- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 29, 2002

Snipers, terrorism, asteroids, kidnappings, September 11, Catholic priests, West Nile virus: What did we pay attention to this year?
The proverbial "Top Stories" of 2002 are subject to interpretation among news organizations intent on determining what resonated with the public in the past 12 months.
A year-end survey of readers by the Pew Research Center released Dec. 20 found that the Beltway sniper case proved to be the nation's top news story, which was followed "very closely" by 65 percent of the country. About nine out of 10 people followed the story at least "fairly closely."
The potential for war on Iraq was ranked second, followed by July's court ruling on the Pledge of Allegiance.
"A majority of Americans (52 percent) paid very close attention to stories on the controversial federal court ruling that the words 'One nation, under God' cannot appear in the Pledge," the study noted, adding that the ruling was "one of the most closely followed court cases" in 16 years.
The survey ranked the domestic war on terrorism at No. 4, followed by military efforts in Afghanistan, stories on kidnapped children, continued violence in the Middle East, FBI and CIA knowledge prior to the September 11 attacks, the anniversary of the attacks and the midyear "Code Orange" terrorism alert, ranked at 10.
The next five stories of note were reports on the U.S. economy, Gulf Coast hurricanes, the Catholic priest scandal, U.S. weapons inspections teams in Iraq and new cases of West Nile virus.
The Associated Press had a different perspective.
Their top story, based on an annual survey of AP's American members also released Dec. 20, centered on U.S. "ultimatums on Iraq," followed by the Beltway sniper killings, the Catholic sex-abuse scandal, corporate scandals, the U.S. economy, the U.S. election and the war on terror.
The conflict in the Middle East, the Pennsylvania coal mine rescue and the September 11 anniversary rounded out the AP's top-10 tally.
Americans are still keen on their local news, however. Scores of regional newspapers, radio and TV stations monitor their own turf at year's end. The 74,000-circulation Journal and Courier in Lafayette, Ind., is perhaps representative of the genre.
The newspaper determined its top story to be split between a missing 12-year old boy and a local natural-gas explosion. Stories on six area murders, the construction of a downtown hotel, a tuition increase at Purdue University and "Precious Angel," a story of a newborn baby found dead and abandoned, completed the newspaper's list.
National Geographic offered a different focus. Based on traffic at its Web site, the magazine's most popular news story this year explained a photo of a giant shark leaping from the ocean to attack a hovering Army helicopter.
The photo was a hoax, spliced from file photos and posted on the Internet by wags who said it was "National Geographic's Photo of the Year."
The magazine's other top stories included a potential collision between Earth and an asteroid, a fossil skull, rescued Inca mummies and the burial box that might have contained the bones of the brother of Jesus Christ.
Over at "I Want Media," an online news Web site (www.iwantmedia.com), readers seemed ambivalent to newsmakers du jour. An online poll for "media person of the year" found that even heavyweights such as Ted Turner, Michael Eisner, Tina Brown and Rupert Murdoch warranted zero to 2 percent of the votes.
The top honors went to a category simply called "Other" with 23 percent of the votes, followed by domestic diva Martha Stewart, who managed 21 percent, U.S. Weekly Editor Bonnie Fuller (21 percent), Rosie O'Donnell (17 percent) and Fox News chief Roger Ailes (11 percent).
Editors at Yahoo News compiled their top news stories based on its busiest online traffic days in 2002. The most frantic 24 hours was March 25, which featured news about the Oscars and a new Middle East military offensive.
September 11 was rated second, marking the one-year anniversary of the attacks, followed by Oct. 4 (the day the manhunt began for the Beltway snipers), Nov. 6 (the day after Election Day), Oct. 24 (the break in the sniper case and a hostage siege in a Moscow theater).

Contact Jennifer Harper at 202/636-3085 or [email protected]

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