04/26/2007 - The shootings at Virginia Tech University overshadowed all other news stories last week - both in terms of coverage and public interest. Fully 45% of Americans paid very close attention to the tragedy and 56% said it was the single news story they followed more closely than any other last week. However, interest in the Virginia Tech shootings was considerably lower than interest in the Columbine High School shootings which occurred almost exactly eight years earlier. More than two-thirds of Americans (68%) paid very close attention to the Columbine incident. Interest in the Virginia Tech shootings was on a par with school shootings that took place in the fall of 2006 (including the shooting at an Amish school house in Pennsylvania), as well as the 1998 shootings at a middle school in Jonesboro, Arkansas and a high school in Springfield Oregon.
In a busy news week, the public's focus was primarily on the events in Blacksburg, Virginia. While interest in the situation in Iraq was substantial, the war did not dominate the public's attention this past week as it has throughout most of the year. Only 13% said they followed the events in Iraq more closely than any other news story. Neither Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's testimony before Congress concerning the firing of eight U.S. attorneys nor the Supreme Court's abortion ruling put a dent in the Virginia Tech audience. Only 4% of the public named either of these stories as the one they followed most closely last week.
The Virginia Tech shootings attracted more public interest and received more news coverage than any other story this year. Fully 51% of all news coverage for the week was devoted to the Virginia Tech shootings and its aftermath. Cable news led the way devoting 76% of its coverage to the story. More than 60% of network television news focused on this story, as did half of all radio news. The public relied mainly on television for news about the shootings: 36% say their main source of information about the story was cable news and another 32% say they relied primarily on network TV news. The Internet was the main source of news on the shootings for 11% of the public, while 9% relied mainly on newspapers and another 9% relied on radio.
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.
Read the full analysis Blacksburg Tragedy Draws Close Public Attention, but Less Than Columbine Did Eight Years Ago on the Pew Research Center Web site.