The Decline in Newspaper Coverage of UFO sightings

One of the more striking features of the UFO phenomenon has been the emergence of voices from within the ufology community – particularly those of veteran investigators – claiming that organized interest in UFOs has been on the decline for some time now (for an interesting discussion of the subject, see Dr. David Clarke’s post from 2012, “Ufology: Dead Again?”). To be sure, this assessment is certainly not shared by all enthusiasts and researchers. But there is enough evidence out there (e.g., the cancellation of conferences, declining membership in organizations, etc.) to justify examining the question more carefully.

I recently decided to look at one small piece of this larger sociological question, namely: Is there evidence of a decline in newspaper coverage of UFOs? The chart below shows the results of my examination of coverage among 25 U.S. newspapers from 1985 to 2014. The newspapers were selected on the basis of (1) their being indexed by NewsBank with records dating back to at least 1985 and (2) their geographical and market diversity.

Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 11.04.16 AM

Articles with headlines about UFOs or flying saucers in 25 U.S. newspapers, 1985-2014

The results are interesting, I think. They do, in fact, indicate a general decline in coverage. That said, there were three large spikes in interest – in 1987, 1997, and 2007 – that interrupted the overall pattern. Results like this raise as many questions as they provide answers. How do we account for the spikes (I have some answers, but feel free to chime in)? Is there anything behind the 10-year cycles? Why do newspapers appear to have lost interest in the subject since the late-1990s? What’s the relationship between this decline and the apparent setbacks being experienced by many UFO organizations?

I would be interested in hearing the thoughts of readers.



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