Jun 25, 2023, 9:56pm EDT

What the Titanic vessel disaster says about media


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The News

The missing Titanic exploration vessel captured a rare level of shared attention in a fragmented media landscape.

On Thursday — the day the Titanic exploration vessel operator OceanGate announced that all five passengers were killed — an estimated 3.33 million tweets were posted about the saga, according to data from social media analytics firm Keyhole.

Google search activity told a similar story. Interest in the saga on Tuesday — days before the topic peaked — was eight times that of Hunter Biden on the day of his plea deal, arguably the biggest piece of domestic news last week.

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Neal’s view

The Titan submersible story was an increasingly rare, shared media experience in an environment defined by consumers who watch shows at different times, get news from different sources and get their entertainment diet curated based on individual preferences.

An ongoing, unresolved storyline with a mixture of high stakes, high uncertainty and endless space for commentary is a lane that is mostly filled with live sports and elections. On a less predictable cadence, we saw it at the beginning of COVID, with the 2021 Gabby Petito case, and even over the last few days for the Wagner Group’s 24-hour rebellion, as doubts grew about Vladimir Putin’s hold on power.


Fascination with the Titanic-seeking vessel broke through because it was live and because it came with an ample information vacuum for every corner of the internet to fill in the blanks.

Incredulity abounded as accounts surfaced about the rudimentary engineering of the vessel. Two of the 7 most-engaged Titanic-related news stories on social media were about the submarine being piloted with a $30 video game controller, according to exclusive data from NewsWhip.

It was, ultimately, a classic, riveting race-against-time, like the rescue of “Baby Jessica” in 1987 that was the early proving grounds for CNN’s 24-hour news — though this one ended tragically.

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Room for Disagreement

Common storylines are more frequent than Twitter-obsessed news types realize. Our modern media landscape catapults gripping human interest stories to bigger audiences.

TikTok, in particular, has supercharged awareness for some storylines, including February’s Ohio train derailment and the Petito case, well before the mainstream media took an interest.