Summary of Findings
In the news last week, no single story captured the interest of the American public. The war in Iraq was the most closely followed news story — 26% of the public followed news of the war very closely and 20% listed this as their most closely followed story.
The shooting at a Cleveland, Ohio high school attracted only moderate interest. The incident, which resulted in the death of the shooter but no other fatalities, was followed very closely by 22% of the public and 17% listed this as their most closely followed story. Interest in this shooting was much lower than previous school shootings many of which had been followed very closely by nearly 50% of the public. The national news media devoted 4% of its overall coverage to the shootings, the bulk of which was on network and cable television news.
The media focused heavily on the 2008 presidential campaign— devoting 15% of its coverage to campaign-related news. Public interest in the campaign fell off significantly last week with only 13% of the public paying very close attention to campaign news (8% listed the campaign as their most closely followed story).
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 October 7-12 and survey data measuring public interest in the top news stories of that week was collected October 12-15 from a nationally representative sample of 1,011 adults.
Immigration and Gore Prize Round out Week’s Top News
The latest chapter in the immigration debate generated a fair amount of public interest. Nearly a quarter of the public (23%) followed the issue of immigration very closely and 11% listed this as their most closely followed story. Republicans and Democrats followed the issue in roughly equal proportions. The news media devoted 6% of its coverage to immigration with much of the attention focused on a federal judge’s ruling on a proposed crackdown on businesses that employ illegal immigrants.
Nearly one-in-five Americans paid very close attention to news that Al Gore had won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, 8% listed this as their most closely followed story. Democrats were much more interested than Republicans in this story: 29% of Democrats followed the Gore news very closely compared with 10% of Republicans.
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.