The Year in News 2010
The Press and the Public: Divergent and Dovetailing News Agendas
On some big stories—most notably the economy—the media and American news consumers were on the same page in 2010. But the media’s interest in a number of major events subsided long before the public’s, and citizens did not share the press fascination with Beltway-centric stories.
According to the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press—which conducts national surveys to measure which news subjects are receiving the most public attention—U.S. news consumers and news outlets both maintained a consistently close watch on economic news.
Indeed, economic news received the most or second most public attention in 32 of the 45 weeks in which public attention to the topic was tracked.
Just three weeks after the most intense focus on the Haiti earthquake, for example, coverage of the aftermath constituted just 8% of the newshole, exceeded by media attention to the economy and possible problems with Toyota vehicles. Yet 38% of the public still said they were following news of Haiti more closely than anything else.
And less than a month after the July 15 capping of the Deepwater Horizon, 44% of Americans continued to say they were following news about the spill and its aftermath more closely than any other topic. Yet just 3% of news coverage focused on the spill’s aftermath, as the press focus turned toward the upcoming midterm elections.
The year also proved again that Americans typically show less interest in political or Washington stories than do the media. That was the case with the resignation of top Afghanistan commander, General Stanley McChrystal, and the saga of Shirley Sherrod, the Department of Agriculture official who was forced to resign after a conservative website ran an edited version of a speech she delivered to an NAACP audience.
Similarly, the 2010 midterm elections often drew far more press than public attention. Though the public eventually took a strong interest in late October, there were instances earlier in which coverage significantly outweighed interest.
During the week starting Sept. 13, for example, the media devoted 30% of the newshole to election news—including Christine O’Donnell’s upset win in the Delaware GOP Senate primary. But that week, only 11% of the public said they followed election news most closely, while 26% rated news about the economy as most important to them.
The Year in News 2010