January 6, 2011

As 2010 Ends, Bloggers Get Wonky on the Economy

PEJ New Media Index December 27-31, 2010

In the last week of the year, bloggers’ interest in the economy reached its second-highest level for all of 2010.  But it wasn’t exactly a passionate debate over stimulus dollars or tax policy. Instead, bloggers dissected new government parameters for measuring long-term unemployment.

For the week of December 27-31, 31% of the news links on blogs were about the economy, making it the No. 1 subject, according to the New Media Index from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Only once before in 2010 did the economy generate this much attention among bloggers-from October 4-8 three different economic stories made up a third (33%) of links.  The week of June 14-18 also came close at 29%, largely in response to President Obama’s urging Congress to approve state and local government aid.

If the economy was the overwhelmingly dominant subject among bloggers last week, the buzz among Twitter users was all about Apple (the No. 1 story at 25% of links), and more specifically its iPad. Indeed the most linked-to story was an attempt to vet rampant rumors about an expected second generation iPad.

The No. 2 story on blogs last week was the news about NBA star Gilbert Arenas’ rocky relationship and potential breakup with his long-time girlfriend, Laura Govan (12%).

The other top stories in the blogosphere had a distinct Beltway angle to them. The third biggest was about members of Congress getting donations from the same companies they are writing legislation for (7%), followed by President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton topping the list of most-admired people (6%), and an op-ed by George Will urging congress to pass the Public Employee Pension Transparency Act(6%).

Economy

Two stories dominated the economic discussion on blogs: The Bureau of Labor Statistics changing the way it measures long-term unemployment and how more banks failed in the U.S. in 2010 than in any year since 1992.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics is raising the upper limit on how long someone can be listed as having been jobless from two years to five years. Previously, the longest time period that someone could be classified as unemployed was "99 weeks or over." But starting in January 2011, people will be able to report that they have been unemployed for "260 weeks and over."  The change appears to be designed to better track long-term unemployment of U.S. workers.

While some of the blogosphere commenting on this was particularly wonky, many took the opportunity to voice concern about the government.

"The fed has to re-write how it reports unemployment? Nice job Obama and the Democrats. Normally I might feel bad piling on but I also know they would spare no mercy where there a Republican in the White House and a Republican majority in congress. This is very telling," wrote Pink Lloyd’s Wall.

"maybe we will get true numbers now, but I doubt it…. it is not in the best interest of the govt…." said Paul from Two Years on UC, My Story Being Out of Work & Other Economic News.*

Still, a few others thought that it was a positive change that would provide a better way to measure the economy: "The government will need better statistics in order to explain to the american people why their standard of living is in full decline. And why taxes must go up to support those millions of under and unemployed americans who live on the margins of society. No one has a clue how to fix the broken global economy but you can rest assured that statisticians will find better methods of documenting the unfolding horror," wrote Lugh Lampfhota of Bruig Na Boinde.

The other major economic storyline was about the 157 bank failures in 2010.  Most blogs linked to a Washington Post article about the subject without any further discussion, often in a news round-up style.  But one blogger opined about the piece:

"After watching ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ that Capra classic that gets us every time, we are reminded of the bygone runs on banks and savings-and-loan crises. The worst one in recent memory was actually fairly recent, in 1992 to be exact. That is, until 2010," blogged John Boone at the Lipman Times.

Gilbert Arenas and Laura Govan

A December 28 Washington Post story about former Washington Wizards star Gilbert Arenas’ personal relationship struck a particular chord with the online audience. The article explained that Arenas cut off communication and funds from his girlfriend Laura Govan after being traded to the Orlando Magic. Govan, who is four months pregnant, has been dating Arenas on-and-off for the past nine years. The couple has three other children together already.

Most blogs that picked up on the story were celebrity or sports gossip blogs.  Several noted that even though the article reported that the couple had broken up in November, Govan was seen recently at one of Arenas’ games.

"I can’t really muster up any response to this news that Arenas has supposedly stopped talking to his fiancee for the last month. Apparently, they broke up in November, and he’s cut off contact with her, according to her publicist. That doesn’t sound good. It’s worth noting, though, that Arenas’ fiancee was in attendance when the Wizards went to Los Angeles earlier this month," wrote Mike Prada at Bullets Forever.

Some bloggers were critical of both parties: "This isn’t the first time Gilbert has done some foul ish like this.  But, at the same time, is Laura THIS desperate to be a ‘baller’s wife’ that she will remain an eternal fiance and keep popping out kids and not have any type of back up plan for money…despite the fact this is not the first time this has happened?  This ish is just pure foolery," wrote Natasha at the YBF, a celebrity gossip site.

"Damn, I can see leaving her," wrote LoLo at Manifesto Part 2, "But they’ve got three kids and one on the way. C’mon son!"

The Big Lead simply wrote, "Gilbert – you may want to call your wife and kids…"

Obama and Clinton Admired (and Attacked)

The news that Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton topped the list of most-admired in a USA Today/Gallup survey drew a largely dismissive response from bloggers who were clearly not among those admirers.

"So President Obama is USA Today/Gallup’s most admired man for two years running. Big surprise. I think it’s rather funny how the guy is constantly getting hammered in the polls for the last two years and then all of a sudden he’s the most admired man in America," wrote POH Diaries.

"I think they only polled inpatients at the nation’s psychiatric institutions," wrote Scott Lazarowitz of ReasonAndJest.com.

At least one fan of Obama wrote about the article, "I’m certain this will make a few Obama haters’ heads explode…" blogged the Fifth Column.

Twitter

As has frequently been the trend, tech news dominated Twitter, with three out of the top five stories about the internet or technology-and the other two loosely related to technology.

In first place, (with 25%) were stories about Apple products, and this week the iPad was the topic of choice.  By far, the most linked-to story was a Mashable article that debunked or affirmed rumors about the second generation iPad expected this spring. 

Other frequently linked-to stories included buzz about new Apple products expected to appear at  the consumer electronics expo, a piece about a new $1,000 iPad app that helps users prepare for the bar exam, and an article about iPhone and iPad users suing Apple because apps on the gadgets leak data.

Most of these stories were simply retweeted by Twitter users, with some noting the particular iPad rumors they were most excited about.

End-of-the-year recaps were also popular Twitter fodder (15%), with a story about Facebook unseating Google as both the most-searched item and the most-visited website in 2010.  A Wired article entitled 2010: The Year the Internet Went to War was also tweeted several times.

The No. 4 story (6%) was a piece that questioned whether HP was going to release a new ultrathin laptop since it had just discounted its current model. The other two top stories were ostensibly about sports and travel. But both had a high tech twist. At No. 3 (6%) was a story that the Indonesian president had protested Malaysian supporters’ alleged use of laser beams to distract players in an Indonesia vs. Malaysia soccer match.  While most of the tweets were non-English, at least one Twitter user referred to the event as "laser gate."

The No. 5 story that (with 4% of links) was a funny photo from TechCrunch of an ad for a hostel called Hostel Microsoft in India. According to the ad, Hostel Microsoft apparently offers a "separate block and campus for ladies and gents" and was set to open January 1. The hostel does not appear to have any affiliation with the Microsoft Corporation.

YouTube

YouTube ended the year with a distinctly international flavor.  The most-viewed clip of the week was footage of a Romanian man, Adrian Sobaru, throwing himself from the balcony in the Romanian parliament in protest of the government cutting payments for his disabled child.  He was not seriously injured, but ended up with facial fractures.  

Sobaru wore a t-shirt that said "You’ve killed our future" and addressed Prime Minister Emil Boc while jumping, screaming "Boc, you’ve taken away the rights of our children."

The second most-viewed video was of a leopard attacking villagers in India, followed by a German-language video of young men making fun of the Titanic II movie.  In fourth place was a news story about a two-headed boy born in Tirupati, India.

Wrapping up the top five YouTube videos was a clip of P. Diddy’s daughter singing Feliz Navidad and playing the piano.

Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube
For the Week of December 27-31, 2010

1. Man throwing himself from the balcony in the Romanian parliament

2. Leopard attacking villagers in India from ITN News

3. Young German men making fun of a movie

4. Two-headed baby boy born in India

5. P. Diddy’s daughter sings Feliz Navidad



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.

Emily Guskin for PEJ