October 14, 2010

For Bloggers it’s the Two E’s — Election and Economy

PEJ New Media Index Oct. 4-8, 2010

The top stories in the blogosphere are often an eclectic mix of topics from technology and pop culture to science and war. But last week, with the 2010 midterm elections looming, each of the top five subjects focused on the election or a closely related subject-the economic issues helping define the campaign.

For the week of October 4-8, two of the top five stories on blogs were connected directly to the election according to the New Media Index from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. 

Last week, 17% of the links in blogs highlighted two stories about the 2010 campaign.  One was an October 4 Washington Post piece about interest groups spending far more in this election cycle than in the 2008 campaign. The other was an October 5 Post story about how the political landscape remains strongly tilted toward Republicans.

Another 11% of the links concerned a major force in the 2010 political landscape-the tea parties. The debate was generated by Senator Sherrod Brown’s (D-OH) op-ed in the October 3 USA Today arguing that tea party populism is driven by anger at the government and divides the country, and is therefore not real populism, which fights for all Americans. 

Together, these election-related stories accounted for 28% of the linked-to news story on blogs.

Three other subjects that engaged bloggers last week focused on economics with a political twist.

The No. 2 topic, with 12% of links, was triggered by a Los Angeles Times story about how more than $69 million in California welfare money was spent outside the state in recent years, including in Las Vegas, Hawaii and on cruise ships. That was followed closely (11%) by the revelations in an October 6 USA Today article that $162 million in stimulus spending was not disclosed by the government.

The fifth-biggest subject last week was an October 6 Washington Post column by Steven Pearlstein in which he argued that Republicans had chosen to ignore the idea that income inequality exists in the country in their "Pledge to America."

Bloggers on both the left and right weighed in on these subjects, with many critical of the opposing party.  Liberals drove the conversation about interest group spending while conservatives were a stronger voice in the discussion of welfare abuse and unreported stimulus spending. Both sides entered the fray over Brown’s criticism of the tea parties.

Interest Group Funding and a Republican Edge

Many bloggers criticized the Supreme Court rulings that made it easier for interest groups to make campaign contributions, most notably the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision that struck down limits on corporate and union election spending.

"Who benefits from the Supremes decisions?" Jake Today asked. "As the money flows from interest groups to candidates, it’s reasonable to assume that donor interests will be more prominent in the winners mind than his or her new constituents."*

The Griper News cited the article as an example of how the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling is "turning democracy into a quaint, antiquated formality."

"And don’t forget," reminded the Ugly Swallow, "your democratic voice is slowing being drowned out by loads and loads of money!"

The second article featured results from a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll that showed signs of improvement for the Democratic Party in midterms, despite a still significant advantage for Republicans. Many bloggers simply linked to the story, but some of those that commented, saw a silver lining for Democrats.

Jonathan Chait of the New Republic  wrote that while Democrats made "modest improvements," he believed the improvements were "actually…pretty major."

"All Democrats have to do is survive this election cycle at this point to outperform expectations, and if we do that then we’ll get to watch all kinds of fun playing out on the other side of the isle," wrote ARDem from Blue Arkansas, a Democratic blog.

One conservative blogger blamed the left for some of Obama’s political problems.

"America’s so called ‘progressives’ have spent most of the year pounding Democrats for everything they’ve done and everything they weren’t able to get done," wrote Michael J. Scott of Mad Mike’s America, "Their hatred of Barack Obama is particularly evident. Once it became clear that the president was not Harry Potter they became enraged, calling him names and swearing to vote against him and everything he represented.  So, today is a sad day for them even though the sun is still shining on the Republicans."

The Tea Party Critique

The reaction to Sherrod Brown’s criticism of the tea party was more mixed.

"Dem. Senator Sherrod Brown claims the Tea Party doesn’t like America the way it is," Scotty Starnes wrote on his conservative blog, Politically Incorrect, "Why would any American like the way America is presently?  Thanks to Democrats, America has higher deficits, higher unemployment, higher foreclosures, higher bankruptcies, higher poverty and a higher number of Americans on food stamps. What’s not to love?"

"It would seem that Senator Brown has also forgotten that populism takes many forms and it doesn’t always have to embrace leftist ideology," blogger Shane Vander Hart wrote at Caffeinated Thoughts, "The Tea Party movement is a populist movement in that it does encompass grassroots activism and it is antiestablishment (he neglects to mention the Tea Party has taken down some of the Republican establishment as well)."

On the other side of the political spectrum, though, Stubborn Liberal wrote: "Sen. Sherrod Brown is correct. We can choose to continue to move forward with Democrats or be forgotten once the Republicans, conservatives, Tea Party-types, and Wall Street types take control.  In a Republican controlled House and Senate, you and your rights are less important than those of millionaires and corporations."

California Welfare Spree and Unaccounted Stimulus Funds

Reports of welfare abuse in California and the failure to report stimulus spending sparked commentary on the perils of government waste.

"Just one more example of blatant abuse of those paying the bills…THAT WOULD BE YOU! Four weeks from tomorrow we have a chance to deal a blow to those taking you for granted. Keep the Democrats running things and you can expect more and more and more of this sort of thing to continue," wrote Scott from the Life in Exile.

"Gotten angry yet today?" asked Lagniappe’s Lair, "If not, this ought to do it. Compassion for the poor is one thing, but to see the serious problems with our government-run welfare system, you need look no farther than California’s…"

Bloggers were also angered by a USA Today report that $162 million in stimulus spending was not reported by government, despite the administration’s pledge to be more transparent.

"But in case you, like the spokestools for our government agencies, are wishing to minimize how much money this is and how inconsequential an amount it is," wrote Martin of Conservative Boot Camp, "remember that $162.8MM would fund the salaries of 3514 median-wage jobs."

"162 million dollars are not being disclosed how they are being spent despite how the Administration promised every dollar spent would be disclosed," wrote Mike Mazzeo of the Free World Blog, "Obama promised us this would be the most transparent government ever.  I don’t see any transparency, I see less.  I see less than the previous Administration and I see more government secrets than during any period of time in our history.  The American people must demand an independent audit of where the Stimulus funds are going and what they are stimulating.  The American people must demand transparency.  And if they don’t get it, don’t let them forget about it in November."

Twitter

Last week, as is sometimes the case, the top story on Twitter (19% of the links) was about Twitter itself. More specifically, users shared an October 6 Mashable story explaining new ways to customize your Twitter background and on the business side, news (reported by CNET) that Twitter co-founder Evan Williams was stepping down from his role as CEO of the company.   

Stories about Facebook came in a close second, with 18% of links.  On October 6, Mashable provided live updates from an announcement about Facebook’s new Groups feature. Most observers expected the announcement to be about a new site design and in the aftermath, CNET posted an article entitled, "What Did Facebook Really Just Announce?"

Filling out the roster of top five Twitter topics, 7% were about an October 4 CNN article saying Verizon will give refunds to about 15 million customers because the company incorrectly charged them for data usage. Next, at 6%, was an October 6 BBC article about the UK bakery chain, Greggs, reporting a small rise in sales thanks to a demand for breakfast food. Some of those tweeting were excited about a bacon roll the bakery sells.

The fifth-biggest subject on Twitter was an October 6 CNNMoney interview with prominent investor Warren Buffett, who advocated raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans and cutting the taxes for the 98% of the population that doesn’t earn that much.

"This man is a great thinker!" applauded an admiring JoyThatsComing.

YouTube

While the top news story last week on YouTube was not exactly real news, it still received more than 2.21 million views.

The Onion News Network, a sister television station of the satirical Onion publication, aired a fake story, with all the TV trimmings, reporting that popular teen pop star Justin Bieber was actually a 51-year-old pedophile posing as a teenage boy.

The second most viewed video, with more than 958,000 views, was a radio clip of (now former) CNN host Rick Sanchez calling Daily Show host Jon Stewart a bigot during an interview on a SiriusXM talk show. The interview, which also included comments perceived by some to be anti-Semitic, eventually led to Sanchez’s dismissal at CNN.

Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube

For the Week of October 4-8, 2010

1. A fake news video from the Onion News Network saying that Justin Bieber is a pedophile

2. CNN’s Rick Sanchez calling Jon Stewart a bigot posted by The Daily Beast

3. A clip of Weslian Roriz, a candidate running for the mayor of Brasilia, who stumbles through a televised debate

4. An Italian opposition politician attacking Prime Minster Berlusconi of fiddling while Rome burns

5. The Philip DeFranco Show from Wed., Sept. 29, focusing on the Rutgers student who committed suicide

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’s New Media Index is 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. 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 monitors the tracking site Tweetmeme. Similar to Icerocket, Tweetmeme measures the number of times a link to a particular story or blog post is tweeted and retweeted. Then, as we do with Icerocket, PEJ captures 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 list used on Icerocket offers the top links over the previous 48 hours.)

The Project also tracks the most popular news videos 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.

Special thanks to Irene Gruenhut and Vadim Nitkin for translating assistance.