February 24, 2011

Bloggers Debate the Budget Deficit and Egypt’s Future

PEJ New Media Index February 14-18, 2011

Though it doesn’t often happen, the social and mainstream media were in sync last week as bloggers focused on two primary topics- the U.S. budget and Mideast unrest.

For the week of February 14-18, 22% of the news links on blogs were about President Obama’s $3.73 trillion budget proposal, according to the New Media Index from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. That subject, along with the state budget strife in Wisconsin, topped the mainstream agenda as well last week.

The president’s budget proposal included a projected $1.6 trillion deficit, which was a concern for bloggers on both sides of the political aisle. However, conservatives and liberals linked to dueling columns from the Washington Post to support their differing views of the economic debate.

Conservatives highlighted a Post editorial criticizing Obama for refusing to include tough choices about entitlement reform in his proposal. Liberals focused on a piece by Dana Milbank in which he accused House Speaker John Boehner of hypocrisy for saying that jobs are his party’s first priority, but appearing indifferent to layoffs that could occur if the GOP’s budget cuts were passed.

The second story on blogs, at 21%, was the situation in Egypt following the protests and the February 11 resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. Two weeks earlier, the upheaval in Egypt had dominated the blogosphere, accounting for 57% of that week’s links.

Turmoil in another Mideast country also made the list of top subjects, as another 6% of the links went to a report about anti-government protests in Iran that drew inspiration from the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. In the mainstream press, coverage of Iran and unrest elsewhere in the region accounted for 26% of the newshole.

While there was widespread support for Egypt’s pro-democracy movement throughout social media, last week, bloggers turned their attention to the difficult questions facing the country as it transitions to whatever form the new government will take. Additionally, a few bloggers took a more activist role by participating in an online campaign to encourage the world community to freeze Mubarak’s assets.

The No. 3 story on blogs, at 10%, involved Wal-Mart and the city of Washington, D.C. A Washington Post article on a new store being built in the Northeast part of the city quoted residents about both their hopes and fears of having a Wal-Mart in their community.

Rounding out the roster of top subjects last week (at 6%) was a summary of the recent Conservative Political Action Conference where Washington Post writer Chris Cillizza declared which politicians came out of the conference as winners (such as Mitt Romney and Mitch Daniels) and which were losers (such as Ron Paul and Rick Santorum).

Twitter

On Twitter last week, the list of top subjects was dominated by web-based technology news.

The top subject, with 16% of the links, was Twitter itself, although with a British-twist. Most of the attention was to a list in the British Independent of the 100 most influential and elite people on Twitter in the UK. Among others, the list includes politicians, actors, musicians, journalists, and scientists. Comedian Eddie Izzard was ranked No. 3 while broadcaster and Larry King replacement Piers Morgan was tied for No. 62.

News that Coupa-a firm that has developed a cloud spend management platform that helps companies keep track of costs-has raised $12 million in funding was the No. 2 subject, at 14%.

Stories about Watson, the IBM supercomputer that defeated two humans at Jeopardy, were third at 10%. Watson, who was represented on screen by an avatar, won the three-day competition by amassing a total of $77,147.  His two human opponents trailed far behind-at $24,000 and $21,600.

Fourth, at 7%, was a preview of an announcement by the FBI that it would be seeking better technology and more authority to improve its Internet wiretapping capability. Because of the increase in email and social networks, the organization has been unable to conduct certain types of surveillance that have been possible on cellular and traditional telephones.

And fifth, also at 7%, was a story about Banksy, the world’s most famous graffiti artist. Last week, the appearance of graffiti on two buildings in Los Angeles led people to believe he was in that city to promote his documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop, which is nominated for an Academy Award.

Budgets, Deficits and Jobs

When President Obama rolled out his budget proposal that includes a deficit projection of $1.6 trillion, a number of bloggers zeroed in on that number.

"if you want to get a picture of how fast the federal government is growing, i would point out that obama’s supposedly cut-down and austere budget clocks in at $3.7 trillion. it has doubled since 2001. keep doubling every decade and this thing will eat the world," warned Captain Capitulation at Eye of the Storm.  "this is a pretty good measure of the scope and power of the federal government."* 

Many conservatives agreed with a Washington Post editorial criticizing Obama for refusing to make hard choices about entitlement spending, such as Medicare and Social Security.

"The most egregious abdication of President Obama’s fiscal leadership lies in the question, ‘where are the entitlement cuts?’" asked Dennis Gallagher at Political Policy. "The answer is simple; there are none…It [Obama’s budget] places the carnage of his fiscal carelessness to be laid at the threshold of future generations as a burden on their quality of life. It also abdicates and passes the buck to his opposing party to have the courage he lacks to right America’s fiscal ship."

"If a motto summed up the Obama presidency, it might be, ‘Life is short. Eat dessert first,’" wrote Hans Bader at the San Francisco Examiner. "His policies are all about self-indulgence in the present, to be paid for with either long-run economic decline, or painful sacrifices by future generations."

Liberal bloggers, however, focused on a different subject-the Republican budget proposals and specifically the priorities of House Speaker John Boehner. Some linked to a column by Washington Post writer Dana Milbank taking Boehner to task for pronouncing that unemployment is his first priority, but then proposing cuts to the national budget that could result in the loss of up to a million jobs, according to the liberal Center for American Progress.

"If Boehner really does care about middle class federal workers losing their jobs, then he may want to reconsider the draconian cuts his party is pushing," suggested fishalert at Support Our Country.

"It appears that the Republicans are willing to bet that causing substantial job losses is worth the gamble that the electorate will forget about the jobs, jobs, jobs baloney and blame Obama for not meeting his stimulus goal of 8% unemployment," summarized Popular Street Views. "They are betting that the public’s concern about the national debt will supercede the pain that the massive budget cuts of discretionary spending will have on a great segment of the population.  As Speaker Boehner stated, ‘So be it’."

"I love how the GOP is rational, self-interested, and ultimately incredibly destructive from an economic perspective," added Edward at The Dredwerkz.

Egypt

While bloggers commenting on Egypt continued to voice support for the protest movement, last week many of them turned their attention to the uncertainty of the transition to a new government. Some linked to a Washington Post report about the desire for Egyptians to recover substantial assets that Mubarak and his cronies allegedly stole during three decades of rule. Others highlighted a different Post article about pockets of tension that have arisen in Cairo as some protestors continue to demonstrate and the military attempts to restore normalcy.

Many bloggers saw these stories as evidence of the tough road ahead.

"Now the hard part begins," posted Jake Today. "Since there have been no political parties, no elections, just 30 years of emergency rule political suppression by the Mubarak dictatorship it will be damned hard to quickly create a democratic government …Good luck."

"Many people are hailing the overturn of the Egyptian government as a great day for freedom. In the sense that a mob was able to successfully throw off an undesirable dictator, it can be said that some Egyptian citizens were exercising freedom of choice," described FORDMW at Mind & Market. "However, this by no means suggests that the future of Egypt will be supportive of freedom in the classic liberal sense."

Some directed their outrage at the fortune Mubarak supposedly amassed before departing.

"Mubarak went into office with very little and left a billionaire. This to many, indicates the pilfering of the national treasury for personal enrichment. Mubarak’s accounts in Britain are candidates for seizure, with further asset searches being conducted," wrote Aisha. "Why oh why, when people go into office, they do not resist the temptation of taking the People’s money. It happens all over the world and there needs to be greater international accountability."

A few bloggers participated in an online campaign conducted by Avaaz.org, an advocacy group that uses technology to organize people for action on global and regional issues. In this instance, Avaaz was sponsoring an online petition calling on world leaders to immediately freeze Mubarak’s assets "so they can be investigated and returned to the Egyptian people." According to the site, more than 500,000 people have signed the petition.

"I don’t normally send a message asking you to respond by email for any organization," explained Journeys and Star Gazing. "However, I’m doing so now because it sickens me that a dictator who has been receiving billions of dollars of aid from the USA has used it to line his own pockets rather than help his own people."

YouTube

The list of the most viewed news videos on YouTube last week was practically the same as the list the previous week, with four out the top five videos remaining the same.

The only new clip to crack the list, and the fourth most viewed of the week, was an 18-second video that highlights the basic gawker appeal of some YouTube entries. Shot from inside a car in an unknown location, the video shows a large truck with snow on its roof passing under a bridge. The pile of snow flies off the truck and then hits the car behind it. Not only is it unclear where the incident took place, but it is also unknown whether anyone was injured as a result.

Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube
For the Week of February 12-18, 2011

1. The February 7 edition of The Philip Defranco show, a video blog

2. Singer Christina Aguilera messes up the words to the National Anthem prior to the Super Bowl

3. Video of an elderly woman fighting off a group of robbers with her handbag in England (The video has been removed from YouTube due to a copyright claim)

4. Footage of a truck with snow on its roof passing under a bridge, causing the snow to hit the car behind it

5. A protestor is shot and killed in Alexandria, Egypt (Warning-the video contains graphic images)



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.