March 11, 2010

Gay Rights Tops the Bloggers’ News Agenda

PEJ New Media Index March 1-5, 2010

Last week, bloggers returned to the hot-button subject of gay rights, a topic that has repeatedly proven to be of more interest to commentators online than to the mainstream press.

From March 1-5, 16% of the week’s links in the blogosphere were about gay rights issues in the news, according to the New Media Index from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. This is the second time in a month when the topic has been among the most discussed subjects. During the first week of February, gay issues including the military’s policy of "don’t ask, don’t tell" were a major subject of discussion. It is also the sixth time the subject finished in the top five since PEJ began its New Media Index in January 2009.

This past week, several different incidents drove the conversation. These included a protest at a Catholic Mass in the Netherlands, a change in health coverage for employees of Catholic Charities, and the acceptance of same-sex marriage license applications in Washington, D.C.

A few commentators condemned the Dutch protestors for interrupting a religious ceremony, but the vast majority of those who discussed the D.C. cases were in favor of same-sex marriage and critical of the Catholic Church’s position.

The second-largest subject on blogs last week, also with 16% of the week’s links, was the massive earthquake that hit Chile on February 27. Most of the bloggers who commented on the disaster simply informed their readers of its occurrence and passed along what little details were known at the time. Others expressed condolences for the victims and a few tracked the resulting tsunami that had the potential to hit Hawaii.

The Chilean earthquake was also a major subject in the mainstream press last week, finishing third with 10% of the week’s newshole, according to PEJ’s News Coverage Index. The top stories there were health care reform and the economy. Same-sex marriage, meanwhile, accounted for less than 0.1% of the newshole.

The third story on blogs, with 12% of the links, was a BBC report about the closing of two British digital radio stations, BBC 6 Music and Asian Network, despite having devoted followings.

Health care reform was fourth at 10%. Most of the links referred to an opinion piece in the Washington Post by Utah Senator Orrin Hatch who claimed that if Senate Democrats use the technique known as reconciliation to pass the bill, it would be an assault on the democratic process.

Another Washington Post piece, this one a profile of President Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, was fifth at 9%.

On the social-networking site Twitter, the top subject (with 13% of the news links) was Google. Several different storylines drew attention including a report that Google had purchased the Web-based photo editor Picnik and a CNET column by Stephen Shankland who declared that his encounter with Google’s new social-networking feature, Google Buzz, actually encouraged him to use Facebook more. It marked the second straight week that Google has been the No. 1 topic.

An MSNBC.com story about John Patrick Bedell, the man who opened fire at the Pentagon wounding two police officers, was second at 8%. Protests by students and professors in California against budget cutbacks in education finished third, also at 8%, followed by a story about the Smithsonian Institution refusing the suit worn by O.J. Simpson the day in 1995 when he was acquitted of murder (at 7%).

Stories about Facebook finished fifth, also at 7%. One of the main links was a report that the site might pull in more than $1 billion in revenues this year. 

Gay Rights

Several different events involving gay rights drew bloggers’ interest last week.

First, on Sunday, February 28, hundreds of Dutch activists dressed in pink wigs and clothes to stage a protest at a Roman Catholic Mass over the Church’s policy to deny communion to homosexuals.

Some bloggers supported the protestors.

"If the Catholic Church denies Communion to LGBT people because it views homosexuality as sinful, shouldn’t the Church deny Communion to everyone who sins?" asked Tommy Godbold. "Jesus is a lot of things to a lot of people…here’s one thing he’s not: homophobic."

Others, however, felt the protests were inappropriate.

"It is interesting how the sodomites seek to desecrate that which is most sacred in carrying out their political theater," remarked Daniel J. Cassidy at Sunlit Uplands. "We commend and thank the good Dutch priest involved in the following story who knows there can be no communion or ‘fellowship’ with those who not only ‘walk in darkness,’ but celebrate it and want us to call it ‘light.’"

"Since the left wing of the Church has become the useful idiots of the gay lobby, you can expect more of this entitlement mentality in the future," predicted Suzanne at Big Blue Wave.

The Catholic Church in the United States became embroiled in another controversy when Catholic Charities announced on Monday that it would change health coverage for their employees following Washington, D.C.’s decision to allow same-sex marriages. Rather than risk being forced to cover the spouses of gay employees, the Charities announced it would not offer benefits to any spouses of new employees or current employees not already enrolled in the plan, regardless of sexual orientation.

Bloggers overwhelmingly condemned the announcement.

"Brilliant. Because now that gays are eligible for benefits, just get rid of the benefits for everybody. How loving," responded Whiskey Fire sarcastically.

"Catholic Charities is a private, non-profit organization, so they can do whatever they want when it comes to providing benefits to their employees," added Bark Bark Woof Woof. And, he continued, "actually go out of their way to ostracize legally-recognized married couples. How charitable of them."

Then on Wednesday, the focus changed once again when Washington, D.C. began accepting applications for marriage licenses for same-sex couples.

The vast majority of bloggers who commented on the situation saw it as a momentous and positive occasion.

"As a brand new resident of the District of Columbia, I’m so proud to say that gay marriage is now legal in my city," cheered The Freckled Citizen. "I would go down to the courthouse to watch the joy (and inevitable protest drown-out) in person, but I think I might get too weepy. So from another corner of town, I’m sending my love to that big line of committed couples, whose world is a lot more just today."

"I’m so happy for my friends who have been in long-term relationships in DC as they can now get legally married," agreed mrsukyankee at Movement. "It’s about time. And I wish this would spread to more places."

Earthquake in Chile

Following the massive earthquake that hit Chile on February 27, many bloggers linked to mainstream news reports about the event, such as those from the Los Angeles Times, the BBC, or Foxnews.com, without adding much comment. They were simply relaying what little information was known in the hours following the event.

For example, Stephanie Zvan at Almost Diamonds aggregated a list of available news pages with details on the earthquake and added, "Let me know if there are more articles I should include here."

Other blogs tried to convey direct information themselves, especially regarding people trapped in Chile and the resulting tsunami that that had the potential to cause serious damage to Hawaii.

"If you believe someone you know was in Chile at the time of the earthquake and are looking for them, the U.S. State Department has opened a hotline: (888) 407-4747," offered Tab Right. "If you would like to donate to efforts to help the people of Chile, TabRight.com recommends only contributing to organizations you are familiar with…If you are interested in donating to the Red Cross please click on this link: DONATE."

Along with posting a bulletin from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), David L. at University and State wrote, "If you’re in Hawaii, check with your local authorities and this NOAA website for Tsunami warnings. Tsunamis are predicted to hit the Hawaiian islands around 11:05 AM HST, today, Saturday 27 February 2010. The time in Hawaii right now is here. Please use the same NOAA Tsunami warning site if you live anywhere along the Pacific Rim as well." 

And, as is generally the case following these types of tragedies, many bloggers shared their condolences.

"Buildings can be rebuilt, electricity can be restored, aid can be rendered, wounds can be healed and broken bones set, but lives cannot be replaced. Keep the folks down there in your prayers," requested An Ol’ Broad’s Ramblings.

YouTube

The tragic death of an animal trainer by a killer whale at SeaWorld in Orlando was a major driver of traffic on YouTube. Four of the five most viewed news videos last week were about the February 24 incident when animal trainer Dawn Brancheau was drowned by the whale.

The top video, which was viewed almost 2.5 million times, was raw news footage posted by CBS News Online. That video included a shot of the whale and quotes from a press conference that included a statement from Dan Brown, the President of SeaWorld Orlando.

Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube

For the Week of February 27-March 5, 2010

1. Raw news footage regarding the SeaWorld accident from CBS News Online

2. A news report on the incident that originally aired on the February 24 broadcast of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric

3. A home movie taken during the February 27 earthquake in Chile

4. An Associated Press story about the whale incident including an interview with Richard Ellis, a marine conservationist with the American Museum of Natural History

5. A Mexican station’s news report in Spanish about the death at SeaWorl

 



 

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.

A prominent Web tracking site Icerocket, which monitors millions of blogs, uses 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 (25 stories 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 Icerocket list of links, with the commentary in the traditional press.  Note: When the NMI was launched in January 2009, another web-tracking site Technorati was similarly monitoring blogs and social media. PEJ originally captured both Technorati’s and Icerocket’s daily aggregation. In recent months, though, this component of Technorati’s site has been down with no indication of when it might resume. 

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.