PEJ: Tornadoes, Oprah Top News

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Tornadoes in the Midwest topped were the most closely followed news story of last week, according to Project for Excellence in Journalism's News Interest Index.

According to the index, 48% of respondents said they followed news about the tornadoes that devastated Joplin, Mo., most closely, with no other story even coming close. The budget deficit was next in new interest with 8%, followed by state and local budgets, 7%, the 2012 elections 5% and the dispute between Israel and Palestine 5%.

And while it was not one of the top stories in the news sphere, the study also found that nearly three quarters of those polled said they had heard at least something about Oprah Winfrey's departure last week from the daytime syndicated talk circuit she has dominated for over two decades. That was more than had heard that the alleged shooter of Gabby Giffords was not competent to stand trial, or knew of the allegations about bicyclist Lance Armstrong using performance-enhancing drugs (which he has vigorously denied).

Those Oprah-interest numbers were driven by high interest among women and African-Americans. Women were more likely than men to say they had heard at least something about Oprah's exit (45% to 27%), and African-Americans were more likely than whites (55% to 34%).

The survey was conducted May 26-29 with a "nationally representative" sample of 1,000 adults.

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