November 16, 2011

A Campus Crime Story that Stunned the Nation

% of weekly newshole
AZ Shooting Jan 10-16, 2011 56.6
VA Tech Apr 15-20, 2007 50.9
C. Anthony Verdict Jul 4-10, 2011 17.3
Penn State Nov 7-13, 2011 16.9
O.J. Arrested Sep 16-21, 2007 13.5

No. 4 – Rank of the Penn State scandal among biggest crime stories since January 2007

The sexual abuse scandal rocking Penn State and shocking the nation—triggered by the arrest of former defensive football coach Jerry Sandusky on charges of sexually abusing young boys over a 15-year period—was the No. 2 story in the news media from November 7-13. With coverage building as the scandal mushroomed, leading to the firing of the school’s president and its iconic 46-year head football coach, Joe Paterno, the story accounted for 16.9% of the newshole, trailing only the presidential campaign (24%).  

That makes the Penn State saga, the fourth biggest U.S. crime story since PEJ began tracking news coverage in January 2007—although it received a fraction of the coverage of the top two stories. (Not counting acts of terrorism or political scandals.)

The No. 1 crime story since 2007 was the January 8, 2011, shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Jared Lee Loughner opened fire on the representative and shot 19 people—killing six—in a Safeway parking lot in Tucson Arizona. The event accounted for 56.6% of the newshole from January 10-16, 2011. (This past week, Giffords talked about her long recovery from those grave injuries in a TV interview.)

The second-most covered crime story was the April 16, 2007, massacre on the campus of Virginia Tech when Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people before taking his own life. That tragedy accounted for 50.9% of the newshole the week April 15-20, 2007.

Just ahead of the Penn State scandal, the third-biggest crime story was the July 5, 2011, acquittal of Casey Anthony who was accused of killing her 2-year-old daughter Caylee three years prior. The verdict stunned much of the nation and the story accounted for 17.3% of the newshole the week of July 4-10, 2011.

Rounding out the top five crime stories was the September 16, 2007 arrest of O.J. Simpson for armed robbery and kidnapping while trying to retrieve sports memorabilia at a Las Vegas Hotel. The story filled 13.5% of the newshole the week of September 16-21. Simpson is serving 33 years for the charges.

Tricia Sartor of PEJ

Cite this publication: “A Campus Crime Story that Stunned the Nation.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (November 16, 2011) http://www.journalism.org/numbers/campus-crime-story-stunned-nation/, accessed on July 22, 2014.