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Did anything else happen in 2020? It’s difficult to look beyond the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the globe and recall any other major news events that have consumed our attention on such a scale. The crisis has rightly dominated the front pages for most of the year. But as pandemic-focused stories lead our headlines, other news has slipped under the radar. Now, as some parts of Australia begin to emerge from mandated hibernation and other issues re-enter our consciousness, Mediaverse has taken a look back at the stories over the first six months of 2020 that probably would have landed the front page if not for COVID-19.

Locust swarms

In 2019 one of the worst locust infestations in decades surged across Africa and the Middle East. A year later and the swarm has reached South Asia and South America, is threatening food supplies, and in mid-May of this year the World Bank committed to a $US500 million program to assist countries that have been ravaged by locust activity. Despite generating a decent amount of attention online and in international outlets, looking only at Melbourne print mastheads, the locust swarm has received just a few mentions in The Age and the Herald Sun since COVID-19 began to dominate the headlines. With these visually dramatic locust swarms affecting upwards of 20 countries and creeping closer to Australia, we may have seen this story gain more attention as it unfolded had the pandemic not escalated simultaneously.

Bushfire recovery

As one crisis ended another began. The Australian bushfires dominated the news cycle last summer, drawing attention from all around the world. However, as the global pandemic escalated, the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements in response to the bushfire season also quietly began. Although the royal commission has generated a number of stories since it started in May, it is yet to gain a front-page mention in either The Age or the Herald Sun. As the bushfires raged the mainstream media played a key role, along with social influencers, in creating global awareness about the Australian bushfire season of 2019-20 and its devastating impact. Now with the media’s enduring focus on COVID-19 and rolling updates on cases domestically and across the globe, a key concern is what impact this lack of news on the royal commission will have for future bushfire recovery and disaster prevention and planning.

Palace Papers

At the end of May the High Court ruled in favour of the release of the so-called ‘Palace Papers’, deeming them to be Commonwealth records. These documents contained letters between the Queen and former governor-general John Kerr during the time of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s dismissal. The letters, which previously were considered private correspondence, could now be accessed by famous Australian biographer Jenny Hocking who had been campaigning for their release. The potential implications of this ruling are significant, with many suspecting that the letters could uncover the truth behind the sacking of Australia’s 21st Prime Minister. The decision also sets a precedent challenging “royal secrecy” that has kept royal archives away from public view. Although this news did generate coverage it was lost in a sea of reporting on the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, and hardly gained prominence in major mastheads, at its best, reaching page 5 of The Age and page 4 of the Herald Sun the day following the ruling.

Professor Jenny Hocking poses in Queen’s Square, Sydney ahead of her High Court bid [AAP Image/Peter Rae]

These are just three of countless stories that have fallen off the front pages. The COVID-19 pandemic has rightfully dominated the news cycle and is set to govern our daily lives for some time yet. However, restrictions are beginning to ease in some parts of Australia, and we are seeing the cycle shift once again. New themes of coverage such as resigning politicians, the global protest movement and cyber attacks are starting to re-emerge on the front pages of metro mastheads. But will we ever revisit the so-called “lost news” of 2020 or will we simply move onto the next big story?

All photos supplied by AAP Photos image library

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