The troubled economy and efforts to revamp the nation's health care system dominated the public's news interest in 2009. From the year's start, Americans kept a close watch on the unfolding economic crisis, as well as Barack Obama's efforts to grapple with the crisis while trying to make good on campaign promises.
For the third week of January, for example, 57% of Americans said they followed news about the condition of the U.S. economy very closely, the highest percentage following any story that closely all year. That same week, 52% said they followed news about Obama's inauguration very closely. More than four-in-ten (42%) said the installation of the nation's first African American president was the story they had followed most closely that week, according to the Pew Research Center's weekly News Interest Index.
Those two topics – the economy and the new administration – then played a part in many of the top stories of 2009. In the second half of the year, the public's focus shifted more to the debate over overhauling the nation's health care system. Interest in health care reform grew in late summer – while Congress was in recess – as many lawmakers faced angry constituents at town hall meetings in their districts. Interest remained high as the debate unfolded in Washington.
Each week, the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) monitors the amount of coverage devoted to major stories by newspapers, television, radio and online news outlets. For 2009, there is a general correspondence between the stories that attracted the most interest on the NII and those that received the most coverage, according to PEJ's News Coverage Index.
For the public, breaking stories grabbed attention as well, such as the dramatic landing of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River, the death of pop star Michael Jackson and the shootings last month at the Fort Hood army base. Americans also closely followed news about the spread of the swine flu and the flu vaccine. This proved to be one of several story lines this year for which public interest at times exceeded coverage, especially during the flu's fall outbreak.
Read the full report Top Stories of 2009: Economy, Obama and Health Care on the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press' Web site.