Summary of Findings

In the news last week, the Iraq war continued to dominate both coverage and interest. Fully 30% of the public followed news about the current situation in Iraq very closely and 24% listed this as the single news story they followed more closely than any other. Fully one-quarter of the public paid very close attention to the debate in Washington over U.S. policy in Iraq, and 9% said this was the story they followed most closely last week. Coverage of the policy debate dominated the national news last week with 14% of the overall newshole devoted to this topic. Another 3% of the newshole was focused on events in Iraq.

The deadly Kansas tornadoes and widespread flooding in the Midwest attracted a relatively large news audience: 22% of the public followed these events very closely and 16% listed them as their top story of the week. Overall, 8% of the news coverage for the week was devoted to these two weather-related stories.

The 2008 presidential campaign remains a top tier news story: 18% of the public followed news about the campaign very closely last week and 11% said it was the story they followed most closely. News coverage of the campaign was down considerably from the previous week when it was the most heavily covered story (6% last week vs. 13% for the week of April 30).

Roughly one-in-five Americans paid very close attention to the arrest of six men in New Jersey who were allegedly planning to attack soldiers at Fort Dix Army base, 8% listed this as their top story. While this story received roughly the same amount of coverage from the national news media as the Kansas tornadoes, the tornadoes ranked higher in terms of the week’s most closely followed news stories.

Tony Blair’s announcement that he will step down from his position as British Prime Minister had little impact on the American public: 12% followed this story very closely and 3% said it was their top story of the week.

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.

Who’s Watching American Idol?

As American Idol Season 6 comes to a close, 22% of the public is paying close attention to what’s happening on the show — 13% are following Idol news very closely and 9% are following fairly closely. In spite of the fact that American Idol has been at the top of the television ratings throughout the season, three-quarters of the public are paying little or no attention to the show (11% say they’re not following Idol news too closely and 66% say they’re not following it at all).

Nearly three-in-ten Americans say Idol comes up in conversations with family, friends and co-workers at least occasionally. Another 31% say the topic hardly ever comes up, and 39% say it never does. Loyal Idol viewers, spend a lot of time talking about the show. Among those who are following American Idol very closely, fully 84% say they frequently or occasionally discuss the show with family, friends and co-workers.

Women are more likely than men to be following American Idol (26% vs. 17%, respectively are following very or fairly closely), and to be chatting about the show with family and friends (33% vs. 25%). Young women are among the most interested in the show, with 30% following it very or fairly closely. In general, young people are somewhat more interested in the show than their older counterparts. However, even among those ages 50-64, 20% are following Idol news very or fairly closely. College graduates are less likely to be following what’s going on with the show than are those who have never attended college. Parents of children under age 18 are more likely to be following Idol than are non-parents —30% vs. 18%, respectively, are following the show very or fairly closely.

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