The least important things may tell you the most

I’ve written a couple of different posts about news coverage. This is a complement to those.

The Elon University Poll asked 732 registered voters in North Carolina what they think is the most important issue in the United States. Twenty-four percent said health care, and 21 percent said the economy. Given the current political climate, predictable.

More interesting are those issues at the bottom: Less than 1 percent of respondents said energy/environment, God/religion or immigration. That’s fewer than eight people.

Values/family got 1.6 percent; education, 2.4 percent; and government/politicians, 6.8 percent. And to emphasize how low the percentages are, just a tick above government/politicians, at 6.9 percent, is miscellaneous.

What, if anything, does this mean to news organizations trying to determine what issues to emphasize as they deploy their news staffs?

Perhaps nothing. There are a lot of reasons to question the validity of these results when determining news coverage areas. That wasn’t the purpose of the poll; the question asks about the U.S., not a person’s specific community; and “most important issue” doesn’t necessarily mean “I want to see it in the news coverage.”

But the smart new organizations will consider this as one more data point worth exploring.

Begin with “do we cover religion too much?” In the same poll, 50 percent of respondents said they attend church every week or almost every week. On the other side, 35 percent said they go to church a few times a year or never. Yet, less than 1 percent said God/religion was the most important issue. So, how much religion coverage do you need?

Energy and the environment are critical issues today, but how do you balance the low sense of importance people give them?

Most news organizations pay a great deal of attention to local schools and certainly to government. So, what, if anything, are people saying when they say those areas are among the least important issues facing the nation?

Nothing compares with asking readers and viewers themselves. They’ll tell you what they want in a newspaper, a website and a news cast. The problem is that they aren’t asked often enough. And when they are, they are too often ignored. I know. I did the ignoring for years.

Staffs are smaller, people are being asked to do more, and money isn’t available to spend on marketers. Got it. Lived it. Got it. But with declining circulation and revenue, what better time than now?