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Coverage Disconnect: Oil Trumps Troubled Middle East Waters

Both the news media and the public were focused on news related to the volatile Middle East last week, just not the same story.

According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism, the major national news media devoted the most coverage to violence in Libya (31%) for the survey period (Feb. 24-27), but only 2% to the rise in oil prices linked to Middle East unrest.

By contrast, the pocketbook-walloping story of rising oil prices was the one of most interest to the public, with PEJ's News Interest survey respondents saying they were tracking that story most closely (21%), followed by the Libyan violence (19%).

That gap becomes a chasm when comparing those who said they followed the oil price story "very closely" (50%) compared to that 2% of coverage.

The coverage survey is based on a content analysis of television, radio and online and newspaper news outlets, while the News Interest survey is a phone survey of 1,009 adults age 18 and above.

There was perfect harmony between the percentage of news hole given to the Wisconsin protests over budget and union issues and the "most interested" respondents at 18% for each. But there was a disconnect again on the story of the economy in general, with 14% of respondents saying they were tracking that story most closely but with the media devoting only 3% of the news hole to it. That gap becomes a canyon as well when the 49% "closely following" the story becomes the yardstick.

And when the "very closely" percentage is used, that 18% perfect harmony in Wisconsin sounds more like discord, with 36% saying they were following the story closely.

While only 5% said they were following the New Zealand earthquake story "most closely," 20% said they were following it "very closely." Only 4% of the news hole was taken up with that story.

It was about the same for gay marriage, 4% apiece for "most closely" and "news hole" figures, but 19% saying they were following the story "very closely."