Summary of Findings
For the second week in a row, the plight of six miners trapped in a Utah mine dominated public interest. Though coverage of the miners fell off significantly from the previous week, 32% of the public paid very close attention to the story and roughly the same proportion (34%) said this was the single news story they followed more closely than any other. News of the trapped miners and efforts to rescue them accounted for 7% of the national newshole last week, down from 13% the previous week.
Americans continued to pay close attention to news from Iraq last week, while media coverage of events there remained relatively low. War news was followed very closely by one-in-three Americans (33%) and 16% said this was the story they followed most closely. Interest in the war is largely unchanged from the previous week when 36% were following news from Iraq very closely.
Nearly three-in-ten Americans (28%) paid very close attention to news about the recall of several toys and other products manufactured in China; 11% said this was the story they followed most closely last week. People living in households with children under the age of 6 were more likely than the general public to say this was the story they followed most closely (22% vs. 11%). The level of interest in this story was comparable to previous recalls of Chinese products in June and May. However, news coverage of this most recent incident was more intense (4% of the national newshole for this past week).
The 2008 presidential campaign has been one of the top stories throughout the year in terms of coverage and was the top story in the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s News Coverage Index for the second quarter of 2007. By contrast, campaign news has not dominated the public’s attention during this period. For the fourth straight week public interest in the presidential race has been hovering at one-in-five who followed the campaign very closely — 19% for this past week — and has remained relatively steady throughout the summer.
Only 14% of the public paid very close attention to the announcement that White House advisor Karl Rove will resign at the end of this month, and just 2% of the public said this was the story they followed most closely. A greater percentage of Democrats (18%) than Republicans (12%) were following Rove’s decision very closely. While public interest in Rove’s departure was modest, the media focused intently on the story across all sectors. Seven percent of the newshole was devoted to the Rove story, equaling that of coverage devoted to the Utah mine accident.
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 August 12-17 and survey data measuring public interest in the top news stories of the week was collected August 17-20 from a nationally representative sample of 1,025 adults.
Stock Market News Attracts Modest Interest
Continuing volatility in the stock market made the U.S. economy a top news story again last week. One-in-five Americans followed news about the stock market very closely, and 9% said this was the single news story they followed more closely than any other — making it the fifth most closely followed story of the week. The national news media devoted 7% of its overall coverage to the U.S. economy, and 2% of the coverage focused specifically on stock market news.
While interest in the stock market has been fairly consistent in recent months, only a minority of Americans follow stock market news on a regular basis. The core audience for stock market news is relatively narrow — comprising mainly more affluent individuals and those actively involved in the market. Consumer issues generate much greater public interest. Nearly seven-in-ten Americans regularly follow news about gas and energy prices, while 28% say they follow such news only when there are major headlines. A 53% majority follows news about the price of food and consumer goods regularly; 43% follow this news only when there are major headlines.
Other types of economic news mainly draw a large audience when there are major headlines. Four-in-ten Americans regularly follow news about the job situation in the U.S., 55% say they follow employment news only when there are major headlines. Even fewer Americans (37%) regularly follow news about the housing market, and 35% regularly follow news about the stock market and interest rates, while majorities say they follow these types of news only when there are major headlines. Finally, international financial news attracts the smallest audience: 28% follow financial news from around the world regularly while 64% follow it only when there are major headlines.
The top economic news topics also attract the broadest-based audiences. Interest in news about gas and energy prices is consistent across various educational and income groups. College graduates and those who never attended college are equally likely to follow this type of news regularly. Similarly, those with annual household incomes under $30,000 and those with incomes in excess of $75,000 follow gas prices in roughly equal proportions.
A similar pattern can be seen for news about food and other consumer goods. Interest in this type of news is comparable across different levels of education and income. Older Americans and women are among the most interested in consumer prices. Interest in news about the job situation is also fairly steady across income groups. However, those who never attended college follow job news somewhat more closely than those who attended or graduated from college.
Other types of economic news appeal to a more affluent, more highly-educated audience. Nearly half of those with annual household incomes of $75,000 or more regularly follow news about the housing market. This compares with roughly 30% of those with incomes under $50,000. Among college graduates, 47% regularly follow housing news compared with 28% of those who have never attended college.
As with stock market news, higher-income Americans are much more likely than lower- and middle-income Americans to follow this type of news regularly. Men follow stock market news much more closely than do women. The same educational and income patterns can be seen for news about interest rates and international economic news. In each case, those with higher incomes and higher levels of education pay closer attention to news about these topics.
Top Business News Sources
Television is the public’s main source of news about economic and financial issues. Nearly eight-in-ten Americans (79%) say they get most of their economic news from television. Less than half of the public (44%) gets economic news from newspapers. The internet rivals newspapers as a primary source for economic news: 39% of Americans get most of their economic news from online sources. Relatively small percentages rely on radio (19%) and magazines (7%) for economic news.
Those who are actively involved in trading stocks and other funds rely heavily on the internet for business and economic news. The internet is the top source for business news among those who trade stocks regularly. Fully 60% of active traders get most of their business news online. This compares with 42% of those who have some long-term investments but don’t trade stocks regularly and only 33% of those who don’t have any money invested in the stock market. These non-investors rely heavily on television for their business news.
The vast majority of Americans who do get most of their business and economic news from television rely more on cable news sources than on network or local TV news. More than four-in-ten Americans (43%) tune into cable news for economic updates and information, 23% tune into network TV news and 19% rely on local news. Among cable outlets, CNN is the top news source at 20% followed by the Fox News Channel (13%), MSNBC (6%) and CNBC (4%).
Those who rely on the internet for business news turn to a variety of websites with no one source clearly dominating. One-in-ten Americans go to Yahoo or Yahoo Finance for business and economic news. Another 7% frequent CNN.com, while 6% visit MSNBC. The top 10 online business news sources are a mixture or internet-only sites (such as Yahoo, Google and AOL) and the websites of major news organizations (such as CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and the New York Times).
Sub-Prime Mortgage Crisis
Most Americans have heard at least something about the problems with sub-prime loans in the home mortgage market. Nearly four-in-ten (39%) have heard a lot about this situation, 33% have heard a little, and 27% have heard nothing at all. College graduates and those in the highest income brackets are among the most likely to have heard a lot about the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Adults under age 30 have heard very little about this issue — fully 49% say they’ve heard nothing at all about it.
Among those who have heard about the issue, only 20% say they understand the situation very well. Another 44% say they understand it fairly well, and 36% say they either don’t understand it too well or they don’t understand it at all.
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.pewresearch.org/journalism.