April 29, 2010

The Eyjafjallajoekull Effect Leads the Blogosphere Again

PEJ New Media Index April 19-23, 2010

For the second week in a row, the travel delays caused by the Icelandic volcano that spewed ash in the skies over Europe were the lead subject on blogs. And in an illustration of how news can be personalized in social media, a good deal of the commentary included individual experiences from people directly affected by the grounded fights. 

For the week of April 19-23, more than a quarter (28%) of the week’s links on blogs were about the Icelandic volcano and the related travel problems according to the New Media Index from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. That more than doubled the attention to the story the previous week (13% of the links), when the volcano finished in a three-way tie for the lead topic.

The aftermath of the Eyjafjallajoekull eruption was also very popular on YouTube last week, accounting for three of the five most watched news videos. And it was the No. 2 story in mainstream media last week, overshadowed by coverage of the economy.

The trajectory of the online conversation surrounding the eruption began with bloggers sharing their own circumstances of being stranded due to air travel restrictions caused by the eruption. Then, as the week progressed, some questioned whether the decision by European governments to cancel flights was the proper way to handle the situation. And once flight travel began to resume, interest in the story diminished noticeably.

At the same time, some bloggers engaged in a very different discussion related to a BBC column by philosopher Alain de Botton who credited the volcano for allowing him to imagine an idyllic, simpler world without aircraft. 

The second most popular story among bloggers last week, at 20% of the links, was also related to natural disasters—albeit quite indirectly.

It was a speech by an Iranian cleric named Hojjat ol-eslam Kazem Sediqi who claimed that earthquakes are caused by promiscuous women who wear revealing clothing. Some bloggers found the argument outrageous and offensive while others dismissed it as laughable.

In third place, at 17%, was a costly mistake by an Australian book publisher. Penguin Group Australia had to reprint 7,000 copies of the Pasta Bible cookbook after one recipe included the directions to add “salt and freshly ground black people” instead of black pepper.

Continuing on the theme of spices, an effort by the Food and Drug Administration to gradually reduce salt intake consumed by Americans was fourth at 12%. And a discovery by librarians that George Washington had borrowed two books from the New York Society Library in 1789 but failed to return them was fifth at 8%. According to the BBC, Washington would now owe $300,000 in fines had the library chosen to pursue the late fees.

On the communication site Twitter, discussions of new gadgets from Apple represented the lead subject with more than a third (37%) of the week’s links. Apple has continually been a hot topic of conversation on Twitter as this marks the fifth time in the last seven weeks that the company’s products have been among the top five news subjects.

Several different stories about Apple were spotlighted by Twitterers including a report that the blog Engadget obtained a prototype of Apple’s yet unreleased fourth generation iPhone that was accidentally left at a bar in San Jose. Another story about the rejection by Apple of a kid-friendly programming application for the iPad also received attention.

In an unusual occurrence for Twitter, however, none of the next top four stories of the week were technology-focused.

Second, at 9% of the links, was a report that actor Kal Penn (of Harold and Kumar fame), who had recently served as the Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, was robbed at gunpoint in Washington, D.C.

News about the conflicts between anti-government protestors and the military in Thailand was third at 6%. Several stories about the British elections finished fourth at 5% including a report in The Sun that the blueprint for the debate plan for Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg was discovered in the back of a taxicab. And fifth, also at 5%, was another story about the U.K. that highlighted the increase in the number of unemployed people in Britain to 2.5 million.

Volcano

Bloggers who were directly impacted by the travel delays caused by Eyjafjallajoekull continued to share their personal stories last week.

“I don’t hold out much hope of seeing my wife fly back from England anytime soon,” declared Sean McLachlan at Gadling. “The best bet seems to be for her to take the Eurostar from London to Paris, and then another train back to Madrid. But with thousands of other people jostling for tickets, and the trip costing more than 300 euros with no guarantee that she’ll be reimbursed, it’s a pretty poor option.”

Melissa Becker, a journalist based in Brazil who had been stranded in Madrid, described her options: “The earliest flight I could book is on next Sunday—no, not this weekend, Sunday next week, April 25th…Train could be an option to leave Madrid sooner, but it’d be very expensive. For now, my decision is waiting for my ‘earliest’ flight, as I couldn’t see a better and not so expensive alternative.”

Some bloggers discussed the impact in economic terms.

“The airline industry is losing 200 million dollars a day according to The International Air Transport Association,” wrote Swedish blogger The Sound of My Own Voice. “How bad is that for the big airlines? One analyst put it this way, ‘if it goes on for a week it begins to hurt, at the moment, it’s a headache.’ And after a few months it’s like a coma?”

After European airlines questioned whether the unprecedented curbs on air travel were necessary, some in the online community also debated the issue.

“I agree…that flying in significant ash is stupid and is going to kill people,” concluded ScrubOne. “And airlines are going to push their own self interest. But as I’ve pointed out, airlines interests are aligned with safety in this instance. No matter how much they might spin to the public, they simply have no interest in conducting high-maintenance, loss producing flights.”

Others thought the government bans had gone too far.

“Wherever the Precautionary Principle is used to justify restrictions on human activity it is because a political agenda is being served but common sense dictates otherwise,” argued The k2p Blog. “It is usually resorted to by polticians and bureaucrats who defend a process in the name of avoiding the ‘common bad’ even if the results of the process are against the common good. Big Brother in Europe is alive and well but it is time to put this pseudo-science to bed.”*

A piece by a Swiss philosopher allowed some bloggers to visualize a quite different, and slower, modern world. Alain de Botton wrote a column for the BBC called “A World without Planes” where he imagined an environment uninterrupted by the chaos of air travel and where people could gain wisdom from moving at a so-called “camel pace.”

To some, de Botton’s words were a welcome reflection.

“Sometimes one does just want to turn the clock back to a time when things were simpler,” agreed bibliobibuli.

“I feel sorry for the thousands of travellers that are experiencing a real monetary or anxious distress at not being able to get home or away, but hope that those who have found themselves in a place for longer than they intended, take this unusual ‘gift’ of time and unexpected jolt to the routine, and are making the most of it,” wrote Maylin at The Dewey Divas and the Dudes.

Not everyone agreed, however, that this world would be such a positive thing.

“I would certainly hate such a future,” acknowledged cubano at Eccentric Optimism.  “Traveling is my passion and not being able to do it freely and easily would be a nightmare.”

Cleric’s Comment

The online community was universally critical of the claim by an Iranian cleric that promiscuous and immodest women were to blame for earthquakes.

“The initial response is to lie on the floor howling with uncontrollable laughter, but then it gets altogether more depressing when you realise how many people there are in the world who believe such idiocy and much in the same ilk,” wrote Dem Bones Dem Bones.

“Mr.Sedighi is either some kind of tongue-in-cheek comedian or he’s in need of radical brain surgery,” concluded A View from Middle England by Arden Forester. “I can’t believe any man sat through his diatribe with a straight face…Whoever is in charge of Islamic teaching in Iran should put this guy out to grass. Preferably in a part of the country that doesn’t get earthquakes.”

Others found the whole notion laughable.

“I found this story particularly amusing,” responded mrsneeze. “I think its the well thought out, scientific and logical argument that convinces me: If a woman dresses in the slightly bit provocatively, all men anywhere near immediately lose all control and God punishes us all with an earthquake. Works for me.”

“We can only imagine what the women in Iceland must have been doing,” pondered Jender at Feminist Philosophers.

YouTube 

The Icelandic volcano was also the major subject on YouTube last week. It was the subject of three of the top five most viewed news videos.

The top video was raw footage from the Associated Press taken from a helicopter on April 17 of ash being spewed by the volcano. Even though the clip included no commentary, it gave a perspective on the sheer power of the eruption. 

 

The second most-watched news video was a 30-second news report from the English language news station Russia Today that showed some clips of the volcano and mentioned the large-scale travel disruptions that it has caused.

 

The fifth video came from Russia Today and was a satellite image originally from NASA of the ash plume as it moved over Europe. 

Combined, the three videos were viewed more than 2.5 million times last week.

 

Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube

For the Week of April 17-23, 2010

1. Raw footage from the Associated Press of ash spewing from the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajoekull

2. A brief news report about the volcano from Russia Today

3. Raw footage from the site where the plane carrying Polish President Kaczynski crashed on April 10

4. A brief news report from Russia Today about a meteor sighting in Wisconsin

5. Satellite images from Russia Today of the ash plume from Eyjafjallajoekull located over Europe

 



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.