July 9, 2009

In the Blogosphere, the Walkman and the Pitchman Supplant Michael Jackson

PEJ New Media Index June 29-July 3, 2009

After an initial wave of nostalgia over the death of Michael Jackson, social media moved on to other matters last week. Unlike the traditional press, which remained fixated on the life and death of the King of Pop, that story all but vanished from the links in both blog and twitter posts.  

From June 29-July 3, discussion of Jackson accounted for a mere 2% of the links on blogs and other social media, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s New Media Index.  This represents a sharp drop-off from the previous week, which, although it included just the first two days of coverage after Jackson’s June 25 death, garnered 27% of the links.

Instead, online commentators tracked by the social monitoring services Icerocket and Technorati focused on two different post-mortems last week-one for a bygone technology and the other for another recently deceased celebrity, albeit one lacking Jackson’s star power and status.

The top story in social media last week-accounting for 33% of all links-was a report in BBC Magazine about a 13-year-old British boy who was given an original Sony Walkman. He was asked to use the Walkman for a week to help mark the 30th anniversary of that early foray into portable music technology.

Next, at 14% of the links, were tributes to TV infomercial star Billy Mays who died at age 50 (ironically, the same age as Jackson) on June 28. Initially his sudden death was thought to be caused by an injury from a rough plane landing, but later the cause was revealed to be heart disease.

These two stories, which did not show up anywhere in the top-10 list for the mainstream press last week, speak to social media’s predilection toward news about technology and the coming together around less well-known celebrity figures. They also, in the case of Jackson, suggest that social media were not as attracted to the secondary and more troubling strains of the fallout from his death.

On Twitter, the Jackson saga was also passé by last week. A separate look at the Twitter tracking site, Tweetmeme, found the Jackson story amounted to just 5% of the tweets with links from June 29-July 3.  Instead, Twitterers continued their focus on Iran which accounted for fully 48% of the links. And again, the emphasis tended to be on how to marshal support for the protesters in that country. 

The mainstream press, on the other hand, dug deeper into the Jackson saga last week, according to PEJ’s News Coverage Index. Filling 17% of their newshole with Jackson coverage, the traditional media continued to commemorate the star’s legacy. But to an even greater extent, they focused on the ominous questions surrounding the role of drugs in this death and potential court battles over his estate and children. 

And there was further evidence of the gap in the news agendas of the social and mainstream media. In a week when the U.S. pulled its troops out of Iraqi cities and launched a major offensive in Afghanistan, only 1% of links in the blogosphere were devoted to Iraq and Afghanistan respectively. But in the mainstream media, events in Iraq were the No. 3 story, at 6%, and Afghanistan was No. 4, at 5%. The No. 5 story in the mainstream press was the debate over health care, also at 5%.

In the social media, however, the rest of the top-five story list was strikingly different.

A BBC Science story about researchers who found that a large ant colony in Argentina is actually part of a large interrelated network of ant colonies, was No. 3, generating 12% of the links. The Supreme Court decision about the New Haven firefighters received 9% of the week’s links while the subject of global warming, spurred by the U.S. House passage of a climate change bill, got 6%,

The British Teen and the Sony Walkman

Reactions to the BBC story about the 13-year-old boy (named Scott) given the Walkman were mostly nostalgic retrospectives from former owners of the device, an early ancestor of the iPod.  "One of the times When It Changed for me was getting my first Walkman."* writes Lyle Hopwood at Peromyscus "I was suited with it-I even took it to bed."

That sentiment was echoed by many, though some displayed generational-driven resentment toward Scott’s critiques.  "And of course, Scott complains about the size, the shortage of music on a single tape, and other inconveniences-but probably because these damn kids today with their music don’t know what us children of the 80’s had to go through…." writes Jim Eltringham of JimEltringham.com.

 "Scott’s cool for doing this-my sixteen-year old cousin would certainly not carry a walkman to class for a week, so Scott’s got my admiration for that…"admits moodymuse19 on his Livejournal blog. "But it still bothers me that every kid I meet seems to simply forget things happened before they were born, too."

Perhaps the purest musing came from amnesiablog. The title of the post is simply "What was your first Walkman? (or portable music player for you natives)" with a large picture of a yellow Sony Walkman and a brief post asking people to post pictures of their first Walkman and memories of the device.

The Passing of Billy Mays

The death of boisterous pitchman and late-night TV icon Billy Mays was generally greeted with sadness. "I have to admit that I’ve got a real soft spot for the work of recently deceased commercial pitchman Billy Mays.  Yes, he was loud.  Very loud….But he grew on me, especially once he did his ESPN commercials where he poked fun at his persona.  That’s why I’m wearing blue for Billy today." writes Ron Hogan at Popfi.

Many of the posts, which most often linked to the CNN report of his death, remarked specifically, if also slightly sarcastically, about his thick dark beard. . "Look closely friends….this is the beard on which all others will be judged by.  If God has a beard…it would be as nice as Billy’s….almost." writes the State of Pate.

Overall though, the reaction was largely one of genuine loss for the off-beat infomercial celebrity. "Good-humored, fiercely intelligent, a lover of life, and the best in the world at what he did …" writes John Nolte at Big Hollywood, "if I could snap my fingers and make it so, this would be the life capturing the world’s imagination today."

Top YouTube Videos

The most viewed video on YouTube last week is a clip of President Obama giving a White House speech to a group of charity workers when he is interrupted by a cell phone, from somewhere in the crowd, with the ring tone of a quacking duck. With the room breaking out in laughter, Obama departs from his prepared remarks to take note of the unusual sound. The video was viewed over 1 million times through July 3.

Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube

June 29 – July 3, 2009

1. President Obama is interrupted by a cell phone ring tone of a duck quacking.

2. Video made by a young man musing about his memories of Michael Jackson the day after his death.

3. Whitehouse press corps questions Robert Gibbs about prepackaged questions for President Obama during a town hall meeting.

4. Music video of an Iranian pop star, Andy Madadian, doing a cover of "Stand by Me" with Jon Bon Jovi.

5. Clip of an interview with Michael Jackson’s father at the 2009 BET Awards.



The New Media Index is a weekly report that captures the leading commentary of blogs and social media sites focused on news and compares those subjects to that of the mainstream press.

PEJ has launched the New Media Index as a companion to its weekly News Coverage Index. Blogs and other new media are an important part of creating today’s news information narrative and in shaping the way Americans interact with the news. The expansion of online blogs and other social media sites has allowed news-consumers and others outside the mainstream press to have more of a role in agenda setting, dissemination and interpretation. PEJ aims to find out what subjects in the national news the online sites focus on, and how that compared with the narrative in the traditional press.

Two prominent Web tracking sites, Technorati and Icerocket, monitor more than 100 million blogs and over 250 million pieces of social media, using the links to articles embedded on these sites as a proxy for determining what these subjects are. Using this tracking process as a base, PEJ staff compiles the lists of links weekday each day.   They capture the top five linked-to stories on each list (50 stories in all each week), and reads, watches or listens to these posts and conducts a content analysis of their subject matter, just as it does for the mainstream press in its weekly News Coverage Index. It follows the same coding methodology as that of the NCI. This process allows us to compare the New Media commentary, based on the Technorati and Icerocket list of links, with the commentary in the traditional press.

The priorities of the bloggers are measured in terms of percentage of links. Each time a news blog or social media Web page adds a link to its site directing its readers to a news story, it suggests that the author of the blog places at least some importance on the content of that article. The user may or may not agree with the contents of the article, but they feel it is important enough to draw the reader’s attention to it. PEJ measures the topics that are of most interest to bloggers by compiling the quantitative information on links and analyzing the results.

For the examination of the links from Twitter, PEJ staff monitored the tracking site Tweetmeme. Similar to Icerocket and Technorati, Tweetmeme measures the number of times a link to a particular story or blog post is tweeted and retweeted. Then, as we do with Technorati and Icerocket, PEJ captured the five most popular linked-to pages each weekday under the heading of "news" as determined by Tweetmeme’s method of categorization. And as with the other data provided in the NMI, the top stories are determined in terms of percentage of links. (One minor difference is that Tweetmeme offers the top links over the prior 24 hours while the lists used on Technorati and Icerocket offer the top links over the previous 48 hours.)

The Project also tracks the most popular news video on YouTube each week.

*For the sake of authenticity, PEJ has a policy of not correcting misspellings or grammatical errors that appear in direct quotes from blog postings.

Note: PEJ’s weekly News Coverage Index includes Sunday newspapers while the New Media Index is Monday through Friday.