April 22, 2010

A Volcano, a Plane Crash and Obama vs. the Press Top a Diverse Week in the Blogosphere

PEJ New Media Index April 12-16, 2010

Bloggers’ attention was evenly divided among three different subjects last week-something that doesn’t often happen in social media where attention has a way of amassing around one or two stories.

From April 12-16, the Icelandic volcano, the crash that killed the Polish President and Barack Obama’s handling of the media at the nuclear summit each received 13% of the week’s links, according to the New Media Index from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. This marks the first time in nearly half a year-since last November-without a single subject accounting for more than 13% of the blogosphere links in a given week.

One of last week’s top subjects was the volcanic eruption in Iceland that delayed thousands of flights throughout Europe. Most bloggers linked to a single BBC story about travel consequences; some even shared how the disruptions impacted them personally. The eruption also generated significant mainstream media coverage last week, finishing as the No. 2 story in the News Coverage Index.

Another lead story in the blogosphere was the death of Polish President Lech Kaczynski and many other senior Polish officials in an April 10 plane crash in Russia. For the most part, bloggers shared their sympathy and thoughts on the tragedy. A few, however, focused on theories sprinkled throughout the Web suggesting that the crash was not an accident and that somehow Russia was involved. (The same subject was also the most watched video on YouTube last week.)

And the third subject at 13% was a piece by the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank criticizing President Obama’s handling of the press during the recent Nuclear Security Summit. Milbank complained that Obama circumvented reporters during most of the summit in a manner that resembled "Soviet-era Moscow."

Bloggers were split on Milbank’s assessment. Some felt he was whining and defending a press corps that has become too self-important. Others used the story as evidence that Obama’s administration is overly secretive and taking away America’s freedoms.

Following the top three subjects, two stories attracted 9% of the week’s links.

One was a feature piece by Gene Weingarten, originally published in the Washington Post in March, about people who accidentally killed their children by leaving them in the backseat of their cars.  The story drew attention this past week because it was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for feature writing.

The other story was a Los Angeles Times report concluding that the recently passed health care bill will not prevent insurance companies from dramatically raising their rates.

On the communication site Twitter, technology once again dominated the news conversation. Four of the top five stories were Internet-focused.

Google was the top subject with more than a quarter (28%) of the links. Most of the focus was on a Wired.com article noting that the New York Times had reported that Google was preparing to sell its own tablet machine to compete with Apple’s iPad. Others linked to a CNET story about upcoming improvements to Google’s Gmail service that would allow for drag-and-drop attachments. 

The second-largest subject on Twitter, at 9%, was Twitter itself. Most of that focus was a report that the Library of Congress has begun archiving Twitter messages, thus suggesting there is a research benefit to such a collection.

A British game company which played a joke on thousands of shoppers last month by placing an "immortal soul clause" in its terms and conditions was third at 8%. According to Fox News, 7,500 customers unknowingly sold their souls to the company.

Criticism from former astronaut Neil Armstrong about President Obama’s changes to NASA’s space plan-including the cancellation of a program intended to develop a new generation of spacecraft-was fourth at 7%. And a story about a message from Scott Ambrose Reilly, who helped oversee Amazon’s music division, in which he condemned many peers in the online music industry was fifth at 5%.

Volcano Interrupts

The April 15 BBC report about the eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajoekull focused primarily on the travel delays caused by the ash in England and Europe. Bloggers who discussed the story, many of whom were located in England, followed with a similar emphasis.

A number of bloggers shared personal stories on how they were impacted.

"This would be fascinating, if this hadn’t happened on the day we were due to fly out of the UK," acknowledged the Team Slavinski Blog.

"My sweetie was due to leave today for a trip to the States. But Eyjafjallajokull has said ‘No’!" declared Marginalia.

"Being able to see the approach to Edinburgh Airport from parts of the office there is a bizarre emptiness to the sky at the moment," described Stephen Glenn.  "There are not only no vapour trails but also no planes making their approach or take off from Edinburgh airport."

Other bloggers poked fun at the countries involved.

"And let’s face it, the fall out from the Icelandic eruption is bound to have a devastating impact," posted Paul Groves at Groves Media. "If our nation grinds to a halt after a couple of inches of snow, then we can pretty much expect anarchy with something out of the ordinary like a volcano."*

"They’ve [Iceland] really got it in for us," wrote London blogger mcgillianaire. "First they go bankrupt, then they refuse to pay back our loans and now this! The ungrateful wretches. Some historians even believe that an Icelandic eruption in 1787 led to the French Revolution! They don’t stop at anything."

Polish Plane Crash

For several days following the April 10 plane crash in Russia that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski and other government officials, bloggers expressed sympathy for the country that had just lost many of its leaders.

"Goes to show that you never know what will happen," reflected missannakay. "One thing is for sure, Poland will be in mourning. To Those Who Passed, Rest In Peace."

"I simply cannot believe this," seconded delenn_mira. "Please pray for them and their families."

Considering the sometimes tense history between Poland and Russia, a few bloggers floated theories that the crash was not an accident. They did not believe the reports that Russian flight controllers had warned the plane’s pilots to land at another airport due to inclement weather.

"I’d say the odds are at least 100 to 1 it was not an accident," declared Psychogenesis. "The truth may well be that they simply redirected all other air-traffic to other airports and told the poles to then ‘safely’ land…in foggy weather. And then they just pulled the trigger. The rest is bloody history."

However, there seemed to be even more bloggers dismissing these theories than endorsing them.

"One hopes that this can be clearly proven to have been an accident and that conspiracy theories don’t proliferate and destroy the budding rapprochement between these two historic enemies," posted John Zipperer.

"Neither…the Russians or the plane…[are] likely to be blamed for anything," concluded Dimitar Naydenov after examining some of the facts surrounding the accident. "It is just the bad weather conditions that caused this tragedy."

Obama and the Press

Dana Milbank’s Washington Post piece condemning Obama’s handling of the press during the recent Nuclear Security Summit drew strong and diverse responses.

One common theme that emerged-among both supporters and critics of Obama-was anti-media sentiment.

"I know it’s tough not getting the fawning attention you so richly deserve but did the possibility ever occur to you that there are more important things about the nuclear summit than making sure the press gets their sound bites for the day?" asked Rottenart Rants. "Last I checked, the Obama administration is busy getting things done and not worrying about coddling the press pool."

Some latched on to Milbank’s critique as evidence the Obama administration was acting inappropriately.

"Nice. Millbank also said world leaders had to have felt like they were transported back to Soviet-era Russia. Gee, that’s how many of us have felt for over a year now," wrote The Lonely Conservative. "Will the media finally realize they’ve been nothing but tools for Obama since he kicked off his presidential campaign?"

"Lots of presidents haven’t liked the press," admitted Neo-neocon. "But usually that’s been because the press has been hostile to them. Obama reverses this-he’s hostile because the press has been so obsequious to him, and because he’s secretive, and because he has contempt for them and thinks he can quite literally get away with anything."

A few conservative bloggers, however, understood why the President was less than forthcoming with the press, although they had no shortage of other complaints about Obama’s handling of the summit.

"The administration was probably anxious to ensure that nothing sensitive leaked to the Press," noted Richard Fernandez at Pajamas Media. "That is fair enough…In the short run it may be necessary to limit Press access at a summit of this nature. But in the long run any world political system which is hostile to transparency will fail utterly at preventing the spread and use of weapons of mass destruction."

YouTube

Footage of the remains of the plane crash that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski was a significant draw on YouTube last week. Two of the five most-watched news videos were on the subject.

The top video, viewed more than 700,000 times, was breaking news coverage from Russia Today, an English-language news channel. Reporters and commentators discuss Kaczynski’s legacy while footage of the wreckage is shown along with a news ticker at the bottom of the screen.

The third most-viewed video was the raw footage that was displayed on Russia Today. It is from one of the first people to arrive on the scene with a camera and documents details of the crash site.

Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube

For the Week of April 10-16, 2010

1. News footage from Russia Today soon after the April 10 plane crash killing Polish President Kaczynski

2. A first-person video by Philip Defranco where he discusses his opinions on a range of issues such as technology and torture

3. Raw footage from the Polish plane crash site

4. Spanish soccer highlights of Barcelona’s Lionel Messi scoring four goals in a Champions League victory over Arsenal

5. Parody of a recently released Nike commercial featuring Tiger Woods



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.