GJR readers choose top stories of 2012

Editor’s note: The list of questions soliciting votes for the year’s top national story was compiled before the deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the Gateway Journalism Review survey of the top stories for 2012.

The most important international story, as voted on by our survey respondents, was the European economic crisis, which claimed 45.2 percent of the votes. It was followed by the Syrian conflict (29.7 percent), the attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya (16.6 percent), the Israel-Hamas conflict (4.7 percent), coverage of China (2.3 percent), and 1.1 percent for a write-in topic of global warming. One respondent’s comment about the choices was that it was “hard to pick just one from this group.”

The November presidential election claimed the prize for the most important national story for 2012, with 64.2 percent of the votes cast. It was followed by the Supreme Court upholding “Obamacare” (the Affordable Care Act) with 10.7 percent of the votes cast, the U.S. economy (9.5 percent), and the Sandy superstorm (8.3 percent). Though it was not on the original list, the deadly school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., received 3.5 percent of the votes as a write-in topic, beating out the Trayvon Martin shooting, gay marriage and the Jerry Sandusky abuse trial, which each garnered 1.1 percent of the votes in the category. Of the election, one respondent commented that it has the potential to “set the country’s direction not only for the next four years, but longer, in part because of likely nominations to the Supreme Court.”

For the most important regional/Midwest story, the voters chose the drought (53.5 percent of the votes cast) as the winner, followed by the Wisconson recall election (13 percent),  the comments about rape by GOP candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock (11.9 percent), fracking and the environment (10.7 percent), the series of tornadoes that killed nearly 30 people in five states (9.5 percent), and a write-in topic of “statewide/federal elections” at 1.1 percent. The top story in this category prompted this comment from one of the respondents: “Really, the drought story is a subset of the bigger story about inaction on climate change and the effects climate change is already having.”

The most important international media story of 2012, as chosen by the voters, was the Rupert Murdoch and British government investigation, with 65.4 percent of the votes cast. It was followed by the number of journalists killed while covering wars (20.2 percent), KONY and the social media response (5.9 percent), the BBC responsibility and response to allegations against Jimmy Saville (4.7 percent) and 1.1 percent of the votes for a write-in topic of “Earth getting too hot.” The top story in this category was described as being the “beginning of the end, particularly in tandem with the fizzle of his Fox News’ alternate reality,” for Murdoch.

The most important U.S. media story was selected as the rise of pollster Nate Silver, with 22.6 percent of the votes. That story was followed closely by Rush Limbaugh’s attack on Georgetown law school student Sandra Fluke (20.2 percent), then the online protest influencing piracy legislation (15.4 percent). A three-way tie between YouTube and anti-Islamic video, Facebook going public, and a slew of separate write-in topics (all three capturing 11.9 percent of the votes cast) rounded out the choices. One of the commenters focused on the Limbaugh attack story with this reponse: “Although this was not a lasting story, it was one of the first inklings that the right-wing media was both becoming unhinged and was overly enamored with its set of views. It gave the non-media-obsessed public an opportunity to take a harder look at Limbaugh, (Sean) Hannity and their ilk.”

The media coverage that totally missed the mark, as chosen by our voters, was the Fox News election coverage and polls, which garnered 58.3 percent of the votes. In a distant second were the reasons the GOP lost the November elections, with 17.8 percent of the votes cast. A handful of topics lumped under the “other issues” heading claimed the No. 3 spot with 8.3 percent of the votes, followed by MSNBC’s election coverage (4.7 percent), coverage of Beirut in news and entertainment (2.3 percent) and media coverage of the Stanford organic food study (1.1 percent). As one commenter noted in this category: “As we’ve been hearing more and more post-election, the media tried so hard to be balanced, they didn’t do their jobs. They allowed the candidates and PACs (political action committees) to put forward inaccuracies – and bald-faced lies – without calling them to task.”

As for what international story of 2012 deserved more/better coverage, the choice of climate change/environment was the clear winner, with 54.7 percent of the votes cast. That was followed by the India power outage that affected more than 700 million people (20.2 percent), the China and Asia land boundary disputes (8.3 percent), 5.9 percent of the votes for “other issues,” Africa (4.7 percent), and 2.3 percent apiece for coverage of South America and the South Africa miners’ strike. One commenter addressed the lack of coverage about the India power outage this way: “Any story that affects a population more than twice that of the United States deserves better coverage. And when that outage takes place in an emerging technological power, all the more so.”

GJR readers chose poverty and the growing inequality in America as the U.S. story of 2012 that deserved more/better coverage, with 45.2 percent of the votes cast. That was followed by the changing demographics of the U.S. electorate (22.6 percent), climate change/environment (15.4 percent), topics listed under “other issues” (7.1 percent), the 2012 U.S. farm bill (5.9 percent) and the Guantanamo Bay detention camp (3.5 percent). As one voter noted, “Climate change, Guantanamo, the case of Bradley Manning and the WikiLeaks/Julian Assange case all deserved better/more coverage in major U.S. media. But really, the list of under-reported, inaccurately documented and narrowly framed stories in this category abound.”

The final category, that of most frivolous/overcovered story of 2012, saw the Justin Bieber/Selma Gomez relationship take the top spot with 28.5 percent of the votes cast, followed by “anything dealing with someone’s hairstyle” at an even 19 percent, Tim Tebow (17.8 percent), Kate Middleton (13 percent), Twinkies (11.9 percent), and the “other” issues at 9.5 percent. One commenter noted of this section that “media tends to focus on the stuff listed above while missing many of the things that really affect our lives and help us to make intelligent and informed decisions.”

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