May 20, 2010

The UK Elections Consume the Blogosphere

PEJ New Media Index May 10-14, 2010

The May 6 elections in the United Kingdom, which ended with a coalition government and a Conservative Party prime minister, received modest attention in the mainstream U.S. media. However, on social media, where geographic boundaries vanish, the blogosphere was consumed with the formation of the new British government.  

For the week of May 10-14, fully 61% of the news links on blogs were about the British election according to the New Media Index from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. That was more than ten times the attention to the week’s next largest subject and equaled the highest level of interest that any single topic has generated so far in 2010. (During the week of March 22-26-following the House’s passage of health care reform-that subject also made up 61%.)

That stands in stark contrast to the mainstream press, which devoted only 2% of its newshole to the British election the week of May 10-16, according to PEJ’s News Coverage Index.

The online discussion, mostly by British bloggers, did not take an overwhelmingly ideological tack, although there seemed to be general relief that beleaguered Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown was no longer in power. In the aftermath of an election in which no single party got a ruling majority, it largely focused on the details for the somewhat unlikely alliance between the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives that installed Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron.

Last week also demonstrated the influence that a single news source can have in the blogosphere. The eight most linked-to stories on the election all came from one British source, the BBC.

The second largest story on blogs, at 6%, was the nomination of Elena Kagan to be the next Supreme Court Justice. Bloggers were split as to whether Kagan would make a good justice, but not necessarily along ideological lines. Some liberals thought Obama had nominated an inexperienced person who was too moderate while some conservatives thought that Kagan would be the most "acceptable" candidate Obama would propose.

Story No. 3, at 4%, was another BBC report, this one claiming that the U.S. airbase at Bagram in Afghanistan contained a second holding facility for detainees beyond its main building, and that prisoners were subjected to abuse there.

That was followed by a story (also at 4%) about scientists at the University of North Carolina who believe that a blast of ultrasound waves might work as a male contraceptive, stopping sperm production for up to six months. And an obituary for singer and civil rights activist Lena Horne was fifth at 3%.

On the video sharing site YouTube, the top two videos involved events that recently made news. The first was a controversial police drug raid in Columbia, Missouri. The second was an ad by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer criticizing President Obama for not doing enough to combat illegal immigration.

On Twitter, the week was once again dominated by tech-focused stories, reinforcing the platform’s frequent role of disseminating information about new technologies and the controversies they sometimes engender. However, for the first time in four weeks, the top subject was something other than Apple. This week, the top subject was Twitter itself, at 22% of the news links.

The majority of attention to Twitter revolved around a CNET report that Twitter had acknowledged a bug, originally discovered by the Turkish blog Webrazzi, which could force one Twitter user to follow another.

Apple was not far behind though, as it finished second at 13%. Most of the focus was on stories about how restrictive the company has been in the development of their products. One of the main stories drawing attention was a report that Adobe is trying to bring imaging software to Apple’s iPad, but is frustrated with the level of design control Apple has over its products. Another involved news that restrictions Apple placed on its iPhone software developer kit led an independent programmer to cancel an upcoming conference devoted to programming Mac products.

A TechCrunch story that Google may be moving into the gaming business was third at 11%. That was followed by news of the unveiling of AOL’s new homepage at 8%, and a report that mobile marketing firm Adenyo purchased MoVoxx, a mobile advertising company that reaches millions of users via smartphones, at 7%.

British Politics

Early in the week, while the negotiations were ongoing between the conservative Tories and the other two major parties (the Liberal Democrats and Labour) about who would form a governing coalition, then Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced he would step down as leader of the Labour Party.

Most bloggers celebrated the announcement.

"It’s a great day indeed!!" cheered Christian Briddon. "No more Brown as PM. This news has made a rubbish day great. :-)"

Others speculated about the outcome of the negotiations.

"Now that Brown’s promised to step down, it’s looking increasingly plausible that our next government will be a centre-left coalition of some kind," predicted Owen at the Third Estate. "The Tories tried and failed to get majority support, so they should stop whinging and get used to the fact that nearly two thirds of the country made it very clear that we don’t want them in office."

"Amazing… so Brown is stepping down as Labour leader, and formal talks are in progress between Labour and the Lib Dems for the ‘traffic light coalition,’" noted Giroscope. "If this works out, Brown’ll go down in history as the man who facilitated the transformation of UK politics… by performing just badly enough to produce a hung parliament in the election."

On May 12, the Liberal Democrats formed a coalition with the Tories, paving the way for Conservative leader David Cameron to officially become the new Prime Minister. Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg would then become Deputy Prime Minister.

The seemingly odd pairing of parties with vastly different platforms led to a wide range of predictions.

"A week ago I would not have considered a LibDem coalition as a viable or moral alternative, but now we have it, I hope, I really hope, it works," wrote Ray Poynter. "If it goes wrong then the electorate are mostly to blame–for once they have got exactly what they voted for, and close behind them those parts of the Labour party…who refused create a progressive alliance."*

"Well done David Cameron; you’ve won the job, but now the REAL work starts!" insisted Keeping Stock. "There are indeed tough times ahead for Cameron and his government, and undoing the damage done by 13 years of a Labour government will take time. Today’s developments though are the first step in the right direction."

After the BBC published the entire text of the agreement between the two parties, many bloggers focused on specific policy goals.

"Most of the document represented a mix of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat policies outlined in their manifesto," summarized Alexander Baker. "Some of those–like immigration caps–are patently daft. Others are a true blend of Con-Lib policy positions–tax policy, for example."

A number of bloggers were pleased to see the document address the issue of human and civil rights.

"The LibDem-Conservative coalition is probably the closest to Ideal outcome for civil liberties," suggested William Heath at Ideal Government. "There’s some more to add, but it’s a very promising start."

"Part 10 [of the agreement] is the sweetest thing to read," applauded Benjamin Dennehy. "For 13 years the socialist Labour Party has eroded basic freedoms. Part 10 seeks to reverse this. PRAISE THE LORD."

Others were not so optimistic.

"Basically, the Lib Dems have just rolled over and given up much of what they fought the election on and the Tories have given them a few minor concessions and five seats in the cabinet, including the meaningless post of ‘deputy PM’ for Clegg," lamented Carole Bristol.

Kagan Nomination

Following Obama’s nomination of Elena Kagan to be the next justice on the Supreme Court, many bloggers admitted that they did not know much about her. Some, though, did express support.

"I think Kagan would be an excellent Supreme Court justice, and I hope she’s confirmed (barring the discovery of any hefty skeletons)," decided Tom Carter at Opinion Forum. "This would also be a good opportunity for Republicans in the Senate to join Democrats in confirming her, if only to illustrate that they’re capable of bipartisanship now and then."

However, some of the harshest opposition to Kagan came from liberals who thought that Obama had chosen a moderate rather than a strong liberal.

Glenn Greenwald, writing at Salon, listed a number of reasons he opposed Kagan and criticized liberals likely to support her just because she was Obama’s choice.

"Democrats love to mock the Right for their propensity to engage in party-line, close-minded adherence to their Leaders," Greenwald wrote, "but compare what conservatives did with Bush’s selection of Harriet Miers to what progressives are almost certain to do with Obama’s selection of someone who is, at best, an absolute blank slate."

"This is exactly why Democrats keep getting rolled by even the most grossly incompetent republicans in the history of the republic: because they settle for anything that’s not radically reactionary, while repugs refuse to accept anything but the radically reactionary," complained Yellow Dog at Blue in the Bluegrass

"Not looking good Obama, I was hoping for much better," added Forward Our Motto.

Conservatives were somewhat split on how to respond. Some found her mildly acceptable.

"I don’t know very much about Elena Kagan other than that a couple of Harvard folks for whom I have a lot of respect think highly of her," wrote Stephen M. Bainbridge. "When I look at some of the lefties who are opposing her and their reasons for doing so, however, I’m tempted to conclude that she’s the most acceptable-from my perspective-candidate Obama is likely to put forward for the SCOTUS. You can tell a lot about a person from who their enemies are."

Others, however, opposed her outright.

"The only conclusion I can come to……this is another person that D’Bama wants to put in a position of power that is totally unqualified," decried An Ol’ Broad’s Ramblings. "Not extremely surprising."

YouTube

The most viewed news video on YouTube last week was of a police raid in Columbia, Missouri, and was viewed 1.2 million times. The four-and-a-half minute video starts as police enter a suspect’s house to make an arrest for drug charges. After the raid, in which the police shot two dogs, there were concerns about whether they had used excessive force. The city’s police chief later announced that there would be changes in the rules law enforcement follow during future raids. (The link to the video is here. Warning: the video contains graphic content and language.)

The second video was a one-minute ad by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer criticizing Obama for making a joke about the state’s new controversial immigration law. The video lists crime rate statistics for the state and then shows Obama’s reference to the law at the recent White House Correspondents dinner. The ad concludes with the words, "Do your job and secure the border."

The third video was made up of a collection of photographs of Nashville, Tennessee, during the recent floods that overwhelmed the city.

The fourth and fifth videos were of the same event-a stampede caused by a bomb scare in Amsterdam during a May 5 ceremony to honor the victims of World War II. Both videos were taken by people in the crowd.

Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube
For the Week of May 8-14, 2010

1. Police in Columbia, MO, conduct a raid

2. A one-minute ad from Arizona Governor Jan Brewer criticizing Obama for making a joke about the state’s new immigration law

3. A montage of still photographs of Nashville, TN, during the recent flooding

4. First person footage of a May 5 stampede in Amsterdam during a ceremony to honor the victims of World War II

5. Another video of the Amsterdam stampede



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.