Summary of Findings
Dramatic events in London and Scotland last week attracted a large news audience. Roughly a third of the public paid very close attention to news that British police had found and defused two car bombs in London, and another 31% followed the story fairly closely. Fully 21% said this was the single news story they followed more closely than any other — making it the most closely followed news story of the week.1 Interest in the attempted bombings did not reach the level of last summer’s major terrorism scare. In August 2006, 54% of the public paid very close attention to news about a foiled plot to blow up planes flying from England to the U.S. using liquid explosives.
Last week’s events in the United Kingdom received a substantial amount of news coverage in the U.S. Although the story did not break until Friday morning, it was the fourth most heavily covered news story of the week, accounting for 5% of the overall coverage. For Friday alone, the London story represented 27% of the news coverage for all sectors and 63% of cable news.
A large segment of the public remained focused on the Iraq war last week: 32% followed the situation in Iraq very closely and 19% listed this as their most closely followed story.
The demise of the immigration reform bill was the most heavily covered news story of the week — 12% of the overall newshole was devoted to this story. Roughly a quarter of the public followed the immigration debate very closely and 14% listed it as their most closely followed story. Until last week, roughly equal proportions of Democrats and Republicans were following the immigration debate. However, as the controversial legislation collapsed in the Senate, Republicans paid much closer attention than did Democrats (32% followed very closely vs. 19% of Democrats).
News about safety issues involving food and other products from China attracted a moderate audience despite relatively little coverage (1% of the newshole for the week). One-in-four Americans paid very close attention to this unfolding story and 9% said it was the story they followed most closely. In recent weeks, Chinese products including certain brands of toys, toothpaste and seafood have either been recalled or banned. This comes on the heels of the largest pet food recall in U.S. history earlier this year.
For the most part, the public does not believe that news organizations are exaggerating or underplaying problems with products from China. Fewer than a quarter (23%) say news coverage is making the situation sound like a bigger problem than it really is; 11% say the coverage makes it sound like a smaller problem than it really is. Overall, the public believes news coverage of these safety issues has been generally accurate (53%).
Fewer than one-in-four Americans paid very close attention to the Supreme Court’s ruling barring school districts from using race to determine which schools students attend. Only 5% listed this as their most closely followed story. Whites and blacks followed the ruling in roughly equal proportions. Democrats paid closer attention than Republicans to this story. Overall, 6% of the national newshole was devoted to news about the Supreme Court, with 3% focused specifically on the school desegregation ruling.
These findings are based on the most recent installment of the weekly News Interest Index, an ongoing project of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. The index, building on the Center’s longstanding research into public attentiveness to major news stories, examines news interest as it relates to the news media’s agenda. The weekly survey is conducted in conjunction with The Project for Excellence in Journalism‘s News Coverage Index, which monitors the news reported by major newspaper, television, radio and online news outlets on an ongoing basis. In the most recent week, data relating to news coverage was collected from June 24-29, and survey data measuring public interest in the top news stories of the week was collected June 29-July 2 from a nationally representative sample of 1,065 adults.
Traditional Media Delivers iPhone Message
As the much-anticipated Apple iPhone hit the stores on June 29, a large majority of Americans had heard at least something about the new product. Fully 46% of the public had heard a lot about the iPhone, and another 37% had heard a little. Just 16% say they have heard nothing at all about the new phone.
The vast majority of those who have heard something about the iPhone say they have been hearing most about it from traditional news sources like television, radio, newspapers, and magazines. Only 13% have heard about it mainly on the internet, and even fewer (5%) have heard about it from people they know.
Young people have heard the most about the iPhone — fully 59% have heard a lot about it. They are also much more likely than those over age 30 to have heard about the iPhone from internet sources rather than traditional media. Nonetheless, 68% of those ages 18-29 who have heard about the iPhone are hearing most about it from traditional sources, compared with 24% who are hearing most about the iPhone from internet sources.
Bush, Hilton Top Newsmakers of the Week
George W. Bush and Paris Hilton were the two most visible newsmakers last week. When asked to name the person they have heard the most about in the news lately, 29% named Bush and nearly as many (26%) named Hilton.
As a point of comparison, during the week that Anna Nicole Smith died (Feb. 11-16), 38% said that they had heard most about Smith, while 28% named Bush as the person they had heard the most about.
Other prominent newsmakers last week included Hillary Clinton (4% said she was the person they had heard the most about in the news lately) and Barack Obama (3%). Pro wrestler Chris Benoit, who reportedly took his own life after killing his wife and son, was mentioned by 3% of the public.
About the News Interest Index
The News Interest Index is a weekly survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press aimed at gauging the public’s interest in and reaction to major news events.
This project has been undertaken in conjunction with the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s News Coverage Index, an ongoing content analysis of the news. The News Coverage Index catalogues the news from top news organizations across five major sectors of the media: newspapers, network television, cable television, radio and the internet. Each week (from Sunday through Friday) PEJ will compile this data to identify the top stories for the week. The News Interest Index survey will collect data from Friday through Monday to gauge public interest in the most covered stories of the week.
Results for the weekly surveys are based on telephone interviews among a nationwide sample of approximately 1,000 adults, 18 years of age or older, conducted under the direction of ORC (Opinion Research Corporation). For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
In addition to sampling error, one should bear in mind that question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of opinion polls, and that results based on subgroups will have larger margins of error.
For more information about the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s News Coverage Index, go to www.journalism.org.