A friend of mine at work brought this up yesterday and I thought it was a very interesting point. Now, this guy sometimes will present some fairly shopworn ideas to me as his own, but he also thinks up some interesting stuff, and from what I can tell this particular angle has not been particularly well-explored.
This guy, we'll call him Joe, wonders, what would the media be doing if the pope had been, say, assassinated, or abducted by aliens, or drowned in a well or something? They couldn't possibly have more coverage. As the director will say to the actor who is emoting madly, "You're already at 11 in the first scene. What are you going to do in Act IV?"
Which is not to say I think the next pope will have any of these things happen to him. But if something weird does happen to the next pope, there will be no way to tell that the media thinks it's a bigger deal than just some old guy dying of being old. They're already at 11.
I often think about what aliens would think about human priorities if their only contact with the planet was via American mass media news. Washington Post, New York Times, NBC nightly, and CSPAN, we'll give 'em, just for the sake of argument. Their picture of human society would be a pretty absurd caricature.
For an instance, an old religious leader dies of natural causes, that's wall-to-wall coverage, everywhere you look, for like two weeks. Oil company reserve statements begin to indicate that the planet's entire economy may collapse in the next decade due to dwindling fuel supplies, that's an A16 story in the Saturday New York Times.