Pew released some survey numbers that suggest public interest in the Zimmerman trial was not all that high. People are reading these numbers in the wrong way.
Only 26 percent report following the trial "very closely." Yes, there's a racial divide -- no surprise -- with 56 percent of blacks saying they were following it "very closely" compared to 20 percent of whites. Keep in mind the survey included only 104 blacks, giving it an 11.5 percent margin of error. In other words, reader beware. So let's set aside the race difference and focus on that 26 percent, a lower number, Pew tells us, then the Trayvon Martin shooting itself (36 percent) and certainly less than that benchmark of all trials, O.J. Simpson (48 percent "very closely").
Only 26 percent! people sputter. So few. Why all the coverage?
Lemme try to explain it this way. Given so many media choices out there, the loyal news audience is relatively small, less than you might imagine, counted typically in the hundreds of thousands, not millions, of viewers. A trial like this bumps the numbers up, as does any major event, especially one hyped as this trial was. And yet, and yet -- there is a core news audience and really CNN and Fox and HLN and all the rest are fighting for the scraps, for the few million who care about the news.
Thus, 26 percent matters. Go ahead, multiply that by all the adults in the U.S. That's about the number of people likely to follow a major news event that does not directly effect them or those they know.
That benchmark case, O.J., was in 1994. That's pre-Internet for most folks -- nowhere near the media choices available, plus it had the advantage of a football and film celebrity charged with murder. In other words, it's a lousy benchmark. Rodney King, that's back further, to 1991. Neither really fit in our media landscape today, with so many cable networks, radio talk shows, Internet sites, and a million other media ways to spend your time. The audience for the news is big, if you are generous in you definition of news, but that core audience is relatively small. That's why the coverage on the cable news networks -- they're scrambling to win that core audience, not the entire U.S.