stars aren’t on the clock, leaving weekend crews and less experienced personnel to deal with it.
The Zimmerman trial has meant big ratings at a traditionally slow time of year for news. On Friday, Fox News, MSNBC, HLN and CNN were all covering the closing arguments live. The broadcast networks are covering the trial, but it hasn’t been the lead story. In the final week, the Arizona wildfires and Asiana Airlines crash led the broadcast networks’ nightly newscasts.
Still, expect all news organizations to try and grab a piece of what should be blockbuster audiences and big ratings numbers. Trial coverage has resulting in increased viewership. HLN reports triple-digit increases in both total viewers as well as audiences between the ages of 25 and 54, the demographic advertisers covet most in news programming, according to a report in Variety.
HLN reports it is prepared to mobilize and go live whenever a verdict is reached, even if it is on a weekend night when the network normally relies on taped programming. Anchor Nancy Grace will be live on HLN whenever the verdict is read, day or night. Anchors Jane Velez-Mitchell and Ryan Smith will offer reports live from Sanford, Florida.
ABC News announced it is prepared to air a special report when jurors in the Zimmerman trial reach a verdict. ABC News Chief Legal Affairs Anchor Dan Abrams and correspondent Matt Gutman will offer reporting and analysis. The two staffers will report on the verdict for all ABC News programs including “World News with Diane Sawyer,” “Good Morning America,” and “Nightline.”
Fox News will devote the entire hour of its highly rated Hannity show to the case, featuring a live studio audience. Host Sean Hannity did the only television interview with Zimmerman prior to the trial.
CNN’ national news correspondents George Howell, Martin Savidge, and David Mattingly are standing by in Sanford, Fla., to report on the verdict. NBC News correspondents Ron Mott and Kerry Sanders are also on location in Sanford.
Around the world, an estimated 100 million people watched or listened to the verdict being rendered at 10 a.m. Pacific Time in Los Angeles. It was 90 percent of all the people watching TV at that time, about the same audience as the 2010 Super Bowl.
Long-distance telephone call volume declined by 58 percent and trading volume on the New York Stock Exchange dropped 41 percent. Attorney Alan Dershowitz reported in his book about the trial that so much work stopped that the verdict cost an estimated $480 million in lost productivity.
The trial was covered in 2,237 news segments from 1994 through 1997. The Los Angeles Times covered the story on its front page every day for 300 days. According to Dershowitz, the trial got more coverage on the ABC, CBS, and NBC nightly newscasts than the Oklahoma City bombing and the war in Bosnia combined.
Beyond the actual verdict, news media are bracing for possible coverage of any aftermatch including strong community reaction. The Zimmerman case is about far more than the actual crime. It is a national discussion about race, about profiling, about gun control, and even abou neighborhood watch and vigilantism. All of these issues made the case compelling to different people for individual reasons. More may tune in after the verdict is known and reaction spreads. Stay tuned.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is also a serious boxing fan covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in the Communities at The Washington Times. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego. Gayle can be reached via Google +
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