Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

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January 1, 2013

AP poll lists school tragedy as top story of 2012

(Continued)

No. 6: Penn State scandal

It was a daunting year for Penn State and its storied football program. In January, longtime coach Joe Paterno died, his legacy tarnished by the sex-abuse scandal involving his former assistant, Jerry Sandusky. In June, after a wrenching trial, Sandusky was convicted of sexually abusing 10 boys, and was later sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison. In July, the NCAA imposed severe sanctions, including $60 million in fines, a four-year postseason ban on football and a reduction in football scholarships.

No. 7: U.S.

economy

By many measures, the economy was on a welcome upswing. The unemployment rate dipped to a four-year-low of 7.7 percent, stock markets rose, builders broke ground on more homes, and November was the best sales month in nearly five years for U.S. automakers. But overshadowing the good news was deep anxiety about the economic consequences if Obama and the Democrats failed to reach a tax-and-spending deal with the Republicans.

No. 8: Fiscal Cliff

Obama and Republican House Speaker John Boehner engaged in high-stakes negotiations over a deal to avert the so-called “fiscal cliff” that would trigger automatic tax hikes and spending cuts. The leaders narrowed some differences on Social Security and tax rates for the wealthy, but faced intense pressure from their bases to resist certain compromises.

No. 9: Gay

marriage

For supporters of same-sex marriage, it was a year of milestones. Obama, after a drawn-out process of “evolving,” said in May he supported the right of gay couples to wed. On Election Day, Maine, Maryland and Washington became the first states to legalize gay marriage via popular vote. And on Dec. 7 the Supreme Court agreed to hear two cases that could further expand same-sex marriage rights.

No. 10: Syria

What began in 2011 as an outbreak of peaceful protests escalated into full-scale civil war pitting the beleaguered regime of Bashar Assad against a disparate but increasingly potent rebel opposition. The overall death toll climbed past 40,000, as the rebels made inroads toward Assad's bastion of Damascus. The U.S. and many other nations were supporting the opposition, albeit wary of outcomes that might help Islamic extremists gain power in the region.

Falling just short of the Top 10 was the resignation of David Petraeus as CIA director because of an affair he conducted with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.

The choices of the news professionals voting in the AP poll mirrored the news stories most closely followed by the public during the year, according to the Pew Research Center's News Interest Index. The index ranked Obama's re-election as the most intently followed story, with the Newtown shooting second and Superstorm Sandy third.

Several voters in the AP poll added a comment with their ballot, including Carol Hanner, managing editor of the Winston-Salem Journal in North Carolina.

“I believe climate change is being chronically underestimated by the media and by citizens,” she wrote.

The AP, like many other news organizations, traditionally releases its year-end polls and rankings before the actual end of the year. In the case of 2004's top story poll, that meant the final list did not include the cataclysmic Indian Ocean tsunami that occurred on Dec. 26.

In 2009, AP's sports department amended its top-stories ballot part way through the voting to account for revelations about golfer Tiger Woods' marital infidelities. That ended out finishing fifth, far behind the top-ranked entry about Major League Baseball's steroid scandal.

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Projects Editor Brooke Lansdale contributed to this report.

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