Top Ten Stories of 2008

Both in the United States and internationally, the presidential election victory by Barack Obama dominated the headlines in 2008. The landmark result of the national vote saw the ascension of the first African-American to America's highest office, justifying for many the country's democratic promise. The story was chosen as the top news item of the year by U.S. editors and news directors voting in The Associated Press' annual poll.

This judgment was shared by the annual "Year in Review" Tyndall Report, which monitors the weekday nightly newscasts of the three American broadcast television networks. The report noted that Campaign 2008 earned more news coverage than any of the last five presidential contests. Obama himself attracted twice as much coverage as an average nominee.

Observers outside of the United States were also following the story closely. The Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, based in Toyko, Japan, determined that Obama's election was the top international news item as voted on by 11,877 readers in an worldwide poll. Noting that the campaign was characterized by a theme of "change," the Shimbun further stated: "His efforts to unite the Democratic party and people of all races energized voters, including previously politically apathetic young people."

The newly-elected Obama, along with heads of state all around the world, are currently grappling with 2008's other news story of primary importance; the global economic meltdown. The Pew Research Center, which follows the intensity of the public's interest in leading news stories, found that the economy was the most closely followed subject in the United States. As the nation's financial crisis deepened during the third quarter, 70 percent of respondents said they were following news about the economy very closely, which ranked among the highest levels of news interest for any story in the past two decades. The rising cost of gasoline and debate about the Wall Street bailout, two more economic concerns, were second and third in the Pew Research poll at 66 percent and 62 percent. At 61 percent, the presidential election was the fourth most closely followed story.

The Beijing Olympics found its way onto a number of top ten lists. The story held fourth place in the Shimbun poll, grabbed the fifth spot on the AP survey, and was ninth on the Tyndall Report. Judged to be an overall success, the Olympics were especially noted for the spectacular opening ceremony that was participated in by a record 204 countries and territories. China won the most gold medals, 51, and the games were highlighted by record-breaking performances by American swimmer Michael Phelps and Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt. However, the heavy-handed security measures drew criticism from media observers.

Top Ten Lists — 2008

The Associated Press survey of US editors

1. U.S. Election
2. Economic Meltdown
3. Oil Prices
4. Iraq
5. Beijing Olympics
6. Chinese Earthquake
7. Sarah Palin
8. Mumbai Terrorism
9. Hillary Clinton
10. Russia-Georgia War

The Pew Research Center: Top News Interest Stories of 2008

1. Conditions of the U.S. economy
2. Rising price of gasoline
3. Debate over Wall St. bailout
4. 2008 pres. general election
5. Major drops in U.S. stock market
6. Falling price of gas and oil
7. Hurricane Ike
8. Wall St. financial crisis hits
9. Obama transition
10. 2008 pres. primary election

Yomiuri Shimbun: The Top 10 International News Stories

1. Barack Obama elected U.S. president
2. Over 60,000 die in Sichuan earthquake
3. U.S. financial crisis spreads across globe
4. Beijing hosts 29th Olympic Games
5. Crude oil prices reach all-time high
6. Myanmar ravaged by Cyclone Nargis
7. Terrorist attacks in Mumbai
8. Large-scale riots erupt in Tibet
9. Olympic torch relay hindered by protests
10. Bird flu death toll passes 100

The Tyndall Report: Year in Review 2008

1. 2008 Obama campaign
2. 2008 McCain campaign
3. 2008 Rodham Clinton campaign
4. Financial industry federal bailout
5. Crude oil, gasoline prices
6. NYSE-NASDAQ market action
7. Iraq: US-led combat continues
8. Automobile industry in trouble
9. Beijing Summer Olympics
10. 2008 GOP VP Palin nomination

Time Top Ten Underreported Stories — 2008

1. The Pentagon's latest nuclear snafu
2. Civil war displaces a million Congolese
3. Sri Lankan conflict deadlier this year than Afghanistan
4. A victory for mental-health advocates
5. Genetically modified meat: coming soon to a grocer near you?
6. Southern Baptists decide against pedophilia database
7. More Mexican immigrants move home
8. A gap in genetic non-discrimination law
9. U. S. ships sand from Kuwait to Idaho
10. Venezuela's potty-mouth President

Doctors Without Borders: Top Ten Humanitarian Crises of 2008

· Somalia's humanitarian catastrophe worsens
· Critical need of assistance in Ethiopia's Somali region
· Critical health needs in Myanmar remain unmet
· Civilians killed and forced to flee as fighting intensifies in Northwestern Pakistan
· Health crisis sweeps Zimbabwe as violence and economic collapse spread
· No end in sight to violence and suffering in Sudan
· Civilians trapped as war rages in Eastern Congo
· Iraqi civilians in urgent need of assistance
· Millions of malnourished children left untreated despite advances in lifesaving nutritional therapies
· H.I.V./TB co-infection poses health battle on two fronts

Following closely behind the Olympics story was the horrific earthquake in May 2008 that killed more than 70,000 people in China's Sichuan province and left more than 5 million homeless. The story earned the second position in the Shimbun list and sixth place in the AP poll. Prominently featured in the news coverage was the toll that the quake took on children, with more than 7,000 classrooms were destroyed. Some of the parents of the children killed, who alleged that the school collapses were due to shoddy construction, were precluded from suing the local government for ignoring safety rules.

Terrorism was a big part of the year's news, with the Mumbai, India attacks as the lead story. On November 26, the heart of India's financial center was rocked by gunfire and explosions. In the aftermath, over 160 people were killed and more than 300 wounded. Because the attackers were allegedly sponsored by a terrorist organization based in Pakistan, tensions between the two nuclear-armed rivals rose significantly, but a war was avoided. The AP survey ranked the story as the eighth most important of the year, while the Shimbun poll placed it at number seven in their list.

Two prominent women in the political arena, presidential aspirant Hillary Clinton and vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, garnered their share of attention. Palin topped Clinton in the AP poll (#7 to #9), and was also named by The Tyndall Report as the most "newsworthy" woman of the year. Unsurprisingly, the most newsworthy man was Obama.

Underreported Stories

Away from the major news media's spotlight, there were important developments around the globe, many of them positive but some were tragic. In their annual list, Doctors Without Borders named its top humanitarian crises of 2008, which focused on massive civilian displacements, high numbers of fatalities and grossly unmet medical needs in locales such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Iraq, Sudan, Pakistan, Myanmar and Zimbabwe.

Other issues that did not receive much press, according to Doctors Without Borders, were the millions of malnourished children left untreated despite advances in lifesaving nutritional therapies, and the H.I.V./TB co-infection health battle. Of the latter, it was stated: "While the treatment of HIV has received substantial global attention, people living with both HIV and TB have slipped mostly under the radar mainly because sensitive diagnostic tools are lacking and treatment for co-infected patients is complicated."

Time Magazine, in its Top Ten Underreported Stories list placed the Congolese conflict, which has displaced over one million persons, at number two. At number three was the civil war in Sri Lanka, which was deadlier in 2008 than the conflict in Afghanistan.

Another widely missed story involved the mass exodus of Mexican immigrants back to their native country due to America's economic crisis and rising unemployment. Mexicans also sent home 12 percent less cash in August of 2008 than in the same month in the previous year, which was the largest such decline in over a decade.

International Issues

Iraq, which held the third position in 2007's AP top stories list, dropped to number four in 2008. The continued combat operations there also appeared on The Tyndall Report (#7). Though the general level of violence declined, the country remained volatile with daily reports of bombings and new fatalities.

Another conflict, this one between neighboring countries Russia and Georgia, rated the number ten position on the AP list. Initiated by a Georgian attack on the breakaway South Ossetia region, the devastating Russian response carried their troops deep inside of Georgia before a cease-fire was declared. The brief war exacerbated tensions between the United States, which supported Georgia, and Russia.

In summary, despite a widespread sense of optimism at Obama's election, 2008 was a year of turmoil, especially in the global financial arena. The top ten lists were dominated by news stories that dealt with different aspects of the worldwide economic meltdown. This sentiment was shared by Linda Cunningham, a voter in the AP poll, who wrote: "As far as I am concerned, there were only two stories this year, global economy collapses (sending every country into financial, political and personal chaos) and Obama elected U.S. president."