Public drawn to news on election, shootings

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what's-news

WASHINGTON (AP) — When it comes to the top news stories of 2012, the public and the press generally agreed on the year’s most important events, according to nationwide polls conducted by the Pew Research Center and an Associated Press survey of news editors.

But surveys of the public reveal that what’s news is still fairly subjective, with some stories grabbing the attention of news editors more than news consumers. The surveys also reveal sharp differences in the news based on gender, race and age.

The Pew Research Center polls are a bit different from the AP’s year-end survey of editors. Each week, Pew’s pollsters ask a nationally representative sample of adults how closely they are following the top stories of that week, meaning their polls reflect interest in the news as it happened, rather than asking respondents to look back and recall their top stories. The AP poll asks editors at the end of the year to rank their top stories.

Some highlights from the Pew polls:

TOP TIER: The top three stories of 2012 were virtually the same for both editors and readers: The presidential election, Superstorm Sandy and mass shootings. In the Pew polls, the election was the year’s most closely followed story, with 60 percent saying they tracked it “very closely” during election week. The shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., ranked second at 57 percent, followed by Superstorm Sandy at 53 percent. Editors narrowly ranked mass shootings ahead of the election, with Superstorm Sandy rounding out the top three.

THE DIFFERENCES: A springtime spike in gas prices rated fourth with the public in Pew’s data, but did not make it to the Top 10 in the AP survey. Editors placed the Penn State sexual abuse case and turmoil in Syria among their Top 10, though neither cracked the Top 15 among the public in Pew’s data.

Just 25 percent told Pew’s pollsters they were following news about Penn State in July. That’s when the university released a report it commissioned analyzing the school’s role in the sexual abuse scandal. At the same time, the political violence in Syria was never closely followed by more than 20 percent of the public in several Pew surveys throughout the year, about on par with news about the NFL’s replacement referees. All stories in the AP survey were followed “very closely” by 37 percent of the public or more.

SANDY HOOK, D.C. SNIPERS AND COLUMBINE: The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., was the third most closely followed incidence of gun violence in the 20-plus years that Pew has tracked interest in the news. The shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., in 1999 was No. 1, with 68 percent paying close attention, followed by the D.C. sniper shootings in 2002, with 65 percent.

GENDER GAPS: Women were more likely than men to follow news about the mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., and in Aurora, Colo., over the summer, President Barack Obama’s changed position on gay marriage and the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Florida. The Connecticut school shooting was the top story for women. For men, the election topped all other news.

RACIAL DIVIDE: News about Martin’s death rivaled the presidential election as the top story among African Americans. Seventy percent of blacks said they were following news about the case “very closely” in late March, more than double the share of whites following the story that closely.

TUNED OUT: Those under age 30 reported scant interest in this year’s news, with only the mass shootings in Connecticut and Colorado followed by a majority in that age group. Just 48 percent of under-30s said they followed the election very closely, and 41 percent said they were closely following news about rising gas prices. No other story cracked 40 percent for this age group.

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