This study's focus, the tragic December 26, 2004, Indian Ocean tsunami, took more than 31,000 lives in Sri Lanka alone. All 543 stories about the island nation in 3 elite and influential U.S. newspapers, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Christian Science Monitor, were analyzed 18 months before and 18 months after the tsunami (excluding the tsunami itself) by comparing Keesing's Record of World Events (the "menu") to covered events (the "diet").
Results showed that 43% of pre and 76% of post-tsunami Keesing's events were covered. Military/defense was the number 1 topic both pre and post-tsunami. After grouping 4 topics into a violence dimension, the researcher found a four-fold increase in the violence coverage post-tsunami, due to a sharp increase in actual violence.
Research questions addressed 3 levels of the Shoemaker and Reese Hierarchy of Influences model. Regarding Level 2 (news routines), results indicated a spike in coverage on the anniversary of the tsunami, December 26, 2005. Regarding Level 3 (the organization), the study examined organizational differences, Level 3 of the Shoemaker and Reese Hierarchy of Influences model. Each news organization's coverage of Sri Lanka was found to be unique, reflecting different newsroom policies and different economic realities.
In addition to many more newsworthy events being covered post-tsunami, the significant post-tsunami increase in discretionary coverage, feature stories, editorials, and local news, likewise shows a heightened attention to Sri Lanka. Finally, the study found that U.S. elite newspapers had more prominent (e.g., page 1) coverage of Sri Lanka post-tsunami than pre -tsunami. In other words, the tragedy seems to have pushed Sri Lanka onto the media agenda. Thus this study posits the addition of a new element, a (cataclysmic) event itself, to Level 4 (extra-media influences) of the Shoemaker and Reese model.