WASHINGTON -- Although a majority of Americans say that they closely follow the daily turns of the O. J. Simpson trial, the number of people across the nation watching television news shows or reading newspapers continues to decline, according to a new poll to be released today by a media monitoring group.
The Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press estimated -- based on its survey results -- that about 40 million people, or about 24 percent of the adult public, are watching "all or most" of the daily, live Simpson coverage and that about 59 percent "watched, read or heard" about the trial coverage.
Nevertheless, the study found, network broadcast news viewing was down to 48 percent from the 60 percent who said that they watched the news "regularly" in May 1993. Regular local television viewing dropped less dramatically during the same period to 72 percent from 77 percent of those polled.
Respondents reported diminishing patience with newspapers. Forty-five percent reported reading a newspaper "yesterday," down in comparison to the center's findings in February 1994 (58 percent) and in March 1991 (56 percent).
It is unclear whether the decline in network news watching and newspaper reading is a continuation of a trend or a result of Simpson trial watchers tuning directly into the live broadcasts on cable channels, the researchers said.
"So many people who are hard-core O. J. addicts are also typical news consumers," said Andrew Kohut, director of the center. "They are getting their news from other sources than local and network news. They have gone over to the cable channel."
Broadcast television news has been hurt most by the national obsession with the Simpson trial, the study said. People who say that they look forward to following the trial's daily developments are twice as likely to watch CNN (32 percent vs. 16 percent) and three times as likely to watch Court TV (15 percent vs. 5 percent) as television viewers who do not look forward to watching the trial coverage, the survey found.
The national poll of 1,819 adult Americans was conducted between March 22-26. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.