When an 18-year-old walked into Trolley Square and started shooting on Monday evening, it quickly became huge news locally, big news nationally and also news around the world.

The BBC covered it. So did Swedish radio. You could read, watch and hear about it from France to Japan, Australia to South Africa.

But before the crime scene had even been processed, the news cycle had already started to move on.

By early Tuesday morning, the news out of Salt Lake City was one of the top stories — but rarely the top story in the national media.

Across the television dial — including ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC and CNBC — the Trolley Square story was often playing behind the winter storm striking the eastern half of the United States. And more often than not, national TV networks were taking reports from local TV reporters rather than dispatching their own staffers.

By midmorning, the cable-news networks were devoting more time to the death of Anna Nicole Smith five days earlier in Florida than to the killings of five people, the hospitalization of four more and the death of the shooter in Utah slightly more than half a day earlier. The release of the 31-second 911 call made from Smith's hotel room after she was found unconscious was bigger news, apparently.

The Utah story was considered important enough, however, for CNN and FNC to carry part of the midday news conference at the City-County Building live. A reporter was there for the New York Times, as were more than a dozen local and national TV crews. CNN's Thelma Gutierrez said she had flown in from Los Angeles.

One TV photographer who didn't want to be identified said, "Off the record, we've had five or six days of Anna Nicole Smith. And to me, this is a big story and should have big turnout. Five innocent people died."

By noon, the camera crews at Trolley Square were still mostly local people who jump when the network calls; the reporters were all well-coiffed young women, such as CBS's Jennifer Miller, who had flown in and was looking for witnesses or other local people who would give a reaction; her photographer is based in Denver.

Derek Reign, a photographer from Heber, was working for ABC. "I think this is such a big deal because Salt Lake is considered such a quiet city where something like this is not expected to happen," he said. "I am actually sad being here because it's such a tragic story."

This wasn't the first time in recent years that a Utah crime has made national, even international headlines. Just last year, the arrest of polygamist Warren Jeffs and the kidnapping/murder of Destiny Norton flashed across the country and around the world.

But the media response to what happened at Trolley Square was considerably less frenzied than perhaps Utah's most high-profile crime story — when Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped in 2002. Which is hardly surprising since the long-unsolved kidnapping was an ongoing story, whereas the gunman at Trolley Square was himself killed, drawing a quick curtain on that event. At least in the eyes of the national media.

But watching how quickly the Utah story slipped down the list of important news stories also says something about how commonplace it has become for a gunman to walk into a mall and start shooting people.

For that matter, the shooting in Utah wasn't the only one making headlines. Four people died in a shooting in Philadelphia on Monday night (and in London's Globe and Mail, and other outlets around the world, that story was packaged with the one from Utah); on Tuesday morning there was news from Arizona of three more shooting deaths.

The Smart kidnapping also took off in terms of media attention because it happened at a time when there was a relative lull in the news — there weren't a lot of big stories competing for ink and airtime. Such was not the case on Tuesday, when North Korea was reportedly agreeing to shut down its nuclear program; American officials were accusing Iran of fomenting trouble in Iraq; a tornado had struck New Orleans; the possibility that Vice President Dick Cheney would testify at the trial of his former chief aide; bombs were going off in Lebanon; and Mitt Romney was declaring his candidacy for president.

And the Romney story, oddly enough, put Utah in the media spotlight to some degree as well.


Contributing: Valerie Phillips, Dennis Lythgoe

E-mail: pierce@desnews.com