When media coverage and public interest diverge

Although news coverage of major stories and the public’s interest in them generally were in sync, there were times in 2010 when they diverged markedly, a Pew Research Center analysis says.

Comparing the results of weekly national opinion surveys with weekly reviews of press coverage, Pew found that the public tended to maintain interest longer in breaking news stories such as the Gulf oil spill, the earthquake in Haiti and the Icelandic volcano longer than the media maintained coverage.

On the other hand, the media tended to pay attention to inside-the-beltway stories such as the midterm elections, Wikileaks and the resignation of Gen. Stanley McChrystal far longer than people were paying attention.

Two exceptions: The public appetite for coverage of health care reform persisted after the bill had passed and the media had moved on. And the public lost interest in the Times Square Bomber more quickly than the press did.